Blog

MLS Playoffs

19 February 7:29 am

...the Chicago Fire acquire Czech World Cup veteran Lubos Kubik via MLS player allocation.

Having already begun to build the basis of the 1998 double-winning squad by securing the likes of Zach Thornton, Francis Okaroh, Diego Gutierrez (1997 Expansion Draft), Peter Nowak (player allocation), Jesse Marsch (trade with D.C.), Chris Armas (trade with LA) and C.J. Brown (Supplemental Draft), the Fire made another big splash by signing the former Czech international.

Widely considered one of the best all-time defenders in MLS, Kubik would go on to be the lynchpin in the back for the early Fire squads, being named MLS Defender of the Year in 1998 and becoming a two-time choice to the league’s First XI (1998-99). He also proved vital in helping to win the club's first three domestic titles (1998 MLS Cup, 1998, 2000 U.S. Open Cups)

PERUSE: TrueCar Player Registry

Sixteen years on from his signing, Kubik remains the most offensive defender in Fire history, tallying 19 goals and 25 assists in 88 competitive matches from 1998-2002 (current Fire player Gonzalo Segares is second with 12 goals and 16 assists in 206 competitive games). He was especially instrumental in the team’s run to the double in 1998, scoring a combined four goals and one assist in nine U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup playoff matches.

In 2005, Kubik was selected as the third member of the Ring of Fire, joining Peter Nowak and Frank Klopas in the club’s Hall of Fame. As we celebrated our 15th anniversary last year, he was also an overwhelming selection to the list of the Top 15 players in Fire history, the #Fire15.

Na zdravi, Lubos!

WATCH: Lubos Kubik in the #Fire15

01 February 12:41 pm

On this day 15 years ago, the Chicago Fire selected defender C.J. Brown first overall in the 1998 MLS Supplemental Draft.

Having spent the 1997 season with the San Francisco Bay Seals in the USISL D3 Pro League, Brown impressed then D.C. United head coach Bob Bradley as the Seals fell to the defending MLS Cup champions at the tournament’s semifinal stage.

TRUE CAR PLAYER REGISTRY

Brown would of course go on to be part of all six of the club’s domestic titles and currently holds the Fire record for most competitive (372), regular season (296), playoff (25) and U.S. Open Cup appearances (25) amassed over his 13-year career in Chicago.

Last season, Brown forever wrote his name into Fire history as he became the seventh member of the Ring of Fire, joining Bradley, Piotr Nowak, Frank Klopas, Lubos Kubik, Peter Wilt and Chris Armas in the club’s Hall of Fame.

13 January 1:20 pm

...defender Carlos Bocanegra brings to end his four-year stay with the Chicago Fire by signing with English Premier club Fulham FC on this day in 2004.

Arguably the best defender in Chicago Fire history, Bocanegra was a two-time MLS Defender of the Year and League Best XI selection (2002, 2003) as well as being the first Fire player to claim MLS Rookie of the year in 2000 and helped the club to three domestic titles (2000, 2003 U.S. Open Cup, 2003 Supporters Shield) as well as an additional two finals appearances (2000, 2003 MLS Cup).

Bocanegra was one of just three defenders named to last year's #Fire15 player's list along with former teammats C.J. Brown and Lubos Kubik. 

At the time of his Fire departure, Bocanegra had only just begun to break into Bruce Arena’s U.S. Men’s National Team squad, with the future captain scoring four goals in his first full campaign for the Stars and Stripes in 2003.

With the UCLA product proving his worth for both club and country, Fulham signed Bocanegra on a free transfer (in the same window that future Fire forward Brian McBride arrived at Craven Cottage) and the two formed the basis for a long-term American occupancy of the West London club.

He would parlay his form at Fulham into making the 2006 U.S. World Cup team and while his time there would come to an end, Bocanegra was eventually named as new U.S. captain when former Fire coach Bob Bradley took the national team reins in 2007.

Moving to a less traditional American soccer destination with French clubs Stade Rennes (2008-10), Bocanegra led the U.S. to the Round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa before moving to St. Etienne following the tournament.

A move to Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers would follow but after the side went into administration this past summer, whispers of the former Fire defender’s MLS return could be heard league-wide before he eventually went on loan to Spanish Segunda side Racing Santander.

Having now a decade of national team experience under his belt, the 33-year-old center back sits tied with Paul Caligiuri for sixth all-time on the national appeance list at 110 and is has scored more international goals (14) than any defender in U.S. history.

With his time for the national team and career winding down, a return to MLS could still be in his future. Remember, returning to Chicago for a U.S. friendly vs. Poland in October 2010, Bocanegra was quoted as saying this

This is my first choice. You never know how it works with (Major League Soccer) and allocations, but I love this city. For me, it would be cool to play for one team my whole career in MLS. I would like to come back to Chicago."

WATCH: Bocanegra Named to #Fire15

03 January 11:06 am

 

Happy 100th birthday to U.S. Soccer!

Those cats downtown at Soccer House have begun a major undertaking in celebrating the Federation's Centennial this year with loads of interesting stuff built around the growth of the National Teams since 1913.

In this blog, they speak to legendary Fire striker Ante Razov to discuss his time and important contributions to the U.S. Men's National side as well as his fruitful years in Chicago. Even Ring of Fire member and orignal Fire head coach Bob Bradley chimes in...

Also check out this intriguing piece on LA Galaxy and former national team boss Bruce Arena's solitary cap for the U.S. written by Section 8 Chicago's own Tom Dunmore.

31 December 10:44 am

Well its the last day of the year and we're aptly left remembering all that went down in the Fire world during 2012. 

A new jersey sponsor, a Ring of Fire induction, a 15th Anniversary, playoff qualification and a Rookie of the Year winner are just some of the highlights. 

Take a photographic look back on the club's memorable 15th season:

officialfiresoccer's 2012 In Review album on Photobucket

Stay tuned on Tuesday as I give my New Year's Resolutions for the Fire in 2013!

17 December 10:56 am

While the MLS offseason continues to grow shorter and shorter, at times it can be slightly boring compared to the fast-paced nature of what comes from January to October (and hopefully November).

With #cf97withdrawals inhabiting my brain as I await the very big schedule announcement that will allow me to figure out what away cities I’d like to visit, I did have one thought and request from Major League Soccer…

 

WATCH: Nyarko's Blast from Distance (10/27/2012)

Over the last three seasons, MLS has found a way to schedule a match between the Fire and D.C. United in October and whether deserved or not, to their credit those games have always been memorable…

In 2010, the Fire’s last home game came against United, with perhaps the 0-0 draw being overshadowed by American soccer legend Brian McBride taking his final bow in his hometown of Chicago.

In 2011, who could forget the Fire’s incredible, “Capitol Comeback” which saw the team score two stoppage time goals to win the match after just conceding a Dwayne DeRosario penalty kick at RFK? 

The 1-1 draw between the teams this past October was less memorable because of the result but still provided some excellent moments. Among them, Patrick Nyarko’s stunning goal from distance in the first half as well as the Fire’s late barrage on United goalkeeper Bill Hamid with playoff positioning on the line.

Maybe it’s just dumb luck or the MLS scheduling computer has psychic powers but each instance has provided moments that fans of at least one team won’t forget.

With that in mind, my request to the MLS league office as well as United:

Keep things going for 2013 and have the Fire host D.C. on Friday, October 25 to mark the 15 year anniversary of MLS Cup 1998. Why not package it as one of NBC Sports Network’s Friday night broadcasts?

With both teams showing reinvigorated form this past season, coupled with the famous Austin Berry/Nick DeLeon Rookie of the Year battle, perhaps the flames of rivalry that waned over recent years have been fanned once again.

Even better, Frank Klopas and Ben Olsen both played against each other in the match as did Josh Wolff who now serves as an assistant in D.C.

The storylines going in would be as good as any and if there’s as much to play for as when the two sides met this past October, it would have all the makings of being another memorable game, one that the Fire would hopefully win 2-0.

The openers are set to be announced any day now but there's plenty of time to make something like this happen before the full schedule release. 

Hopefully we can see it happen.

WATCH: The Run to MLS Cup '98

05 November 12:23 pm

Following Wednesday’s disappointing knockout round exit to Houston, taking in the rest of the MLS Cup playoffs this weekend didn’t sit all the way at the top of my “want to do” list.

Being the seasoned Team Writer that I am, I decided it was a good idea to take in the four games from Friday to Sunday…

Real Salt Lake 0, Seattle Sounders 0 – Friday

With the Fire out, I have to say there are few teams in the league I would feel alright about winning MLS Cup and you know the Sounders do not fall in that category for me.

On the flip side, RSL has Fire legend C.J. Brown, defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe and even former Fire beat writer Sam Stejskal slingin’ PR in Sandy, so if someone has to win MLS Cup, I wouldn’t mind for it to be our friends from the Sawatch Front?

Playing on the Seattle Seahawks outlined pitch at CenturyLink Field Friday night, it was Nick Rimando who stood tall in net, making five big saves for RSL and even suffering a broken nose and laceration in the 67th minute after a collision with the Sounders Christian Tiffert.

The display left RSL head coach Jason Kreis to say, “I think it would have to go down as one of the best individual performances by any player that’s ever worn an RSL jersey.”

In my opinion, Rimando’s historic performance will likely go down as one of the best ever in MLS postseason play.

In the end, RSL escaped Seattle with a 0-0 draw and head back to the friendly confines of Rio Tinto Stadium for Thursday night’s second leg.

D.C. United 1, New York Red Bulls 1 – Saturday

Knowing that one point at any time during the regular season would have had the Fire playing in this series, I had the most trouble watching this game of any during the weekend. With that said, it was nice to see D.C. switch home legs with New York after Hurricane Sandy left Red Bull Arena unplayable for the weekend.

WATCH: D.C. United 1, New York Red Bulls 1

 

Come the 33rd minute of the tie, United looked to be in good shape when Red Bull defender Connor Lade was whistled for a handball in the box, forcing referee Jair Marrufo to point to the spot. Chris Pontius’ take however wasn’t the greatest, allowing Red Bull ‘keeper Luis Robles to make one of his five saves on the night.

Despite the save, United would get on the board just after the hour mark when Chris Korb’s dangerous cross to the six left Red Bull’s Roy Miller with an attempted clear, instead roofing into the top of his own net.

In what seemed to be a comedy of errors, Red Bull would pull level with a United own goal just four minutes later. Off a corner kick from the right, defender Heath Pearce headed the ball back across goal, catching United goalkeeper Bill Hamid wrong footed before catching the ball inside his own goal and clearly across the line.

Perhaps most comical was Hamid’s insistence that he’d been fouled on the play. A replay shows Red Bull defender Markus Holgersson ducking even as United’s Dejan Jakovic is pushing him towards Hamid.

Own goals aside, the story of the match would be DC right back Andy Najar’s sending off in the 71st minute. Shown a yellow card for his foul on Joel Lindpere in the 71st minute, the Honduran international threw the ball at Maruffo, forcing the referee to show the Honduran international a second yellow and then a red card, forcing United to play a man down the final 19+ minutes of the match.

United will definitely be without Najar as they head back to Red Bull Arena for leg two and if they advance, it’s a fair bet they could lose him throughout a potential Eastern Conference Final series.

Houston Dynamo 2, Sporting Kansas City 0 – Sunday

In the surprise of the weekend, Houston came away with a dominant 2-0 victory over Sporting KC in leg one of their Eastern Conference semifinal series at BBVA Compass Stadium.

WATCH: Houston Dynamo 2, Sporting KC 0

Having defeated the Fire 2-1 on Wednesday night, the Dynamo were charged by the partisan crowd in Houston and went ahead in the 18th minute off of Adam Moffat’s wonder-volley from outside the area.

On the other side of halftime, Will Bruin would score his third goal in two playoff matches, connecting once again with former Fire striker Calen Carr to seal the 2-0 victory in the 75th minute.

It’s interesting to note that though the two sides finished even with 13 shots each, the Dynamo held just a 2-1 advantage in shots on goal, finishing both of their attempts for the win.

Houston can now go to LiveStrong Sporting Park on Wednesday, lose 1-0 and still advance to the Eastern Conference finals, knocking out the team with the second best record in the process…

San Jose Earthquakes 1, LA Galaxy 0 – Sunday

While the Dynamo didn’t look like they’d played at midweek, the LA Galaxy certainly did, looking tired a times throughout Sunday night’s home encounter.

Despite that, LA threatened just as much as San Jose but as so many other teams have this season, would fall victim to a late, late Earthquakes goal.

This time the marker would come from Honduran midfielder Victor Bernardez, who hit a low free kick underneath the jumping Omar Gonzalez and past Josh Saunders in the 94th minute, allowing the Quakes to stick with their “Goonies never say die” tagline.

The star-studded Galaxy will have a tall but not impossible order to overcome the 1-0 deficit in Wednesday’s second leg at San Jose…

Second Leg Picks
New York Red Bulls 2, D.C. United 1 (NY Advances)
Sporting KC 2, Houston Dynamo 1( HOU Advances)
Real Salt Lake 2, Seattle 1 (RSL Advances)
San Jose Earthquakes 1, LA Galaxy 1 (SJ Advances)

31 October 10:01 am

After a frustrating draw at home on the last day of the season against D.C., the Fire now have a quick turn around in Wednesday night’s Knockout Match at Toyota Park against a very experienced Houston Dynamo side (LIVE 8pm CT on ESPN2/ESPN Deportes). Anything can happen in a one-off game but, with the home crowd behind them, the Fire will be looking to build on the good performance against DC and advance to play Sporting KC this weekend. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Counter attack: the Fire's best friend

Against D.C. last week, especially in the first half, the Fire used the counter attack to perfection, creating an enormous amount of chances but failing capitalize. The Fire allowed DC to be lulled into a false sense of security by sitting back, letting them control the possession and move men forward before breaking at lightning speed if and when the Men in Red were able to turn the ball over.

WATCH: Coach's Take on Houston

 

 

Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald all combined well and used their pace to carve DC open and, with some better finishing, would have been well clear by halftime. As I noted in a previous preview, Houston's midfield has a tendency to be slow to track back, something that the Fire can certainly capitalize on.

If the Men in Red can counter as well as they did against D.C., Houston are going to be in trouble.

Finishing: improvement needed for the Playoffs

As I previously mentioned, the Fire had a host of chances last week against  United but only managed to put one in the back of the net. In the playoffs, not taking your chances is a recipe for disaster and the Fire will need to make the most of the ones they get tonight.

MacDonald was the main culprit against D.C. and he will certainly be looking to get on the score sheet in his first playoff game. MacDonald is his own biggest critic and I am sure he's been working doubly hard in training since Saturday. He is the kind of player who could go on a scoring run and getting a goal against Houston could start it.

Assistant coach Mike Makovich put it well in his pre-match interview, stating that he "would be worried" if the Fire weren't creating chances. In the Playoffs, a certain amount of luck is needed, but if the Fire create as many openings as they did against D.C., they should be fine.

Limiting defensive mistakes: no needless fouls around the box

Houston are the masters of the dead ball and the less chances the Fire give Brad Davis and co. to put the ball in the box, the better. The Dynamo are extremely good in the air and are also a very intelligent team, constantly looking for fouls in the final third.

Houston coach Dom Kinnear is also famous for his attempts to influence referees, something that he will surely be trying to do on Wednesday night. The Fire must try and not give referee Baldomero Toledo anything to think about, because the more needless fouls the team gives up, the more likely he will start hearing it from the Houston bench.

Houston's size, with giants like Macoumba Kandji and Will Bruin are tough to handle. Aside from the massively experienced Arne Friedrich and playoff experienced Segares, the Fire's other three likely defensive starters, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba and Sean Johnson all will be making their MLS Playoff debuts so putting as little pressure on them as possible will be helpful.

WATCH:  Players Preview Houston

 

Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald all combined well and used their pace to carve DC open and, with some better finishing, would have been well clear by halftime.

As I noted in a previous preview, Houston's midfield has a tendency to be slow to track back, something that the Fire can certainly capitalize on.

Kofi Sarkodie: Potential weak link for the Dynamo

For all the talk of Houston's playoff experience, one player who will be taking his postseason bow for the Dynamo is right-back Kofi Sarkodie.

Sarkodie only started seven games this season for the Dynamo and though he is not a rookie, he did not see any action during the teams run to the 2011 MLS Cup. I expect the Fire to try and test out Sarkodie as often as possible Wednesday night.

Flaco Fernandez had an improved performance against D.C. last weekend and if he can continue to get forward and combine with the attackers and left back Segares on Sarkodie's side of the field, it may cause the youngster problems.

In Houston's last meaningful game against the Philadelphia Union on October 20, the only Philly goal came on a cross from Sarkodie's side. He stood off the ball and allowed the cross to be played into the box for Jack McInerney to score. Another mistake like that could cost the Dynamo on Wednesday night.

Prediction: In a very tight and tense match, the Fire come out 2-1 winners with goals from Sherjill MacDonald and Rookie of the Year Award runaway, Austin Berry. 

31 October 9:31 am

Feeding off the thrill of John Thorrington’s stoppage time chip to beat the Galaxy on the final day of the regular season, the Fire entered the 2007 MLS Cup playoffs as the fourth seed going up against Supporters Shield winners D.C. United in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

#1 D.C. United vs. #4 Chicago Fire – Conference Semifinals (two legs)
Chicago Fire 1, D.C. United 0 (leg one)
Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.
October 25, 2007

Despite winning the Supporters Shield, United sputtered into the playoffs, going 0-2-1 in their final three matches. In contrast, the Fire had gone 2-0-1 in their final three, rallying from poor early-season form to make the playoffs on the final day.

Despite being outshot 9-8 by United, the Fire fed off their late season form, the Fire would benefit from a D.C. misplay in the back for the only goal of the first leg.

WATCH: 2007 Eastern Conference Semifinals

 

 

A high bouncing ball allowed United defender Devon MacTavish only a piece of the ball, instead heading it into the path of Chris Rolfe. The third-year Fire veteran caught the ball on the bounce and smashed his half volley past Troy Perkins, taking the Fire to RFK Stadium with a 1-0 lead.

#1 D.C. United vs. #4 Chicago Fire – Conference Semifinals (two legs)
Chicago Fire 2, D.C. United 2 (leg two)
RFK Stadium; Washington, D.C.
November 1, 2007

The Fire kept with the momentum gained in leg one, taking a 2-0 aggregate advantage in the 31st minute. From the right, Calen Carr’s ball over the United back line  found Chad Barrett in stride who took one touch to settle before blasting past a helpless Perkins.

The series looked as good as done two minutes later when Carr headed down a bouncing ball for Blanco, who in turn headed into the box. All of the United defenders seemed caught in no-man’s land before Chris Rolfe popped up to volley past Perkins in the 33rd minute.

Going into the break down 3-0 on aggregate, United finally broke through in the 69th minute when Rod Dyachenko laid off a simple pass for Clyde Simms who ripped a low shot inside the left post.

Dyachenko would help on the game’s equalizer slotting a pass to Christian Gomez on the right before the Argentine fired a low effort that Matt Pickens got two hands to but was overpowered in the end.

Despite tying the match, United couldn’t connect another shot on goal, leaving the fourth seeded Fire with a huge upset and another appearance in the Eastern Conference final.

#2 New England Revolution 1, #4 Chicago Fire 0 – Conference Final
Gillette Stadium; Foxboro, Mass.
November 8, 2007

 For the third straight year, the Chicago Fire would take on New England in the MLS postseason and went behind in the 38th minute when current Fire player Wells Thompson crossed to the middle for Taylor Twellman. The Revolution striker would out jump Dasan Robinson to nod the ball up in the air before finishing with a stunning bicycle kick to give New England the 1-0 lead.

In the 74th minute, Gonzalo Segares would run on to a bouncing ball outside the area, striking a long-distance effort that forced Reis into a diving save to his left.

In the 90th minute, Cuauhtemoc Blanco’s cross from left picked out the head of Calen Carr but the Fire forward’s low header was well corralled by Reis to send the Fire home one step away from MLS Cup again.

WATCH: 2007 Eastern Conference Final

30 October 10:18 am

It all comes down to Halloween. The Fire begin the quest for their second MLS Cup trophy on Wednesday, Oct. 31 when they welcome the Houston Dynamo to Toyota Park at 8:00 p.m. CT live on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and 97.5 ESPN Deportes.
 
The Daily Herald’s Orrin Schwarz spoke with two Fire legends, Jesse Marsch and Evan Whitfield about what the Fire need to do to succeed in the playoffs.
 
“They’ve got to find a way to get some momentum going,” said Marsch, now head coach of the Montreal Impact.
 
One player who is on a hot streak is midfielder Patrick Nyarko, whose blast against D.C. United is up for MLS Goal of the Week.
 
Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com, “I’ve never been a shooter…I’ve never scored such a goal.”
 
His newfound confidence will be huge for the Fire in the playoffs. “I can try it from anywhere,” said Nyarko. “It gives the defense something else to think about.”
 
Sports Illustrated’s Avi Creditor broke down the MLS Cup Playoff field and gave reasons that the Fire will and won’t win the MLS Cup.   
 
An integral part of the team’s success this season, the center back duo Arne Friedrich and Austin Berry sat down with RedEye to discuss the bond that they’ve formed.
 
The two defenders went head-to-head to see who knew the other best.
 
One familiar face Wednesday night will be former Fire forward Calen Carr, albeit now as a member of the Dynamo. Carr spoke to the Houston Chronicle about overcoming his recent concussion and what he remembered most fondly about his time with the Fire.