While most of MLS kicks off today, we in Fire country have to wait more sleep before we watch the Men in Red take on two-time defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy Sunday at 4pm on UniMas.
Whet the appetite with this video where MLSsoccer.com's Dan Haiek and Matt Doyle talk one of the most intriguing matches of Opening Weekend...
The Fire start the 2013 MLS season at the Home Depot Center on Sunday against the two-time defending champions LA Galaxy (LIVE 4pm CT on UniMas). Both teams made some major changes over the off-season and will be looking to start 2013 off on the right step. Here are a few tactical things to keep an eye on...
New central midfield pairing – how will the JL’s play together?
Last season, the Fire paired Logan Pause and Pavel Pardo in central midfield. This season, two new midfielders take their places: MLS veterans Jeff Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere. Both have played together in preseason but the regular season, against the defending champions at the Home Depot Center is a different animal.
Lindpere is noted for his attacking ability but he will be required to help Larentowicz defensively, especially when the Fire turn the ball over. It will be important for both players to hold their positions and not get caught too far apart.
In an away match, it is vital to hold on to possession when you get it and it will be important for both of the JL’s to link well with each other through the match.
Set pieces – how will LA deal with service from Lindpere?
One thing that really stood out during the preseason was Lindpere’s ability to deliver a good ball into the box, especially from dead ball situations. Time after time, Lindpere put balls into the danger area – the space between the penalty spot and the six yard box. The Fire got some goals from set pieces last year and players like Austin Berry are a major threat from them.
Larentowicz is also good in the air, scoring a header in the Carolina Challenge Cup from a Lindpere corner. The Galaxy will be looking to avoid giving up silly free kicks around the area and will try to limit the number of corners the Fire but with Lindpere’s quality, the Fire can be very dangerous in this department.
LA will be debuting the vastly experienced ‘keeper Carlo Cudincini and the Fire’s set pieces will question whether he and his defense are on the same page.
Dilly Duka vs Sean Franklin – youthful exuberance vs experience
Dilly Duka looks set to make his debut for the Fire on Sunday, starting on the left wing. Duka’s opponent will likely be Sean Franklin, one of the best right backs in the league and a player with well over 100 MLS games under his belt.
This matchup is fascinating because just as Duka loves to get forward and take on his man, Franklin regularly pushes up to support in the attack, contributing with his fair share of assists. Duka will need to find a good balance between trying to keep Franklin pinned back by pushing forward, and helping out Gonzalo Segares when Franklin does advance to support the attack.
Duka is a very creative player and could end up giving Franklin a tough time but on the other side of the coin, if Segares and Duka are not in tandem, Franklin could hurt the Fire.
Robbie Keane – it’s not just all about goals
Robbie Keane’s goals dragged the Gals to their second MLS Cup victory in a row last season but his play is not all about goals. He likes to drop into the hole and link up with the Galaxy’s midfielders. Keane is very good and holding onto the ball in tight spaces and playing through balls to advancing players.
At Euro 2012, Keane played a similar role for the Republic of Ireland but was often crowed out, something the Fire should look to do if and when Keane drops deeper into the hole. Keane will certainly miss Landon Donovan and Mike Magee on Sunday but even without them, he is a major threat and should prove a handful for Berry, Friedrich and co.
Prediction: 2-1 Fire with goals from Sherjill MacDonald and Arne Friedrich.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
Now just 16 days away from Opening Night vs. the New England Revolution at Toyota Park, today we look at #16 Marco Pappa's first goal in a Fire shirt which came on Opening Day 2009.
Pappa of course joined the Fire on loan from Gutemalan side Muncipal in July 2008 but didn't make much of an impact as he adjusted to MLS in his first season.
With a new season ahead of him on this rainy and cold day at Toyota Park, Pappa warmed up Fire fans by taking advantage of Luke Sassano's misplayed header to first-time his volley off both posts before being ruled a goal in a 1-0 victory over New York.
Little did we know that the first goal of his Fire career would be a sign of things to come with his next 25...
Watch below and make sure to get your tickets to Opening Night on March 9 when the Chicago Fire welcome the New England Revolution to Toyota Park.
WATCH: Marco Pappa's Debut Goal for the Fire
As they have the previous two years, the Chicago Fire ventured to the Three Lions Pub inside Blackbaud Stadium for the 2013 Carolina Challenge Cup kickoff luncheon Friday afternoon. The Fire were joined by hosts the Charleston Battery and the Vancouver Whitecaps at the luncheon while Saturday's opponents Houston were set to arrive into the Palmetto State later on Friday.
As I walked around admiring the wall-to-wall memorabilia inside the pub, I realized there were more than a few reunions occuring in the room...
First off was Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich catching up with defender Jay DeMerit. Matkovich led the Fire PDL side when DeMerit played for it in 2001 and even appeared in "Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story" to talk about his memories of Jay...
A little further down the way, I spotted a Tottenham reunion as Fire trialist Pascal Chimbonda met up with Whitecaps defender Young-Pyo Lee. The two often manned the defensive flanks together for Spurs while at White Hart Lane from 2006-2008.
Finally, just as I turned around, I spotted Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini talking to his former manager and current Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie. The Scotsman was the one that brough Paladini to the second division Carolina RailHawks from Chivas USA in 2009 where the pair would spend two seasons together.
To finish the pleasantries Rennie, Fire head coach Frank Klopas and Battery manager Mike Anhaeuser did the annual trophy photo-op.
On to Saturday's first doubleheader featuring the Chicago Fire taking on the Houston Dynamo (if they show) at 4pm CT on Chicago-Fire.com. The Battery will host the Whitecaps in the second game at 6:15pm CT.
Was nice to wake up to this news this morning that U.S. international and current Aston Villa first-choice 'keeper Brad Guzan would like to return to MLS one day and potentially suit up for his hometown Chicago Fire.
A product of Homer Glen, Ill., Guzan was quoted as saying, "Hopefully, I will get the opportunity, when I’m finished playing in Europe, to go back and play in it.
"Especially being from Chicago, which has a team. I’d love to go back and play for the Chicago Fire in front of friends and family. That would be pretty neat.”
Guzan of course teamed with current Fire forward Chris Rolfe on the Chicago Fire PDL side that went a near perfect 17-1-0 en route to the league's regular season championship that year.
Having played two seasons at the University of South Carolina, Guzan left college to sign with MLS and was picked second overall by Chivas USA in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft.
At just 28 years old and with the Fire having a 'keeper in Sean Johnson who is nipping at his heels for the number two spot with the U.S., Guzan won't likely return stateside anytime soon but would likely be a welcome addition for many a Fire fan down the road...
Preseason is always a lot of work and a lot of fun.
One of the best parts though is the ongoing saga of number choice throughout camp as players leave, new players come in.
Rolfe had worn the number through his first five seasons with the Fire but when he re-joined the side last April, Mexican legend Pavel Pardo had it.
“There was no need to try and shift things around then,” Rolfe told Chicago-Fire.com. “While 18 was good for me last year I thought that it would be a good idea to switch back to 17 when it became available.”
With Pardo’s retirement announcement last month, the opportunity arose and the league recently approved Rolfe’s change back to the numerals with which he’s scored 40 of his 48 Fire goals across all competitions.
Check out the impromptu and sort of awesome video of the first new "Rolfe 17" jersey being pressed by Assistant Equipment Manager Allan Araujo below...
NOTE: All-Time Fire #17s: Andrew Lewis, (1998-2001), Aleksey Korol (2002), Dipsy Selolwane (2002-2004), Rolfe (2005-2009), Davis Paul (2011), Pavel Pardo (2011-12), Rolfe (2013- )
With the #18 left vacant, renaissance Fire defender Steven Kinney jumped at the opportunity to switch from #28.
“My whole life I had been #18,” said Kinney. “Coming here the first year Mike Banner had it and through all my injuries I wasn’t going to be switching numbers. Then Rolfie came in and had it last year but when I heard him talk about switching to 17 I knew it was time to make my move.
Asked why #18 had always been his number, Kinney said, “It’s always just felt lucky for me. I would have done anything to get my hands on it.”
To be fair, he didn’t have to do too much.
NOTE: All-Time Fire #18s: Zach Thornton (1998-2004), Matt Pickens, (2005-2007), Mike Banner (2008-2010), Gaston Puerari (2011), Chris Rolfe (2012)
Stay tuned later this week for more updates on Fire squad numbers heading into 2013.
WATCH: Rolfe #17 is BACK!
Feelings on joining the Chicago Fire?
"I’m extremely delighted to be drafted by the Fire. I feel it’s a golden opportunity for me to play under better conditions and show what I can do in MLS."
What are the strong suits of your game?
"I think my strengths are my speed, ability and technique. I feel like I have a lot to offer in those areas."
On coming from Cameroon…
"The training conditions I’ve had to play under in Cameroon aren’t as good as in Chicago where they have top facilities and a great stadium. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play in that stadium."
On youth international experiences with Cameroon U-20's
"I feel playing with the Cameroonian team at the U-20 World Cup raised my profile a bit and gave me something more to build towards. Representing your nation in a world championship is an amazing thing and I was very proud to play a part in all four games."
On his combine performance…
"I did feel that I had a strong combine. I came in off of an 18-hour flight and felt a little tired in the second half of games but I think I did very well to prove my abilities at the combine."
His thoughts on joining the Fire…
“I’m happy for a new challenge,” Larentowicz told Chicago-Fire.com Wednesday night. “It feels good to go to a place where you’re in the plans. Frank has been very forthright in coming after and it’s something I look forward to being a part of.”
On his contentious years against the Fire…
"In the past in my time in New England the Fire were always our biggest rivals. We were very similar, very competitive teams that were hard-nosed. Its just kind of the nature of things that both teams had wanted to win in the past but now I’m part of the Fire and I still have that same competitive spirit that’s going to come and work for Chicago."
On competition in central midfield…
"I’ll be competing for a spot and its an opportunity to come in and show that I deserve to be in the lineup and that’s what I expect. I know those guys from playing against them – they’re all good players and I look forward to competing for that spot."
On ability to stay fit throughout the years…
"The way I look at seasons and playing is the more time you can be available and give the coach the option of playing you, the better off you’re going to be and the more opportunity for good things to happen. I think over the past seven years I’ve been able to do that."
On being part of championship teams in New England and Colorado…
"On all the teams I’ve been on it was never that they depended on me but it was more of a collective thing and the way I view how I play and what I try to do. The Fire are a playoff team and always in contention. I hope to add to that and be a piece that helps take the team to the next level."
About this time last year I got Patrick Nyarko's pretty clear recollections of his 2008 MLS SuperDraft experience. I followed up a year later with some more in depth (and funny) questions about how he prepared personally for the day itself.
Jeff Crandall: How did you decide what you were going to wear to the Draft?
Patrick Nyarko: (Laughs) Back in 2008 it was easy enough. I just called my mom and asked her what kind of suit I should wear and I don’t think I had any say in what it was…she picked it all out. I didn’t mind because it made it all easier.
JC: What did you eat for breakfast that morning?
PN: I was actually supposed to get to the hotel the night before but it snowed heavily that night and so I drove up early in the morning and caught up with some of the other guys. I think I just had a regular buffet breakfast served up by the hotel – scrambled eggs, waffles, that kind of stuff.
JC: What thoughts were going through your head when your name was called eighth overall?
PN: It’s probably the same for a lot of people but my main concern was not tripping when I got to the stage like Austin Berry did last year. After that it was about who I would be shaking hands with first on the stage. But it was really just don’t do anything stupid – every step of the way I made sure I didn’t fall.
JC: What advice would you give your future teammate that gets drafted by the Fire on Thursday?
PN: The work starts right now. You’ve worked hard to get to this spot – to be invited to the draft and have your name called -- that’s a lot of fun. After that it’s a lot of hard work, moving up from the college to pro level there’s a lot more responsibility. As long as you’re willing to work hard and with the coaches, you’ll be fine.
JC: When you signed your contract with the league, what was the first thing you went out and bought?
PN: I think I bought a Mac Book. I had a regular computer before so I got a Mac. I’m not saying it was an upgrade but that’s what I got... It was great.