Blog

MLS Regular Season

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. 

29 October 10:07 am

After going all the way to MLS Cup 2003, the Fire missed the postseason for the first time in club history the following year, losing 2-1 on the final day of the regular season at New England. The team regrouped and finished third in the East the following season, setting up another first round clash with D.C. United…

#2 D.C. United vs. #3 Chicago Fire – Eastern Conference semi-finals (total goals)

Chicago Fire 0, D.C. United 0 (Game 1)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
October 21, 2005

In what would be the club’s final competitive match at Soldier Field, the Fire had the better of the play, outshooting D.C. 8-4 and holding United without a shot on goal.

In turn though, United played strategically, just trying to leave Chicago without a blemish and conceded only two shots on goal, both from Chris Rolfe in the 58th minute.

WATCH: Chicago Fire 4, D.C. United EC (Semi-final Leg 2)

United would get their wish, earning a 0-0 draw and leaving all to play for at RFK Stadium for the second leg nine days later.

Chicago Fire 4, D.C. United 0 (Game 2)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
October 30, 2005

United’s plan for the series would backfire early on in Game #2 when Thiago’s corner from left bounced through the six yard box to find Jack Stewart streaking in at the back post. The then-Fire rookie would tally one of only two goals in a Fire shirt, sneaking his header past Doug Warren in the 10th minute.

Just before the half, another Fire rookie would help make his mark. This time Chris Rolfe danced into the box on the left and chipped in a cross from the end line before Brandon Prideaux headed away. The ball fell perfectly for Ivan Guerrero and the club’s 2005 MVP buried his left footed effort in the 37th minute.

Guerrero would show why he earned the award deep into first half stoppage time. Again Rolfe danced like a ballerina on the ball just outside the area before laying back for Guerrero who hit first-time blast that left Warren flat-footed as the ball sailed inside the left post.

#1 New England Revolution 1, #3 Chicago Fire 0 – Eastern Conference Final
Gillette Stadium; Foxboro, Mass.
November 6, 2005

The Fire and Revolution would begin a five-year consecutive streak of postseason meetings with the Eastern Conference final at Gillette and once again an early goal would play the part.

The Revs would go up 1-0 in the fourth minute when Daniel Henandez’s ball over the top found Shalrie Joseph in the box on the right. The veteran midfielder hit a low effort towards the back post which connected with Clint Dempsey sliding through to give New England the lead.

 

 

 

A chippy first half made things difficult for either team to find the goal but Jack Stewart provided the best effort in the 45th minute when he ran through midfield before unleashing a low shot that just went wide of the right post.

The Fire came close again in the 63rd minute as Ivan Guerrero collected the ball on the left before cutting inside and hitting a blistering right-footed effort that Matt Reis punched away at the far post.

A minute later Chad Barrett and Thiago played a quick combination which saw the Brazilian blast a drive towards the left post that Reis did well to hang on to.

A number of dangerous crosses and displays of Reis rolling on the ground later, the Fire found themselves with an apparent equalizer in stoppage time when Thiago’s forward ball out of midfield found Gonzalo Segares in stride and saw the rookie defender tap the ball past Reis and into the net.

Stepping out of the goal, Segares’ immediate joy turned to disbelief as linesman George Gansner held his flag up on the sideline resulting in a number of Fire players to crowd him. In the melee, Segares’ fellow countryman Andy Herron was red carded for dissent, effectively ending the Fire’s chances of sending the match to overtime.

The replay would vindicate Gansner’s call, showing Segares was just a shade past the Revolution backline when Thiago hit the ball, leaving the team to rue a missed opportunity at a fourth MLS Cup appearance in eight years.


WATCH: 2005 Eastern Conference Final

28 October 3:04 pm

#1 Chicago Fire vs. #4 D.C. United – Eastern Conference semi-finals (total goals)

Chicago Fire 2, D.C. United 0 (Game 1)
RFK Stadium; Washington, D.C.
November 1, 2003

Coming off a regular season in which the team finally fulfilled winning a Supporter’s Shield, the Fire traveled to D.C. to open up its first two-game aggregate playoff series with United at RFK Stadium.

From the first whistle the Fire never seemed to break much of a sweat and went ahead in the fourth minute when a headed clearance from a United defender fell for midfielder Andy Williams 25 yards from goal. The Jamaican international took the ball on the half-volley and one-timed his right-footed effort past Doug Warren and inside the left post.

WATCH: 2003 MLS Cup Playoff Run

 

 

In control throughout, the Fire frustrated United throughout the match and saw former players Hristo Stoitchkov and Dema Kovalenko pick up yellow cards for dissent and bringing the game into disrepute.

Holding a 1-0 lead late, the Fire would take a 2-0 lead back to Soldier Field when Zach Thornton’s clearance was flicked on by Nate Jaqua into the path of Ante Razov. The Fire’s all-time leading goal scorer calmly chipped the ball over the onrushing Warren in the 94th minute.

Chicago Fire 2, D.C. United 0 (Game 2)
Soldier Field; Chicago, Ill.
November 9, 2003

With D.C. needing two goals just to force extra time, the Fire again imposed their superiority in this match, putting United in the coffin with another early strike.

This time it was Willliams’ countryman and 2003 Rookie of the Year Damani Ralph, who after a quick combination with Chris Armas outside the box, unleashed another long range blast, this time to the right of Warren, to give the Fire a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute.

The Fire would finish of United just after halftime when DaMarcus Beasley’s cross from left bounced in the area before finding Razov who headed it back across goal for his second of the series, moving the team to the Eastern Conference final with a 4-0 aggregate victory.

#1 Chicago Fire 1, #2 New England Revolution 0 (asdet) - Eastern Conference Final
Soldier Field; Chicago, Ill.
November 14, 2003

Outshooting New England 20-7, the Fire clearly dominated the match from start to finish but a goal in regulation would elude the team at home.

Into extra time, it would be no one else but Chris Armas to provide the winner. Evan Whitfield worked his way up the right before pushing the ball to Justin Mapp at the endline.

The young winger centered a low cross that Ralph muffed before Armas tucked the ball in from close range, sending Soldier Field into pandemonium and the Fire back to MLS Cup for the third time in six seasons.

San Jose Earthquakes 4, Chicago Fire 2 – MLS Cup 2003
The Home Depot Center; Carson; Calif
November 14, 2009

The Fire pipped San Jose for the Supporters Shield during the regular season but it would be the Earthquakes that had the last laugh as they won their second MLS Cup in three seasons.

San Jose take the advantage as Ronnie Ekelund’s fifth minute free kick and Landon Donovan’s 39th minute finish took the Earthquakes into the break up 2-0.

After halftime, Andy Williams would feed DaMarcus Beasley into the box on the left and the young Fire winger tucked his effort inside the near post to cut the lead in half in the 49th minute.

Just as it looked like the Fire had momentum, San Jose would restore their two goal lead a minute later when Richard Mulrooney caught the backline sleeping after the goal.

The Fire would get some help back from the Earthquakes in the 54th minute when Chris Roner headed the ball into his own net.

Just two minutes later, Damani Ralph broke into the box on the left before being hauled down by Roner, forcing referee Brian Hall to point to the spot.

Despite battling sickness throughout the week, Fire leading striker Ante Razov stepped up to take the spot kick but was denied when his effort was denied by Pat Onstad’s dive to the right.

With the missed opportunity, momentum seemed to shift back in San Jose’s favor and as the Fire pushed for the equalizer, it would be Donovan who would put the game away with his second goal in the 71st minute.

27 October 7:44 am

As we get set to complete yet another regular season, it donned on me yesterday to look back at this masterpiece that Fire defender Dan Gargan captured and put together with the help of MLS videographers Scott Riddell and Albert Lanzillo.

Shot throughout preseason and the team’s opening day 1-1 draw at Montreal’s nearly sold-out Olympic Stadium, Dan’s video showcased the preparation and work the team went through to get to that very monumental game back in March.

Looking back on it now, one of the most striking things is seeing how much the Fire have changed since January as you see a number of faces that are no longer with the club while also being reminded of just how many new faces have been added over the course of the year.

More than that though, this beautiful video reminds me as a fan and a writer of the cautious optimism we all had going into the year. Back then, if you’d have told Fire fans that had experienced the previous two years  the team would be playing for second place in the East on the final day of the, everyone would have taken it.

Flash forward to today and that’s exactly where we are and yet we know the opportunities were there to go even higher.

Still, today the Fire play arguably the most important game at Toyota Park since the last time the team was in the postseason.

And so, re-watching this inspiring video is special to me for multiple reasons, but the most important is that it serves to remind how far this team has come in the three years I’ve been here but also the hard work that was put it back in January to get to this point.

Before heading out to Toyota Park today, take 2 minutes and 23 seconds out of your regular pre-game ritual, watch this video, and soak in how far this team has come in 2012.

26 October 10:59 am

It all comes down to Saturday. With one game remaining in the 2012 MLS Regular Season, the Fire host D.C. United Saturday, Oct. 27 at 3:00 p.m. CT (NBC Sports Network), the meat of the tripleheader sandwich.
 
While the Fire have clinched a spot in the post season, Saturday’s match is crucial for seeding purposes. With a victory, the Men in Red, currently in third place, will take sole possession of second place. With a loss, the Fire could find themselves as low as fifth place.
 
Though two-time German World Cup veteran Arne Friedrich is experiencing playoff soccer for the first time in his career, he understands the implications of Saturday’s match.
 
“Our one goal is to win the game,” said Friedrich.
 
One of the keys to victory for the Fire will be making sure to get the ball to forward Chris Rolfe. With teams now choosing to man-mark Rolfe, he told MLSsoccer.com that “It’s been a little bit more of a challenge finding the ball.”
 
Another key storyline for Saturday will be the battle between the Fire’s Austin Berry and D.C. United’s Nick DeLeon, two of the front-runners for the Rookie of the Year race. The former college teammates have been enjoying the campaigns put together by their respective clubs.
 
“I was dying laughing,” said Berry about D.C. United’s video in which DeLeon says, “I eat defenders for breakfast.”
 
Berry and his centerback partner Arne Friedrich both made Brian Straus and the Sporting News’ short list for the highly-anticipated year end awards.
 
With both head coach Frank Klopas and striker Sherjill MacDonald imploring fans to get in the stands early Saturday, ‘keeper Sean Johnson stopped by WGN Wednesday morning to discuss the importance of home field advantage at Toyota Park, so make sure to get in early and spur your Men in Red on to victory.

26 October 10:56 am

With one game left and all to play for, there's no doubt that Saturday's game against D.C. United (LIVE 3pm CT on NBC Sports Network) is the the Fire's biggest game of the season to date. A win and the team finishes in second place in the Eastern conference and enjoys home field advantage for the Conference Semis. A loss or tie against DC and the Fire's destiny is out of their own hands, with a place between third and fifth in the cards. That being said, lets look at some tactical points for the big match.

Andy Najar - don't fool me twice

Andy Najar's coming out party as a right back was against the Fire in August when he put in a Man of the Match performance in a 4-2 win at RFK Stadium. Najar should start at right back again Saturday afternoon and the Fire will need to a much better job of containing him this time out. Against the Columbus Crew last week, Najar pushed forward constantly and provided an outlet for DC on the right. Columbus allowed Najar far too much room and he duly obliged by looking to cross the ball whenever possible.

WATCH: Fire vs. United Preview

 

D.C.'s midfielders look to switch the field of play to the advanced Najar whenever possible, something the Fire must look out for. For all his attacking prowess however, Najar can get caught too far up the field, something the left side tandem of Gonzalo Segares and Patrick Nyarko will be looking to exploit if the opportunity arises.

Stopping United from playing our game - target striker

D.C. sets up in a similar way to the Fire, namely with a target striker with an attacking mid/second striker playing just behind him. Against Columbus last week,  Maicon Santos played just behind target man Lionard Pajoy. The partnership is still in its infancy, but should continue from the start on Saturday afternoon.

Against Columbus, Pajoy and Cesar did not combine well, often drifting too far from one another to effectively link up. DC's wide men, Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon, did their best to move central and support Pajoy whenever possible. Both of the wide players tendency to move inside caught Columbus short handed on a few occasions, especially when one of the wide men failed to drop back.

D.C. are not a team blessed with many creative players who look to take on their opponents, especially without Dwayne De Rosario. If the Fire can cut the supply line to Pajoy and force United to resort to trying to take them on it will work to the Men in Red’s advantage.

D.C.'s midfield - attacking through the middle

Similar to the Fire, United set up with two holding midfielders, Perry Kitchen and Marcelo Saragosa. In last week’s game against Columbus, both players were exposed by some neat interplay between the Columbus midfielders who quite simply passed the ball around Kitchen and Saragosa at times, especially in the first half.

Part of the reason for the exposure was because D.C.'s more advanced midfield trio failed to drop back quickly enough to support the holding midfielders when United lost possession. In the second half, this happened a lot less frequently, but it certainly is an area in which the Fire can try to take advantage. If the Fire can get midfielders forward in numbers, something they haven't been able to do as often in the last few games, then they could put some real pressure on the D.C. holding midfield core.

The return of Pardo - an experienced head for a big game

Since losing Pavel Pardo, the Fire have gone 3-3-0 in his six game absence. In the six games prior, the team won five and lost one. That stat alone gives you an indication as to how important Pavel is to the team.

His partnership with Logan Pause in the Fire engine room is one big reason for the Fire being a lot harder to break down this year. Pardo also reads the game as well as anyone in MLS, constantly positioning himself well to intercept a pass or pick up an advancing midfielder.

Having Pardo, a man with almost 150 caps for Mexico, will also be extremely important for the playoffs, especially because three of the five behind him have no postseason experience. Pardo's return gives the team an added boost ahead of the biggest game of the season to date.

Prediction: This game is going to be just as intense and nerve wracking as a playoff game but a sold out crowd at Toyota Park should give the Fire the advantage. 1-0 Fire with the goal coming from Chris Rolfe.

25 October 1:28 pm

Campaigns, trash talk and the truth.
 
During the race for the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year award there has been a lot of chatter. Who ranks where and what is valued more from fresh-faced rookies - Goals? Assists? Saves? Defense?
 
Adapting to MLS can be a challenge. It’s a long season fraught with ups and downs, the speed of play is accelerated, often as a central defender you are up against a striker with class skills and experience to match.  
 
For Chicago Fire defender Austin Berry it isn’t about the rankings or the hoopla, it’s about putting in the work needed to help the team.
 
Berry has made his way onto a Life cereal box.
 
While there has been PR to support the rookie defender who has started 27 matches for a 17-11-5 Fire team that has only allowed 40 goals in 2012.
 
The real truth of the matter has been Berry’s play. Through his efforts alone, Berry has cut through the clutter, letting his game speak for itself…

Austin #Berry4ROY: THE TRUTH

25 October 9:55 am

After two runs to the MLS Cup Final in three seasons, the high-flying Chicago Fire finished the 2001 MLS Regular Season similar to the previous year, winning the Central division and tying for the league’s best record (this time with Miami) only to be seeded second, losing on the tiebreaker to the Fusion.

Things might have gone differently if not for Ariel Graziani popping up once again to spoil the day in a match that would end up being the team’s last game of the 2001 season.  

In that game played September 8 at Soldier Field, the Burn came back from a 2-0 deficit to earn a 2-2 draw with Graziani once again the culprit, scoring the 91st minute equalizer. Had the Fire been victorious in the match, the team would have eventually been awarded its first MLS Supporters Shield.

Alas, three days later everything changed with the September 11 terrorist attacks. With all eight playoff teams known at that point, MLS decided to cancel the remaining regular season games and move to the playoffs roughly nine days later, meaning the Fire would once again face Dallas in an opening round playoff series.  

WATCH: 2001: MLS Cup Quarterfinals

 

 

 

#2 Chicago Fire vs. #3 Dallas Burn – MLS Cup quarterfinals (first to five points)

Chicago Fire 2, Dallas Burn 0 (Game 1)
Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.
September 20, 2001

With the end of the September 8 game and memories of the devastating 1999 playoff defeat to Dallas fresh in their minds, it would be safe to say that the Fire held feelings of revenge in their hearts going up against their Brimstone Cup rivals.

The team would breakthrough just before halftime when Eric Wynalda’s free kick from the left picked out Carlos Bocanegra unmarked at the six, leaving the young Fire center back an easy header past Matt Jordon in the 40th minute.

Though the Fire held an 8-3 shots on goal advantage in the match, they weren’t able to put the Burn away until very late. Dallas would be awarded a direct free kick deep into stoppage time. Desperately looking for an equalizer, Jordan came all the way up the field to provide numbers but would regret it when Oscar Pareja’s take was hit straight into the wall before Peter Nowak intercepted a pass to start the counter attack.

The Fire captain fed a streaking Evan Whitfield in alone up the field and the current Fire color analyst outpaced Dallas defender Justin Evans to tuck the ball away and give the Fire a 2-0 victory in Game 1.

Chicago Fire 1, Dallas Burn 1 (OT) (Game 2)
The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas
September 23, 2001

 Back home for Game 2, Dallas would take an early first half lead when Jason Kreis played a forward ball for Bobby Rhine at the top of the area. The Burn forward would find Chad Deering streaking through midfield and played a pinpoint pass into the box that the U.S. international one-timed past Zach Thornton in the 27th minute.

It looked as though Dallas would tie the series up at three points each the Fire had other ideas. In the 84th minute, Peter Nowak penetrated towards the middle of the field before feeding Dema Kovalenko into the box. The Ukrainian fired a quick effort that Matt Jordan did well to save but substitute striker Jamar Beasley was on the doorstep to equalize.

After 10 minutes of extra time, Beasley’s goal would stand to send the series back to Chicago with the Fire needing only a draw in Game 3 to advance.

Chicago Fire 2, Dallas Burn 0 (Game 3)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
September 29, 2001

Back in Chicago for Game 3, there was little doubt the Fire would advance.

In the 17th minute, Peter Nowak’s corner from the left was headed down in the area by Evan Whitfield leaving Dema Kovalenko to scrap inside the six, eventually knocking home the go-ahead goal.

Needing only a tie, the Fire would go for the jugular in the second half when Nowak made one of his patented long runs through midfield. The Fire captain entered the box on the left and saw a bit of confusion when his last touch on the ball was a bit heavy, allowing for Chris Armas to bury the second goal in the 55th minute and send the Fire to its third MLS Cup semifinal in four years.

#2 Chicago Fire vs. #3 LA Galaxy – MLS Cup semifinals (first to five)

Chicago Fire 1, LA Galaxy 1 (OT) (Game 1)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
October 10, 2001

The Fire had already received bitter disappointment from the Galaxy in late August when Alexi Lalas’ 94th minute “golden goal” knocked the team out at the semifinal stage.

The home side would take the lead in the 32nd minute when Peter Nowak gallivanted through midfield before sending DaMarcus Beasley down the left flank. The second-year Fire winger crossed to the back post where Eric Wynalda first-timed his effort past Kevin Hartman for the 1-0 lead.

The Galaxy would equalize just before halftime after Chris Armas was judged to have brought down Sasha Victorine at the top of the penalty area. Vaunted Galaxy striker Luis Hernandez saw his spot kick saved by Zach Thornton but buried the rebound to tie the score in the 44th minute.

The Fire would be dealt a blow in the 60th minute when Evan Whitfield was shown a straight red card for pulling down Cobi Jones who was in alone on goal. Despite playing a man down for the final 30 minutes of regulation and 10 more in overtime, the Fire escaped the match with a point in the 1-1 draw.

LA Galaxy 1, Chicago Fire 0 (OT) (Game 2)
Titan Stadium, Fullerton, Calif.
October 13, 2001

The Fire returned to the site where the team fell in U.S. Open Cup semifinals nearly two months before and already without Whitfield due to his one-match suspension, would be dealt another blow when Peter Nowak left the game at halftime with a hamstring strain, ending his participation in the remainder of the team’s playoff run.

In eerie similarity to the the August Open Cup match, the game would head to overtime and see another Galaxy winner come in the 94th minute when Peter Vagenas tallied off a Luis Hernandez feed, giving the Galaxy a 4-1 points advantage heading back to Chicago for Game 3.

LA Galaxy 2, Chicago Fire 1 (OT) (Game 3)
Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.
October 13, 2001

Returning home, the Fire would once again take the early lead at Soldier Field when Chris Armas fed DaMarcus Beasley through in the 30thminute.

Again though, similarities to a previous match between the two sides would reign supreme. This time when the Galaxy’s Danny Califf would tally the equalizer in the 44th minute (the same time as Luis Hernandez’s penalty put back in Game 1) that would eventually send the match to extra time.

In the overtime period, LA’s Mauricio Cienfuegos would tally his second overtime winner of the postseason, finishing off the Fire in the 98th minute and sending the Galaxy to their third MLS Cup appearance.

For the Fire, it would mark the team’s first home playoff loss in four seasons.

24 October 1:20 pm

In this edition of Burning Questions we sat down with German World Cup veteran Arne Friedrich. This season, Arne has commanded the rock solid Fire defense in 22 matches, holding opponents to 40 goals. A native of Bad Oeynhausen, Germany, Arne has been capped 82 times for Germany, helping Die Mannschaft  to matching third place finishes in the 2006 and 2010 FIFA World Cups. Arne took the time to answer our Burning Questions about his newfound cooking skills, what music he prefers and how often he throws a handstand.
 

Always on the Inside: You often talk about how much you like Chicago. Is there something you haven’t yet experienced?
 
Arne Friedrich: I’ve never been to a Bulls game. That’s what I’ve missed so far. I’m hoping I can see a game when the new season starts. So for me, there is so much exciting stuff to do in Chicago and I just recommend people to come here and visit the town. Especially in Europe and German, nobody knows about Chicago that much. The city doesn’t have the same reputation as New York, and it’s fantastic.
 

AOTI: Is there anything that Chicagoans do differently?
 
AF: Not really; when I came here, I didn’t expect that the city would be so clean. That was the first thing I noticed compared to New York because they’re always rivals. The city is so clean and there are so many parks, we have trees, so much stuff going on during the summer. We have the beach and downtown. Everything you need.
 
AOTI: There is a video from the German Women’s National Team’s recent visit to Toyota Park in which you do a handstand. Do you often do handstands?

 
AF: This is very nice! It’s good posture. I don’t know why I did that. I guess it’s the first time. I don’t know, it was just a joke and everybody is watching me. Nice! It’s not bad. I didn’t know that I could do that.
 
AOTI: So do you do yoga?
 
AF: I did it in Germany. But I guess everyone can do that. It’s a one-time thing.
 
AOTI: What are you going to be for Halloween?
 
AF: It's my first Halloween. We don't celebrate it in Germany, especially not in Berlin where I used to live. I'm absolutely excited. I saw that so many people dress their yard up and it looks so funny with the pumpkins and all the stuff. I'm definitely looking forward to seeing all the stuff.
 
AOTI: Are you planning on dressing up?
 
AF: I’m not sure, it depends on what my teammates are going to do. We’re going to talk about that.
 
AOTI: The number 23 is a big deal in Chicago. Who is better, Michael Jordan at soccer or Arne Friedrich at basketball?
 
AF: We should come together and try to prove it because I don’t know how he plays soccer. My basketball skills are, I don’t know, maybe average. Definitely we should try it.
 
AOTI: You gave Austin Berry the nickname “Jerry Berry”. Have you given anyone else a nickname? Do you have any nicknames yourself?
 
AF: I don’t have any nicknames. It’s always funny, I just call people something different. It’s always funny but I don’t want to tell that.
 
AOTI: In my Google search, I found that the ladies often refer to you as a prince. Do you know where that originated?
 
AF: What? No! Not even once! I’ve never seen that. Really? Wow. I didn’t know that.
 
AOTI: Your favorite musical genres are Pop and R&B. Who are your top three musical artists?
 
AF: I like Eminem. Not his nature maybe but I like his music. There’s so much good stuff. I usually like R&B. I like the group Hurts. And T.I., Papa Trey. There’s so much nice stuff. Music is nice. It’s good that we have music.
 
AOTI: What is your favorite food and what is your favorite restaurant?
 
AF: My favorite food is definitely the Italian cuisine. I also started to cook a little bit for myself. I’m a very bad cook, I have to concede that. But I just try to practice every day. Normally, two or three times a week, I go to Vapiano on Clark Street.
 
AOTI: What’s the one thing you want to be good at cooking? Is there a specialty you want to have?
 
AF: Not really. My problem is that I don’t work with spices. And this is the problem, it always tastes very plain. It might be healthy but it doesn't taste good.
 
AOTI: You have a time machine. Which era would you like to visit?
 
AF: I would like to go in the past when Jesus lived.

23 October 9:54 am

Yesterday, I began the ambitious 11-part Playoff History series with a bang, taking a look back on the club’s magical run to the 1998 MLS Cup championship. Today, we step a year ahead to the bitter disappointment of an early exit from the 1999 MLS Cup playoffs.

It’s important to preface the club’s playoff experience in 1999 with a bit of context. After winning the 1998 MLS and U.S. Open Cup double, the Fire began a season of disappointments the following year with an early exit at the eventual U.S. Open Cup champions Rochester Rhinos on July 14.

Out of domestic cup competition, the team continued to focus on regular season play for the next two months before taking part in the CONCACAF Champions Cup in Las Vegas that fall. Playing on the rock-hard pitch at Sam Boyd Stadium, the Fire dispatched Trinidadian side Joe Public 2-0 in the first round before going to penalties with Costa Rican power Alajuelense after a 1-1 draw in the semifinal.

In the shootout, Lubos Kubik, who the year before had tallied six of six penalties taken during the regular season and playoffs, shot second and skied his effort high over the bar. His miss was the only one on the night as the Fire fell 5-4 to Alajuelense and leaving the Fire to miss out on the CONCACAF final played two days later.

 “In 1998 we seemed like a team of destiny that was just preordained to win. A year later, it seemed the fates were evening out and there was nothing we could do to prevent the inevitable failure.” – Former Chicago Fire President Peter Wilt

#2 Dallas Burn vs. #3 Chicago Fire – Western Conference Semifinals (best of three)

With the teams splitting their four matchups during the regular season, three of which went to the old MLS shootout to be decided, this playoff encounter promised to be a tight one.

GAME 1 played 10/16/1999 at The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas

WATCH: '99 Western Conference Semifinals vs. Dallas

 

Despite their previously more exciting matche, the first half of Game One could have seemed more like a heavyweight bout where no one wanted to land the first punch as neither team registered a shot on goal.

The home side did have a bit more of the play though and took the lead in the 52nd minute through Ariel Graziani when the Ecuadorian striker chipped Oscar Pareja towards the end line before the current Colorado Rapids coach centered across the box for an easy finish.

The goal also marked the first time the Fire had ever trailed in a postseason match.

Dallas would take their lead to 2-0 in the 75th minute when Graziani pounced on a loose ball at midfield. He’d stroll alone into the box, forcing Fire ‘keeper Zach Thornton to the floor before sliding the ball to the charging Mark Santel on the right, leaving the former U.S. international an easy finish past the desperate slide of Fire defender Tom Soehn.

The 2-0 score line seemed to wake the Fire up, pulling one back just four minutes later. Peter Nowak found the ball at the top of the penalty area and played it into the path of substitute midfielder John Ball on the right who slid a low effort past Dallas ‘keeper Matt Jordan.

With the goal, the Fire were charged for an equalizer but saw late efforts from Paul Dougherty, Diego Gutierrez and Ball all go begging, eventually falling 2-1.

GAME 2 played 10/23/1999 at Soldier Field in Chicago, Ill.

Staring elimination in the face, the Fire picked up on the momentum from the end of the first game and took the lead 18 minutes in.

Diego Gutierrez had a misplaced clearance fall for him and took a low blast from distance. The ball ended up running perfectly into the stride of Peter Nowak who took one touch into the box before finishing past Jordan.

The Fire would double their lead 18 minutes later when Roman Kosecki pounced on a bouncing ball in midfield and strolled towards goal before hitting a somewhat weak left-footed effort that eluded Jordan and tucked inside the left post.

Ante Razov (right) would take the score to 3-0 just before the break. Chasing down a long ball out of the back from Jesse Marsch, Razov bodied off the challenge of Richard Farrer before seeing Jordan far off his line. The second-year Fire striker turned with the ball and hit a 20-yard effort that left the Dallas ‘keeper only with a front row seat to see it.

Jordan continued his shocking display just after the half. Nowak chipped a ball into the box from the left for Kosecki who could only get a partial touch to the ball, making it look as if the Dallas ‘keeper would come off his line to claim it. Jordan was a step late in his approach, however and Dema Kovalenko ran on, took a touch and finished from close range to close out the 4-0 score line.

The Fire seemed to have resurrected the demons from Game 1 and after Jordan’s horrific performance in the second game, left Dallas coach Dave Dir to make a switch to veteran Mark Dodd for Game 3.

GAME 3 played 10/27/1999 at The Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas

The Fire’s momentum from Game 2 seemed to barely miss a beat in the decider with the Fire taking on three minutes to go up 1-0.

On the goal, Jerzy Podbrozny played a quick centering pass for Lubos Kubik who played Ante Razov through into the box. To get through the Dallas back line, Razov spun in stride without even touching the ball before placing his low effort past Dodd.

The series looked all but over two minutes later. Kubik lined up for a free kick 35 yards from goal and whipped a beautiful in-swinger between the penalty spot and the six-yard box where a sliding Jesse Marsch redirected the ball past Dodd and into the top right corner to go up 2-0.

Things weren’t all roses for the Fire in the first half as Razov left the match in the 15th minute with a hamstring strain. Already without Josh Wolff who had suffered a torn ACL back in August, the team’s attack lacked its two leading scorers for the remaining 75 minutes.

As a result, the Fire would start to fall apart after the break. In the 55th minute, future Fire defender Sergi Daniv sent a cross from the right that Zach Thornton could only get a hand to before Chad Deering cleaned up with a header at the back post in the 55th minute.

After the strike, the Fire would look to take back their two-goal lead but Dodd would stand tall turning away three efforts in two minutes from Peter Nowak (67th) Lubos Kubik (68th) and John Ball (69th).

Gaining in frustration, the team was awarded a number of yellow cards but maintained the 2-1 lead into the final 10 minutes.

Things would come undone though when defender C.J. Brown, who had done a great job in marking Dallas striker Jason Kreis throughout the series, was whistled for handling the ball in the box in the 83rd minute. On the ensuing penalty, Jorge Rodriguez sent Thornton the wrong way and brought the match level.

With Dallas holding all the momentum at home, they pushed forward for the game and series clincher in the 90th minute. John Jairo Trellez pushed up on the right and centered a ball that deflected off of Brown and saw Thornton make a swiping effort before falling straight to the feet of Graziani (right) who cruelly one-timed his effort off the underside of the cross bar to complete one of the most stunning comebacks in MLS Cup playoff history.

The final 10 minutes and whole of 1999 left former Fire President Peter Wilt to simply say, “The penalty against us that tied the game seemingly made the final outcome inevitable. Just as 1998 was destined to be our year, 1999 was destined not to be.”

The Fire would be left to look for redemption in 2000 (coming Wednesday)...