The long-standing rumors of Fire midfielder Marco Pappa’s move across the pond finally came true last Monday as the Fire and Dutch club SC Heerenveen jointly announced the Guatemalan international would move to the Netherlands effective January 1, 2013.
While Pappa has been a key part of the team the last four seasons, his desire to go to Europe at the end of his MLS contract was pretty well known. The Fire did right by Pappa and according to the interview to the right, the midfielder is looking to do right by the club that gave him the shop-window opportunity.
WATCH: Pappa Talks Fire Focus
“I still have a contract with the Fire,” said Pappa. “We talked about this situation. I’m going to keep doing my best like I always do and I’m happy for the opportunity but right now it would be good to get a championship [here] before going to Europe.”
While a player signing a contract with another club before the one he’s with is finished seems a little odd, it’s common practice throughout the world and is becoming more regular in MLS. For instance it was just three years ago that Fire forward Chris Rolfe signed a pre-contract with Aalborg BK in the Danish SuperLiga.
The best thing about Rolfe’s situation was that the Fire played the MLS rules well, giving the forward a “qualifying offer”, that is an offer deemed credible for his market value, before he signed with Aalborg. By doing that, the club retained his MLS rights, paving the way for his smooth return earlier this April.
Though defender Gonzalo Segares didn’t sign a pre-contract with Cypriot club Apollon Limassol during 2009, his situation is similar to that of Rolfe’s. The Costa Rican international played the first six months of 2010 in Cyprus before returning to the Fire that August, a move again made easier by the qualifying offer.
When Wilman Conde made his desire known to return to MLS from Mexican side Atlas earlier this year, the Fire cashed on the qualifying offer made to the Colombian defender at the end of 2010, earning a nice chunk of allocation money in January’s trade that sent him to New York.
Aside from doing right by a player that has performed for the club, the best part of Pappa’s move to Holland is that like in the differing case of Rolfe, Segares and Conde, the Fire have kept future options open with the player.
Most will agree that Marco has all the tools to be successful in Holland but unforeseen things can happen and though no transfer fee is being wired from The Netherlands to Chicago, it’s a sign the Fire have done some good business.
With 10 regular season matches plus a potential playoff run, Pappa still has plenty to prove before heading to Holland.
There was a point Sunday afternoon in which things were looking pretty good for the Fire’s positioning in the East. DC United had just suffered a somewhat controversial 1-1 draw at home to Philadelphia while due north Bright Dike and Darlington Nagbe had put the West’s bottom team Portland up 2-0 at New York.
Of course Kenny Cooper and Tim Cahill had pulled the home side back level before halftime, the Timbers flubbed two breakaway chances and Heath Pearce headed home the winner in the 83rd minute to push New York back into sole possession of second place in the East.
Later on Sunday night, Columbus used goals from Cole Grossman and Eddie Gaven to erase a 1-0 deficit but had to settle for a 2-2 draw when Andy Gruenebaum muffed Adam Moffat’s 82nd minute equalizer.
WATCH: Red Bull 3, Timbers 2
The result meant that the Top 5 in the Eastern Conference closed the weekend the same way they entered it, effectively pushing the Fire back down to fourth place (losing the goals scored tie breaker to Houston).
All this is by way of saying its going to be a scrap or as Brendan Hannan put it this morning, a “real dog fight” the rest of the way in the Eastern Conference. With 10 matches remaining and five of them against the other four in the Top Five, the Fire control their playoff destiny and seeding perhaps just as much as anyone in the East.
"[Playoff qualification] is in our hands," head coach Frank Klopas told Chicago-Fire.com Monday. "They’re all obviously difficult matches because most of the games we play are going to be against teams that are going to be right there until the end. Its exciting but I think we feel good about having those games at home and having the opportunity to control our own destiny."
While Montreal and Columbus still have a shot at the postseason, popular opinion has the top five now remaining the top five come October 28 making a “mini-league” of sorts the rest of the way for the Fire, Sporting KC, Red Bull, the Dynamo and United.
See below the “mini-league” grid of remaining matches between the East’s top 5 teams.
|vs. 9/14||vs. 9/28||-|
|x||-||vs. 10/6||@ 8/29|
|HOU||@ 9/14||-||x||@ 9/2||-|
|CHI||@ 9/28||@ 10/6||vs. 9/2||x||
When looking at the chart, two things undoubtedly stick out...
1) No that's not a mistake, the East's top two teams Sporting KC and New York, will play eachother three more times through the end of the season. Depending on how their other matches go (something that will continue to be a common theme), the Conference's top seeds could well be decided in those three games.
2) The Fire are the only team in the Top 5 that will play everyone around them and have two games against D.C., meaning the team seems to have the best shot of controlling it's own destiny in the tight playoff race. With 15 points available in these matches, if the Men in Red can take anywhere around 11 or 12, they could be in very good shape for a top two finish.
Either way, the Fire manager reiterated the game of most importance is the one upcoming.
"It’s up to us," continued Klopas. "We don’t have to rely on other teams like we did last year but the most important thing is to not look too far down the road and so our next game against D.C. is what we have to hone in on right now."
#6 - Chicago Fire 2, Tampa Bay Mutiny 0 - April 4, 1998 - MLS Regular Season Match - Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
In their first home match in Major League Soccer history, the Fire were taking on the now-defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny at Soldier Field. With a hearty crowd of 36,444, the Fire would deliver results on this spring night. Frank Klopas got the first goal of the match in the 43rd minute, with an assist from Zak Ibsen. Klopas would score again in the 88th to secure a brace and lead the Fire to their first home victory. The total combination of the inaugural home game, a 2-0 win, and two goals from the Fire’s future coach would make this a match to be remembered.
#5 - Chicago Fire 1, New England Revolution 0 - November 14, 2003 - Eastern Conference Final - Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
The Fire outshot rivals New England Revolution 20 to 7 in this physical Eastern Conference Final. With neither side scoring in regular time, the match went into extra time. It took until the 101st minute for the Fire to score, off the back of a run from substitute Justin Mapp toward the goal line. Mapp cut the ball back, passing to the center of the six-yard box. Damani Ralph then attempted a weak shot, but it surely would have been saved without captain Chris Armas there to finish it off. At the time, the golden goal rule applied, meaning that the game was complete and the Fire were Eastern Conference champions.
#4 - Chicago Fire 2, Miami Fusion 1 - October 21, 2000 - Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final - Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
In the 44th minute, Fire legend Ante Razov broke past the Miami Fusion defense on a breakaway. After drawing out the goalkeeper and dribbling past him to the side of the six-yard box, Razov centered the ball to Hristo Stoitchkov. Soitchkov easily slid the ball past one defender to score the first goal of the match. Later, Fire favorite DaMarcus Beasley streamed down the left wing, beating his defender. Beasley put a low cross into the dangerous area in front of goal and Fusion defender Tyrone Marshall mistakenly knocked the ball into the net for an own goal. While the Fusion would grab a goal through Welton once before the match was finished, the Fire had put in enough effort to win the match, counting them as US Open Cup champions for the second time.
Stay tuned later this week for the final three matches in our #Fire15 Countdown... Check out our previous countdown videos below:
In our third installment of the #Fire15 Memorable Matches countdown, we look back to the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinal vs. New England, the 2003 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final at the MetroStars and the 2001 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal at LA Galaxy.
#9 - Chicago Fire 2, New England Revolution 0 - November 7, 2009 - Eastern Conference Semifinals, Second Leg - Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL
In the first leg of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Revolution defeated the Fire 2-1 at Gillette Stadium. In the 35th minute, Marco Pappa received the ball in the box, feinted past one defender, then laid the ball off to John Thorrington, who shot it low into the New England goal. The superb crowd of 21,528 roared in response to the aggregate equalizer. In the 82nd minute, Patrick Nyarko beat his marker near the corner flag and rushed parallel to the goal line toward the box. After drawing out the keeper, Nyarko nutmegged another defender and passed short to Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Blanco took a short step forward and lifted the ball up to the top right corner to push the Fire to the Eastern Conference Final.
#8 - Chicago Fire 1, MetroStars 0 - October 15, 2003 - US Open Cup Final - Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ
The 2003 US Open Cup Final took place at Giants Stadium, where the field was lined with football markings. In the 68th minute, Evan Whitfield broke in from the right sideline through the end zone, centering the ball to Damani Ralph. The Jamaican forward needed only one touch to slide the ball around MetroStars goalkeeper Jonny Walker. The Fire would only need one goal to be rewarded with the US Open Cup for the third time.
#7 - Chicago Fire 2, LA Galaxy 1 (aet) - August 23, 2000 - US Open Cup Semifinal - Titan Stadium, Fullerton, California
This physical match resulted in a total of 12 yellow cards between both sides. Fire defender Carlos Bocanegra earned a red card in the 51st minute, putting the Fire down a man. LA Galaxy icon Cobi Jones would score the opening goal in the 79th minute. Down to ten men and trailing by a goal, it surely seemed that the Fire’s run in this US Open Cup was extinguished. However, the Men in Red rallied through Fire legend Ante Razov, scoring in the 85th minute. With the score level, the match went into added time and in the extra frame the Fire would lose captain Peter Nowak after Luis Hernandez purposely stepped on his face but referee Sergio Vega only produced a yellow card. Still without Nowak the Fire strung together 10 passes before Josh Wolff buried a rebound to send the side to its second U.S. Open Cup final in three seasons.
Last week we began our #Fire15 countdown with Memorable Matches 13-15. This week we continue with Games 10-12 as we work our way towards the club's 15th Anniversary match to be held Wednesday, October 3 against the Philadelphia Union at Toyota Park.
#12 - "CHI-TOWN BEATDOWN" - Chicago Fire 3, New England Revolution - November 6, 2008 - MLS Eastern Conference Semifinals, Second Leg - Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL
Prior to this match, the Fire had tied New England 0-0 at Gillette Stadium in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Playing at home for the second leg, the Fire found their way to driver’s seat just before the half when, Cuauhtemoc Blanco's shot from the edge of the box forced New England goalkeeper Matt Reis cough up a rebound. Chris Rolfe put himself in the right place and casually knocked the ball into goal to give the Fire the lead.
Four minutes later, Justin Mapp's perfectly placed free kick toward goal found the head of Wilman Conde who pounced on the chance with the header to take things to 2-0.
The Fire would put the match out of reach when Chris Rolfe's cutting low cross was calmly finished by Gonzalo Segares, giving the Toyota Park crowd 16 minutes to sing about going to the team's seventh Conference Final appearance in 11 seasons.
#11 - "THE FOURTH OF JULY MASSACRE" - Chicago Fire 7, Kansas City Wizards 0 - July 4, 2001 - MLS Regular Season - Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO