MLS Regular Season
As I’m sure you’ve come to realize the last week, picking a Top 15 list for this club is a daunting task. Weighing personal accomplishments along with how the team did during a players tenure and how that player represented the badge – let’s just say you can enter everything you want into an Excel Spreadsheet and you’ll still change your mind 43 different times.
Luckily for everyone else voting, your ballot is private, so you don’t have to worry about excluding someone very deserving, or even someone you see on a daily basis.
After much deliberation, here are my public picks for the Top 15 Fire players of all time.
DISCLAIMER – These are my own picks and do not necessarily reflect voting trends or the ballots of other voters.
#15 Frank Klopas (1998-99) – Though Frank played only two seasons for the Fire, he was part of the original group that wore the badge with pride. His “Golden Goal” in the 1998 U.S. Open Cup Final started the club’s tradition of success in the tournament and few players have meant as much to the club as Frank as reflected by being chosen second into the Ring of Fire back in 2004.
#14 Hristo Stoitchkov (2000-02) – Stoitchkov only won one trophy in Chicago, following up Frank’s ’98 Golden Goal with the game-winner in the 2000 U.S. Open Cup Final. A world renowned star, when the Mad Bulgarian came to Chicago, he reinforced the spirit of the hardworking, win-at-all cost teams that the Fire became known for early on in the league. With 24 goals and 22 assists in just 70 competitive matches, Stoitchkov was on the score sheet in some form 66% of the time during his Fire stay.
#13 Gonzalo Segares (2005-present) - Segares is one of the few true left backs the Fire have ever had and most of the reason for that is the fact that he's locked down the position for half the club's existence. One of only three players on the current roster to win a trophy with the club, Segares sits behind only Lubos Kubik for most offense produced by a defender and seems destined to become just the eighth player in club history to hit 200 competitive appearances before season's end.
#12 Logan Pause (2003-present) – The current club captain, Logan Pause stands as the club’s connection to the near treble winning year of 2003. A hard-working midfielder that’s modeled himself after the likes of Chris Armas and Jesse Marsch, Pause has been a constant in the Fire lineup the past 10 seasons, even going to play at right back when needed. Though lacking in offensive achievements, Pause has been a part of three title winning teams and sits second behind only C.J. Brown on the club’s all-time appearance list at 291 games played.
#11 Jesse Marsch (1998-05) – Like Gutierrez, Marsch combined with Armas, Pause and others throughout the years to make the Fire midfield an undesirable place for opponents. Never accuse of being the most skilled, Marsch was always smart on the ball while quietly tallying 23 goals (9th all-time) and 32 assists (6th all-time) on his way to winning five of six of the club’s domestic titles.
#10 Chris Rolfe (2005-09; 2012-present) – The highest on the list of the current Fire roster, Rolfe became the club’s second all-time leading goal scorer before leaving for Denmark at the end of 2009. That feat is even more impressive when you consider a lot of games saw him playing out of position on the right wing and he never tallied 10 goals in a season. The two goals since his return have him at 41 but it will take a while for him to catch Ante Razov at 95…
#9 DaMarcus Beasley (2000-04) – One of the most fouled players in MLS during four and a half seasons in Chicago, Beasley provided speed and constant danger to aid the likes of Razov, Peter Nowak, Josh Wolff and Damani Ralph. A winner of three domestic titles with the Fire, his stats (134 GP, 18 goals, 28 assists) would be much higher had he not left for PSV Eindhoven midway through 2004.
#8 Cuauhtemoc Blanco (2007-09) – The only player on my Top 15 list that never won a trophy in Chicago, Blanco proved those wrong that anticipated him viewing MLS as a retirement league. The legendary Mexican midfielder tallied 19 goals and 28 assists in his 77 appearances for the Fire (61% conversion rate) and led the team to three consecutive Eastern Conference finals as well as the 2009 SuperLiga championship match.
#7 Carlos Bocanegra (2000-03) – Boca’s case is very similar to that of Beasley’s in that his stats and accomplishments would likely be much greater if he hadn’t left for Fulham after 2003. Still, Boca was the 2000 Rookie of the Year, two-time MLS Defender of the Year and Best XI selections (2002-03) along with three domestic titles. There are few defenders all-time in MLS that have been quite as dominant as Carlos Bocanegra was in his time with the Fire.
#6 Lubos Kubik (1998-00) – The backbone of the 1998 double-winning team, Kubik won MLS Defender of the Year that season and was likely one of the few MLS defenders more dominant than Bocanegra during his three seasons in Chicago. The third inductee into the Ring of Fire, Kubik also holds the distinction of being the most offensive defender in club history, tallying 19 goals and 25 assists in 88 matches.
#5 Zach Thornton (1998-2006) – One of only three players to be part of all six domestic championship teams, Thornton beat out Jorge Campos to win the starting job during his first season in Chicago. He holds the distinction of holding most of the club’s goalkeeping records and is one of Major League Soccer’s top goalkeepers of all-time.
#3 Ante Razov (1998-2004) – What can you say about a guy that nearly scored 100 goals in a Fire uniform? Having tallied double-digit goals in five of his seven seasons in Chicago, Razov’s offensive achievements with the Fire (95 goals, 51 assists in 196 games) match up with anyone else’s in Major League Soccer. Despite his incredible scoring record, Razov was just once named to the MLS Best XI (2003) and All-Star Game (2000).
#2 Chris Armas (1998-2007) – A revelation of sorts when he joined Chicago via trade from LA in 1998, Armas epitomized the work ethic and attitude that would come to be known from Fire teams in years to come. His play in Chicago helped him carve out a place with the U.S. Men’s National Team and if not for a devastating injury, would have taken part in at least one FIFA World Cup. Despite being known as the ultimate destroyer in midfield, Armas quietly racked up 53 assists, good enough for second on the club’s all-time list. The club’s second captain, Armas was a five-time MLS Best XI selection, four-time all-star and is one of seven members of the Ring of Fire.
#1 Peter Nowak (1998-02) – I hope there was little doubt that Nowak would always be the number one choice. The first captain in club history, it was the former Polish international that often times put the team on his shoulders during the early seasons. The only player in Fire history that can claim an MLS Cup MVP award, Nowak is the club’s all-time leader in assists with 60, a three-time Chicago Fire MVP and MLS Best XI selection and the original inductee in the club’s Ring of Fire.
The Fire play the Supporters Shield leaders San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night at Buck Shaw Stadium. Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical standpoint…
COACH'S TAKE: Matko on Quakes
With six more goals scored than any other team in the league this season and two in-form strikers, San Jose just can’t stop scoring. That being said, the team’s 44 goals eclipse the fact that they have given up 27. Of the teams currently in playoff positions, only New York and the Galaxy have given up more.
Last week’s loss to Vancouver exposed one of San Jose’s biggest weaknesses which also happens to be one of Fire’s greatest strengths: speed. Though Morrow had a good game on the attacking side, he was punished time after time by Dane Richards whose goal came directly from a Morrow error.
On the right hand side, San Jose will be without Beitashour for the first time all season which could pay dividends for the Men in Red. The pace of the Fire’s Ghanaian duo of Nyarko and Oduro could cause San Jose some major problems on the outside. Because the outside backs push up so much, there is plenty of room behind them for Oduro to run into. When he does go wide however, it requires the other attack-minded players Rolfe, Alex and Nyarko to get into the box in support.
Wondo and Gordon: Stay Tight
A major reason San Jose is sitting at the top of MLS this season are the goals from Wondolowski (17), Gordon (9) and Lenhart (6). The Quakes don’t set up their strikes the traditional way, with one on the shoulder off the last defender looking for flick-ons from the target man. Wondolowski and Gordon/Lenhart are constantly switching positions; dropping back into midfield and drifting wide. The interchanging of positions causes major problems for defenders and is one reason why you see Wondolowski score so many simple goals (think Fire vs. San Jose last season) - even though he is the obvious danger man, his movement makes him so difficult to pick up.
The other reason is that San Jose attack in such great numbers that it allows Wondo to go undetected. It sounds simple to say “stay with your man” or “keep your eye on the man and not the ball” but that’s exactly what the Fire need to do.
Using last week’s game as an example again, Jay DeMerit didn't let him out of his sight for almost the entire match to great effect. The Fire's defensive performances have been stellar this season we and should expect nothing less from Austin Berry and co on Saturday night.
A midday, midweek match in mid-July Jersey humidity doesn’t seem like the greatest idea in the world but, that’s what will occur Wednesday afternoon as the Fire visit the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, New Jersey.
While the kickoff time gives the game a bit of a Chicago Cubs at Wrigley feel, I did a non-scientific survey of Fire players Monday to see if they’d ever played a game of significance in the middle of a week day.
Cory Gibbs: “No.”
Corben Bone: “No.”
Austin Berry: “No.”
Jalil Anibaba: “No.”
Though the topics couldn’t be more different, the responses put together began to sound like a certain Amy Winehouse song.
Fire captain Logan Pause came to the rescue with this answer, “Midweek, midday? Maybe in youth soccer. I don’t think in college we even played midweek games in the middle of the day so I'm sure Wednesday will be a first for most of the guys.”
Part of that is likely because playing in the middle of the day in summer heat doesn’t necessarily make for good soccer. For those wondering why the kickoff is set for 12pm CT (1pm local time), the Red Bulls are going back to experiment with a “Camp Day” looking to attract summer camps to Red Bull Arena Wednesday afternoon.
As this article from BigAppleSoccer.com’s Michael Lewis points out, it’s something the team’s precursor, the MetroStars, did in a match against Kansas City back in 2003. The result for the Wizards Jimmy Conrad and the Metros Edgar Bartholomeu weren’t great
Luckily for both sides Red Bull Arena’s grass field is not the Giant’s Stadium turf, which should make things a little bit cooler in a match that is absolutely considered a “swing game” with the Fire sitting just one point behind New York in the Eastern Conference standings.
“Wednesday is obviously an important game despite the weird time and whatever heat we have to deal with,” said Pause. “Either way, the way our schedule goes through the summer – midweek, weekend -- I honestly lose track of the days.”
PREVIEW: Fire vs. Red Bulls
Yesterday I wrote an open letter to MLS All-Star head coach Ben Olsen asking him to consider selecting Patrick Nyarko for the 2012 MLS All-Star Game. I was told this morning Ben had indeed read the letter which is the most I could hope for in the matter. Thanks for your consideration Ben!
Now into the third day of the #PickPat campaign, this morning I took the deep plunge in writing another open letter, this time to MLS Commissioner Don Garber to ask for his consideration of Patrick as one of the two "Commissioner's Picks" for this month's match vs. Chelsea FC.
Here's what I said...
Dear Commissioner Garber,
Though there’s no way you remember, I had the pleasure of meeting you at the Chicago Fire Season Kickoff Luncheon in 2011. Fire owner Andrew Hauptman graciously pulled me over and introduced me as “the man who knows all things about our club”. Surely he might have been exaggerating a bit but I do pride myself on my ability to name our Top 15 goal scorers by total, in reverse order, without skipping a beat.
It’s in that spirit that I come to you with a request: select Patrick Nyarko as one of your two “Commissioner’s picks” for this month’s MLS All-Star Game against Chelsea FC.
As Commissioner you’ve accomplished a lot -- modern day statisticians and soccer purists hold you in high regard for abolishing the hockey-style shootout while the businessmen and marketers of the league praise your name for the push of soccer-specific stadia and Designated Players.
Pat’s not a DP and he’s not even the biggest name in the Chicago Fire locker room so perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising for him to not be included in the team’s six nominees for this year’s MLS All-Star fan voting. Anyone that has watched the team and Pat’s play over the past three seasons will tell you he’s likely been the club’s most consistent performer, shredding defenses with his speed, ability on the ball and excellent work rate.
With that in mind, it was considered quite a coup for the club to re-sign Patrick earlier this year as he would have easily been a target of European sides once his contract expired at season’s end.
While I made the statistical and playing case to MLS All-Star head coach Ben Olsen Tuesday, today I point to Patrick’s dedication to the club and the league as a reason you should consider him for one of your Commissioner’s picks for the All-Star game.
The DP’s of the league will certainly help sell tickets, merchandise and TV rights but players of Pat’s ability and ethic are the ones the league has always built its back on. His story alone is a great one but his ability to come in and improve every day and be a positive force on and off the field is a great advertisement for our club as well as Major League Soccer.
In the past your choices for the All-Star game have sometimes been about making sure a certain name is present but you’ve also selected players deserving players that have been overlooked.
I can think of no one better that Patrick that falls in to the second category of recognition and ask you to strongly consider to #PickPat on Sunday for this year’s MLS All-Star Game.
Yours in Soccer,
Chicago Fire Team Writer
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
The #PickPat for #MLSAllStar Campaign got off to a successful start on Monday with a lot of great tweets appealing to Ben Olsen and Don Garber to select Patrick Nyarko to the squad that will face Chelsea FC on Wednesday, July 25 in Philadelphia.
Chicago Fire Team Writer
Full disclosure here: I saw the Twitter campaign the Chicago White Sox did to get Jake Peavy onto the American League All-Star team for tomorrow’s game. #TakeJake made its way into the Fourth of July Parade and with Dave Kaplan on Chicago Tribune Live and I have to admit, I became a little envious.
THE INVERTED WINGER: Patrick Nyarko
One-named players in the game of soccer are almost exclusively Brazilian. Going by a single name is almost a rite of passage for anyone that learned to play “joga bonito” growing up and its no different for new Fire arrival Alex who didn’t take long to put the Brazilian flare on display in last Friday’s 1-0 victory at Sporting KC.
While Alex shows promise, I thought it a smart exercise to detail the other Major League Soccer’s other one-named players that Alex should look to as an example.
Welton (New England, 1996; LA Galaxy, 1997-99; Miami 1999-00) - One of my sentimental favorites, Welton (pictured right) never really won a title in MLS and but #OldSchoolMLSFans will remember him as one of the most successful one-namers in league history (as well as a constant on my early MLS Fantasy team).
A traveling man of sorts, the Rio native would tally 43 goals and 34 assists over 144 career matches for New England, LA and Miami. He twice hit for double-digit goals in a season, scoring 11 goals in 1997 and 17 goals in 1998 for the Galaxy.
Fire fans will probably remember him best for ruining Zach Thornton’s shutout bid in the 2000 U.S. Open Cup Final with his 90th minute strike, which was the last goal he would score for an MLS side.
Camilo (Vancouver, 2011-present) – The midfielder led the Whitecaps with 12 goals and three assists over 32 matches in the club’s inaugural MLS campaign last season. His scoring pace is slightly slower this season with only three goals and two assists but he’s aided Vancouver to third place in the West at the half way point.
Preki (Kansas City 1996-2000, 2002-05; Miami 2001) – The best one-namer in league history isn’t even Brazilian. Preki’s (right) story is well known… a Yugoslavian indoor star who made his way back to Europe to play for Everton and Portsmouth before returning stateside to carve out one of the top careers in MLS history.
Spending all but one of his 10 MLS seasons in Kansas City, Preki amassed 79 goals and 112 assists in 242 games from 1996-2005, winning one MLS Cup (2000), two Supporters Shields (2000 KC; 2001 Miami) and one U.S. Open Cup (2004). He was twice named MLS Most Valuable Player in 1997 and 2003 and had four seasons in which he hit double-digit goals (scoring 18 in 1996).
Oh he also scored the United States’ only game-winning goal against Brazil.
Preki was good, that’s all.
Juninho (LA Galaxy, 2010-present) – There have been more than a few Juninho’s before the Galaxy’s Juninho Paulista came onto the MLS scene but the central midfielder has proven to be one of the best one-namers ever in MLS. Since coming to the Galaxy on loan from Sao Paulo in 2010, Juninho has appeared in 72 matches, tallying seven goals and five assists while helping the Gals to a Supporters Shield and the team’s third MLS Cup last season.
Thiago (Chicago Fire, 2005-2007) – No Fire list of one-name players could ever be complete without Alex’s precursor at the club, Thiago (photo right). After impressing on a trial in 2004, the Porto Alegre product joined the Fire in 2005 and would go on to tally six goals and seven assists during his first season in Chicago.
The following year, he would bag just three goals and two assists in the league but wrote his name into Fire lore for his late-game, close-range tap-in to send Toyota Park into pandemonium as the Fire clinched their MLS-record fourth U.S. Open Cup title with a 3-1 victory over the LA Galaxy on September 23, 2006.
With diminished playing time in 2007, Thiago was released by the Fire that September. Now 30, he’s bounced around Brazil’s lower leagues, winning the Campeanato Gaucho Segunda Divisao with hometown club Porto Alegre in 2009 and currently plays for Sao Luiz de Ijui.
Happy Tuesday Matchday! The Chicago Fire travel to Houston for their first-ever match at BBVA Compass Stadium tonight at 7:30pm CT LIVE on NBC 5.2 (Channel Finder) and 97.5FM ESPN Deportes Radio.
Here are five things to know heading into tonight’s Fourth of July-eve match…
PREVIEW: Fire at Dynamo
I remember my 15th birthday like it was yesterday. I woke up early and went to the DMV with my mom to secure my Learner’s Permit – gaining the ability to drive (with supervision) was a true right of passage growing up just outside of the Motor City.
We started last Friday by posting this video counting down Games #13-15 on our list. We’ll have a video each week in the above categories as we lead up to our 15th Anniversary celebration to be held Wednesday, October 3 against the Philadelphia Union at Toyota Park.
#Fire15: Memorable Matches 13-15