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Sporting Kansas City

06 July 6:19 pm

Chicago Fire at Sporting Kansas City

Sporting Park – Kansas City, Kan.

MLS Regular Season

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop

On a 1-1 draw against Sporting KC…

“First off, I thought we played well—an even game. I think we moved the ball well. It had been physical in the first 20 minutes of the match. We had a game plan to come in and try to do that and find little pockets and little holes and play in between the lines. I thought we did a great job, we just ran out of steam. We had a couple injuries. Alex was off at halftime, and Jhon (Kennedy Hurtado)’s got dizzy spells. So late in the game, when you want to make your subs make a difference, we couldn’t do that. Credit to Kansas City, they really pushed and in the end could have won it, but I was proud of the way we hung in there. So we could win a few more games, but we can tie them for sure.”

On the impact of the weather…

“It’s huge. The thing for me is that we don’t quit…and we didn’t. We kept going and tried to do the right things and moved the ball well. I thought Harry Ship was good today. He finds the pocket and finds good spaces. But in general, I thought we did OK. We have tied a lot of games and it’s frustrating when that’s probably one of the games that Kansas City probably deserved to win. But a lot of other times we pretty much were on the verge of winning the match. So it’s a close thing for us right now. Today was a good fight and spirit, with injuries and with stuff that went on. To get a point here, as you guys know, it is very difficult.”

Chicago Fire midfielder Logan Pause

On a 1-1 draw against Sporting KC…

“This is a tough place to play against a good team with a great crowd. But at the end of the day, not many people can come here and get a draw out of it. It's a good point or us.”

On using U.S. Open Cup results to build momentum…

“We know we have a lot of work to do, but I think we've gotten some good results in the Open Cup that have given us a little momentum and a push. So we are excited to keep that going.”

On Mike Magee's goal…

“When Mike [Magee] gets in those types of situations, he is clinical. He does a fantastic job running off defenders shoulders. It was a fantastic job by Chris Ritter to put him in behind.”

On preparing for another midweek game…

“We are going to have some tired legs, so it will be up to the staff, but hopefully we can take some momentum into Wednesday. We have a big Cup game and then it's back to League play over the weekend.”

Chicago Fire forward Harry Shipp

On a 1-1 draw against Sporting KC…

“It was hot. I think the first half we did a pretty good job defending and countering when they turned it over. In the second half, they were a little better on the ball. In the last 30 minutes they wore us down, running in the heat, and shuttling back and forth took its toll on us. It was tough for us to connect passes in the last 30 minutes.”

On using Open Cup success to build momentum…

“Any time you get a win, especially when we struggle to get wins in the League, it's imperative for us. It hasn't turned into a League victory today, but hopefully in the next couple weeks it will turn into a couple wins.”

On a demanding July with MLS play and the U.S. Open Cup…

“We have a busy month. We have a mid-week game and a weekend game almost every week. It's important to keep our bodies rested and fresh when we aren't playing.” 

Sporting KC manager Peter Vermes

On Sporting KC’s 1-1 draw against Chicago…

“Look, we obviously gave a goal away. And they had one other chance besides that. We lost a ball, a very easy ball right at the beginning of the final third. We lose the ball and we’re a little stretched out and they get an easy tap-in at the end of the day. So we give that up, then obviously we drove the game, in and around their box quite a bit. I like to think that in the second half we made some really, really good opportunities at goal. We had some really good chances (where) we should have scored a second goal, no doubt in my mind. We just didn’t have enough people in the box. I do think that these games, when you play at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, in this kind of weather…it makes for a tough game for both teams. And I think it changes the way the game is played. Its not an excuse…My point is that when you play these games at night in the summertime, they have a different feel for both teams—and they should from their entertainment value. But again, we had enough chances around the goal, and we should have scored a second goal.”

On his decision to use Graham Zusi as a second half substitute but keep Matt Besler out of the matchday squad…

“Zusi felt good to go in and play, and Matt felt he needed a couple more days (to rest). Really simple.”

On Chicago’s first half pressure leading to their equalizing goal…

“I don’t know if they really pressured high up the field. I don’t think they really did. But I thought what really happened was that as we were building out, I don think we were moving the ball quick enough. So it allowed them to just hold their ground. We didn’t expect anything different. I don’t think they were high up the field to be honest with you. I just think that our circulation with the ball in the first half was very slow, and I think the second half was much better. And I also thought that they tried to isolate a couple of our guys with the ball. We made adjustments in the second half and that changed everything.” 

Sporting KC midfielder Benny Feilhaber

On returning from a shoulder injury to play his first game in a month…

“I felt pretty good for the most part, but got tired there at the end. It was obviously a tough environment to play in—really hot and humid today. We did some good things and almost got the second goal a couple times in the second half. I thought our second half performance was a lot more composed. We had the ball a lot in their end. Whenever we lost the ball, our transition was good, and we created some decent opportunities. It’s always going to be tough when they put 10 guys behind the ball. Overall, it was a decent game. I just need to keep building endurance game-by-game.”

On splitting the points with a defensive Chicago Fire…

“It’s important to get points throughout the season, so a draw is okay. At the end of the year, every single point is going to count, whether you’re getting them home or away. It’s tough not getting three points at home, but we’ll take this result and focus on next week in Montreal.”

On how Sporting KC’s great fan support makes it tough on Matt Besler and Graham Zusi to decide whether to pursue a move to Europe or stay in MLS…

“There’s no doubt that everyone (on our team) wants to be here, or else Peter (Vermes) wouldn’t keep them here. And it’s easy to see why we want to stay here. I’ve only been in Kansas City for a year and a half, but there’s no place I’d rather be. The fans that are out there every single weekend, the way we play…our entire setup here is fantastic. It’s a class organization. I’m sure Besler and Zusi both have some decisions to make regarding whether they leave or not, but it won’t be an easy one. Sometimes opting to go elsewhere is something you have to do develop your football career, but it’s never an easy decision when you’re leaving a place you really love. They’ll take their time with the decision, and if they decide to stay, we’re going to be thankful.”

Sporting KC forward Dom Dwyer

On his showy goal celebration in the first half…

“(The celebration) was set up. It was mentioned earlier today before the game, and it sounded like quite a cool idea. It was a good bit of fun, but I got a yellow (card) for it. I was lucky I didn’t get another yellow, or else I would have been in big trouble.”

On whether his first half yellow card changed the way he played the rest of the game…

“It was on my mind after that, but it didn’t change how I played. Obviously I wasn’t going to go hard into a 50-50 (challenge), and luckily that opportunity didn’t come.”

On Sporting KC’s 1-1 draw against Chicago…

“I’d rather have three points, but it’s nice to get on the score sheet. I was more excited that I cleared one off the line, to be honest. I really wanted to keep a clean sheet today and was gutted when we allowed one. I thought we defended well throughout the whole game, so I’m a little disappointed there.”

On scoring his 12th goal of the season…

“I just stayed calm. I remember the defender got a bad ball and he didn’t take the best touch. He kind of panicked because I was coming at him quick. He kind of stumbled over the ball and I nicked it from him. I was going to shoot across the keeper’s body, but I saw (Sean Johnson) take a little step to the middle. So I hit it early and slid it past him. Normally you’d go around him, but he’s a big goalie. I just saw a little gap and slid it in there.”

On exchanging goals with defending MLS MVP Mike Magee…

“I have huge respect for him. I think he’s a fantastic player and a great guy, too. He’s sent me messages of encouragement and givent me some good advice. He’s a veteran, a very good player and a former MVP of the League. Obviously I’d like to follow in his footsteps. We’re different players, but we both score goals. That’s a good similarity to have.”

On Sunday’s playing conditions…

“It was stupidly hot. A 2 p.m. game is not fun with that weather. I understand it’s T.V. time, but those were very tough conditions. It was bad at the end there, I was cramping up. But that’s part of football.”

06 July 6:12 pm

Select shots from the Fire's draw with SKC presented by MiAllstate

18 May 6:51 pm

Chicago Fire Head Coach and Director of Soccer Frank Yallop

On the Fire’s first win at Toyota Park this season

“Well obviously, last time I saw you guys, it wasn’t a pretty sight with the game we had before. But today, we come away with three points against a good side – it’s obviously the aim before the match. We got it done; we’re unbeaten in two games, which is always a good thing. We dug through and got the result that we needed. We should have shut them off with a couple of chances late in the game, but didn’t; and you have to give credit to Kansas City, they kept going, created some chances late with ten men. But it’s great to get that win; I feel good that we saw it through. But obviously, there’s room for improvement on any performance, and there’s no difference for this one.”

On the lack of shutouts

“We won the game, would have loved to get the shutout; winning is everything. If we win 3-2, 2-1, whatever it is, we’ll take it. Obviously, it’s nice defensively if we can get a shutout. But as you know, it wasn’t a defensive back four error; it was someone not picking up someone on a set play, so that’s a team thing. We’re working on stuff all the time; it’s brand new, with 10 games in, I’m happy with only losing two games in this league with a group that’s been put together a little bit. We’ve had our ups and downs; we should’ve won more games for sure. We had two home games that you saw had penalty kicks; we could be on four wins right now. It has me going, “well, that’s not bad,” so it’s give and take. I don’t get carried away with winning games; I don’t get carried away with losing or tying games. I think, right now, we’re in a good spot, we’ve got a chance to now get going. These next four games are tough; we’ve got a tough schedule, but it’s something that I’m looking forward to, to see and test the character of the boys. They’re up for the fight, and we saw this game through, which is important to me, so they’re going to feel good about it. We did the same in New York, no matter how the manner is. I got a little bit of gray hair; it could’ve been silver by the end of the game. But we got the win, and that’s all that matters at this point.”

On the revamped back line

“It’s pretty good; and again, it’s a work in progress the whole time, it’s a team defensive type of thing. I thought Patrick [Ianni] had a good, solid game again; Jhon [Kennedy Hurtado] again, I thought, was solid in the middle, the two outside backs at times. Kansas City moved the ball well; they get you overloaded at times, they pull you around. In general, they had a couple of good chances; but I thought we had the better chances, to be honest. Dilly [Duka] had a breakaway, Mike [Magee] had a chance to go around a keeper and slot it. I know it was a tough game late in the match, but we could’ve come away with four or five goals today. The way I’m trying to set the team up is to obviously try to outscore the opponent, and try to make sure that we’re going forward, but we’re just trying to be solid and defensively sound at the back. The balance at the moment is a little bit wavering; we’ve gone forward okay, but I think the defensive side of things is not quite right yet; and again, it’s not just the back four, it’s the whole thing. We watched a lot of DVD last week, we’re going to watch it again this week, and see if we can get the balance where we can just be in good spots. And I just think, as a team, we sat back a little bit again in this game. We have to slide up the field and keep the ball, especially against ten men.

On who is taking penalty kicks

“I actually had a chat with a few press guys a few weeks ago, and I decided Jeff [Larentowicz] was going to take them. But Mike [Magee] and Jeff were talking, and Jeff felt that Mike was the guy to do it. He missed the last two for us; last season [against Montreal], then the first one against Philly. To score two in the same game is tough, so you have to hand it to Mike that he stepped up and buried those two chances and won the match for us; it was great.”

On facing a 3-5-2 formation

“I have not seen that for a while, actually; that was old school MLS stuff, the 3-5-2. But looking at [Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes’] team, it was depleted a little bit at the back, so he decided to play that. It was a little bit different; for us, I’m sure where they’re going to play and who’s going to play, just make sure we’re ready to do it, and step the guys and do our thing. For a good seventy minutes, I felt we were comfortable, and then it got a little hair-raising at the end. But you have to hand it to Peter and his team, they’re a good side; they’re not champions for nothing. They proved it today; they really came up to fight, especially with 10 men.”

On the thought process behind the Fire’s double substitution

“I just thought the momentum was getting away from us a little bit, so I just decided that double is always good. One is not always the impact that you want, so I wanted to do two at the same time, and make two positions freshened up. All in all, I thought it was good; I think Logan [Pause] did a good job, and Dilly looked good when he came on. He has not played for a while, so it was good to get him some minutes and get him running around. All in all, you decide what you want to do; I talked to the coaches, but ultimately, it was my decision. I felt it was the time to do it.”

Jeff Larentowicz, Chicago Fire Midfielder

On not being able to score to put the game away:

“We want to, it’s not something we’re afraid of.  It’s just not happening.  We come close, we have opportunities, but they make the defensive plays and good saves, but it will come.  A win is a win and it’s good that we can be picky in this circumstance.”

Sean Johnson, Chicago Fire goalkeeper

On the defensive performance:

“We needed to learn how to control a game and we are.  I think tonight that the effort defensively was fantastic.  We limited shots, limited chances and there were not many shots on target at all.  I think we’ll look to build on that going forward, but I’m really happy with the performance tonight.

On the learning curve:

“I think we’ve learned a lot.  The most important thing we’ve learned is that we can’t sit back and wait for the game to come to us. No matter what the result is – regardless if we’re tied or we’re up we need to keep playing our game and be confident that we can dictate the way the game goes, close out games and get results.”

On building momentum:

“Back-to-back wins are huge for us.  Now we know what it feels like to win.  We know how to win and now it’s a matter of focusing on the little things and getting it right so that every game we give ourselves a chance to win and put ourselves in a position to go on and push for three points.”

Mike Magee, Chicago Fire forward:

On the first win a home:

“We needed a win badly; however, if that’s how we’re going to win games, I probably only have a couple games left in my career. We’ll take it, it was deserved.  It was a very funky game, but we’ll take wins however we can get them at this point.”

On the end of the game:

“That’s kind of been our M.O.  We get up in games, play well in spurts then kind of take our foot off the gas.  That happened again tonight.  We created a couple chances, I even had a couple of good ones, but for whatever reason we’re letting teams hang in games, and teams like K.C. usually make you pay.”

Harry Shipp, Chicago Fire midfielder

On playing K.C. with missing starters and a man-up in the second half:

“The players they subbed in for them are still really good players.  A championship team isn’t 11 guys it’s 18 guys.  When you slide guys into the midfield and up front they are still going to be dangerous.  I think they were good keeping the ball in the attacking half, but once we were able to break that pressure we did a good job of slipping balls in – getting Quincy and Mike behind for some penalty calls in the first half.”

16 May 2:04 pm

The Fourth Round draw for the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup occurred Friday morning at Soccer House in downtown Chicago and with MLS teams entering at this stage, the process was much more elaborate than the straight forward flips from last week’s Third Round draw.

Before I lay out how it unfolded, a few bullets to keep in mind…

  • I was incorrect in my earlier tweets and statements that a USL PRO affiliate could not be matched with its partner MLS club. I’m a busy guy and sometimes you just have to admit you’re not perfect, sorry!
  • The only affiliate relationship that needed to be separated for this draw was that of the LA Galaxy and LA Galaxy II who are both owned by the same party.
  • USL PRO side Orlando City and their PDL side Orlando City U-23s, are both in the tournament but could not be matched up at this stage as MLS teams must be matched with a lower league pairing.
  • Chivas USA was the only MLS club to not apply to host a Fourth Round Open Cup match.

With those done, I will underscore that the most important principle to keep in mind for how pairings are determined comes from Page 7 of the 2014 U.S. Open Cup Handbook. It states:

“After each Third Round pairing has been determined, each Division I (MLS) team entering in the Fourth Round will be matched geographically to play the winner of a specific Third Round pairing. Instances where a logical geographic fit doesn’t exist will be resolved by random selection."

Jeff Crandall attends the fourth round draw for the 2014 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Soccer House on May 16, 2014
As all business as a selfie can be prior to walking into Soccer House...

Upon arrival to Soccer House, Competition Secretary Paul Marstaller handed me a sheet of paper with four geographic groupings, plus a wild card pool. The most straightforward grouping was the top table which featured eight Third Round matchups across from eight MLS teams that made “a logical geographic fit” with those lower league pairings.

The pairings with the result of the coin flip are below. Teams that are not bolded either did not have a suitable home venue or didn’t apply to host (U.S. Soccer did not distinguish the reason on this sheet).

FLIP HEADS FLIP TAILS
X Brooklyn Italians SC (NPSL)/New York Cosmos (NASL)   New York Red Bulls (MLS)
  Dayton Dutch Lions (USLP)/Indy Eleven (NASL) X Columbus Crew (MLS)
  RWB Adria (USASA)/Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USLP) X Chicago Fire (MLS)
  Minnesota United FC (NASL)/Des Moines Menace (USASA X Sporting Kansas City (MLS)
  Laredo Heat (PDL)/Ft. Lauderdale Strikers (NASL) X Houston Dynamo (MLS)
  NTX Rayados (USASA)/San Antonio Scorpions (NASL) X FC Dallas (MLS)
X Arizona United SC (USLP)/Oklahoma City Energy FC (USLP)   LA Galaxy (MLS)
  Fresno Fuego (PDL)/Sacramento Republic (USLP) X San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)

For the local Fire fans, I was able to take OFFICIAL VIDEO documenting the Fire's winning coin flip:

The second grouping of matchups pooled three Northeast MLS sides with three lower league pairings. Of note here, Marstaller said that because the Harrisburg City Islanders and Baltimore Bohemians are about equidistant to D.C. United and Philadelphia Union, a flip off between the two sides would be done to determine which club would host the winner of that Third Round Matchup.

Based on alphabet, D.C. United was assigned heads and Philadelphia tails, with the Union winning. Because neither Harrisburg or Baltimore applied to host, no flip was necessary as hosting rights defaulted to the Union. 

LOWER-LEAGUE MATCHUP MLS TEAMS FLIP ASSIGNMENT
Harrisburg City Islanders (USLP)/Baltimore Bohemians (PDL) D.C. United
Philadelphia Union
Heads
Tails

United's loss on their first flip resulted in them moving down to the next pairing of two lower league matchups where a similar flip had to occur between New York Greek American Atlas/Richmond Kickers and Reading United AC/Rochester Rhinos to determind who would be D.C.'s opponent.

FLIP ASSIGNMENT LOWER-LEAGUE MATCHUP MLS TEAM
Heads New York Greek American Atlas (USASA)/Richmond Kickers (USLP)
Reading United AC (PDL)/Rochester Rhinos (USLP)
D.C. United
Tails

Again, determined by alphabet, the New York/Richmond matchup was assigned heads while the other was assigned tails and the coin again flipped to tails matching D.C. United with Reading/Rochester.

This moved New York/Richmond down to a matchup with the New England Revolution and then flips were done to determine the hosting rights for those two matchups with both lower league matchups winning with heads. For the purpose of clarity, here is how that final grouping looked:

FLIP HEADS FLIP TAILS
  Harrisburg City Islanders (USLP)/Baltimore Bohemians (PDL) N/A Philadelphia Union
X Reading United AC (PDL)/Rochester Rhinos (USLP)   D.C. United
X New York Greek American Atlas (USASA)/Richmond Kickers (USLP)   New England Revolution

The third grouping was a product of Chivas USA being the only MLS club not to apply for hosting rights. Because of this, Marstaller needed to pair them with lower league matchups in which both clubs applied to host, of which there were two: Atlanta Silverbacks/Chattanooga FC (heads) and Charlotte Eagles/Carolina Railhawks (tails).

A coin flip was done to see who would host Chivas and landed tails giving Charlotte/Carolina the hosting rights. This pushed Atlanta/Chattanooga down to the very ending “Wild Card Pool”.

FLIP ASSIGNMENT LOWER-LEAGUE MATCHUP MLS TEAM
Heads Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL)/Chattanooga FC (NPSL)
Charlotte Eagles (USLP)/Carolina RailHawks (NASL)
Chivas USA
Tails

The fourth pool featured the PSA Elite/LA Galaxy II matchup paired against four MLS teams that were within geographical proximity. While both lower-league teams are based in Southern California, because PSA Elite also did not apply to host, Chivas USA could not be thrown into this group.

The most interesting part of the process Friday was the flip-off between four MLS clubs to determine who would play Galaxy II/PSA Elite.

Again determined by alphabet, Colorado/Portland and Real Salt Lake/Seattle Sounders did a preliminary flip. Both losers in that round (Portland & Real Salt Lake) were moved into the final Wild Card pairing, then Colorado and Seattle did a final flip, with Seattle winning again (which should keep Sigi Schmid somewhat happy) and Colorado also falling to the Wild Card group.

LOWER-LEAGUE MATCHUP MLS TEAMS
PSA Elite (USASA)/LA Galaxy II (USLP) Colorado Rapids
Portland Timbers
Heads
Tails
Heads
Real Salt Lake
Seattle Sounders
Heads
Tails
Tails

One final flip was done to determine the hosting rights for that match with Galaxy II/PSA Elite winning and presumably, since PSA Elite did not apply to host, Sigi will be their biggest fan.

FLIP HEADS FLIP TAILS
X PSA Elite (USASA)/LA Galaxy II (USLP)   Seattle Sounders

After all the flips above were done, the Wild Card pool looked like the below table, with MLS clubs placed on the right according to alphabetical order. Because of the odd number of matchups, coin flips could not be used to determine who would play each other so Marstaller placed three slips of paper marked “A”, “B” and “C” into plain envelopes. As the matchup moved down from the initial Chivas USA grouping, Atlanta/Chattanooga was assigned “C” while the other two lower-league pairings were assigned “A” and “B” based on alphabetic order.

WILD CARD POOL
Letter LOWER-LEAGUE MATCHUP MLS TEAMS
A
B
C
Orlando City U23s (PDL)/Charleston Battery (USLP)
Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL)/Orlando City (USLP)
Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL)/Chattanooga FC (NPSL)
Colorado Rapids
Portland Timbers
Real Salt Lake

Marstaller then went down the alphabetic list of MLS sides and drew the slips of paper from the envelopes. When all three matchups had been finalized, final flips for hosting rights occurred, concluding the fourth round Open Cup draw. You can see how the envelopes were drawn and the winner of the flips below:

FLIP HEADS FLIP TAILS
  Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL)/Orlando City (USLP) X Colorado Rapids
X Orlando City U23s (PDL)/Charleston Battery (USLP)   Portland Timbers
X Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL)/Chattanooga FC (NPSL)   Real Salt Lake

Following the draw, Marstaller said the published fourth round scenarios would not be accompanied Friday by match dates yet. This is because the Fourth Round has three possible match dates over an eight-day span. With USL PRO and the PDL, along with amateur sides having league games between the June 10-18 Fourth Round window, all clubs that have the potential to host a Fourth Round match will have the weekend to give their preferred hosting date before U.S. Soccer balances the already scheduled league games. Because of the logistical process, hosting dates are expected to be announced sometime next week. 

A comprehensive list of who won hosting coin flips can be found below.

FLIP HEADS FLIP TAILS
X Brooklyn Italians SC (NPSL)/New York Cosmos (NASL)   New York Red Bulls (MLS)
  Dayton Dutch Lions (USLP)/Indy Eleven (NASL) X Columbus Crew (MLS)
  RWB Adria (USASA)/Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USLP) X Chicago Fire (MLS)
  Minnesota United FC (NASL)/Des Moines Menace (USASA X Sporting Kansas City (MLS)
  Laredo Heat (PDL)/Ft. Lauderdale Strikers (NASL) X Houston Dynamo (MLS)
  NTX Rayados (USASA)/San Antonio Scorpions (NASL) X FC Dallas (MLS)
X Arizona United SC (USLP)/Oklahoma City Energy FC (USLP)   LA Galaxy (MLS)
  Fresno Fuego (PDL)/Sacramento Republic (USLP) X San Jose Earthquakes (MLS)
  Harrisburg City Islanders (USLP)/Baltimore Bohemians (PDL) N/A Philadelphia Union
X Reading United AC (PDL)/Rochester Rhinos (USLP)   D.C. United
X New York Greek American Atlas (USASA)/Richmond Kickers (USLP)   New England Revolution
N/A Charlotte Eagles (USLP)/Carolina RailHawks (NASL)   Chivas USA
X PSA Elite (USASA)/LA Galaxy II (USLP)   Seattle Sounders
  Tampa Bay Rowdies (NASL)/Orlando City (USLP) X Colorado Rapids
X Orlando City U23s (PDL)/Charleston Battery (USLP)   Portland Timbers
X Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL)/Chattanooga FC (NPSL)   Real Salt Lake

Thanks again to the U.S. Soccer staff for being great hosts once again!

16 May 8:00 am

The Fire finally picked up three points last week in dramatic fashion with a 5-4 win over Red Bull in New Jersey and will look to make it two on the trot when they welcome defending MLS Cup champs Sporting Kansas City to Toyota Park on Sunday (2pm CT My50/TWCSC-WI/UniMas).

Sporting brings a depleted squad to Chicago but their first loss at home in some time at the hands of the Union on Wednesday night means they come to town with a bad taste in their mouth. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Taking advantage of a depleted SKC defense – testing the makeshift back line

On Sunday, Kansas City will take the field without either member of their famed center backs – Aurelien Collin (injury) and Matt Besler (international duty). Right back Chance Myers is also a doubt. On the outside, Seth Sinovic could be the only regular starter in the back four to play on Sunday while Brazilian Igor Julião had a solid debut in Wednesday’s match against Philly.

In the past, SKC have dealt with the loss of Besler due to national team commitments but losing both center backs is a large blow. SKC’s patched up defense must have Mike Magee and Quincy Amarikwa licking their lips. Last week we saw Harry Shipp play an absolutely brilliant defense-splitting pass to put Mike Magee in 1v1 with Red Bull ‘keeper Luis Robles.

Against SKC, Shipp and whoever plays in the center of midfield alongside Jeff Larentowicz should be looking to play those types of passes in behind the SKC defense to the onrushing Magee or Amarikwa.

Repeating last week’s second half tactic on Sunday – putting high pressure on SKC

Amarikwa described Frank Yallop’s tactical switch at halftime of the New York game the best. When asked, he said, “We came in at half time and knew we were sitting in too much. We were giving New York too much respect to play and we know we can score goals. That’s what we’ve done consistently this year. So, we said in the second half we’re just going to high press, what do we have to lose, and I think it really caught them off guard.”

The exact same tactic should be in place from the first whistle against SKC. In Wednesday’s match against the Union, Sporting gave up the ball on far too many occasions, many times with minimal pressure applied by the opposition. The Union sat back and used the counter attack to their advantage but for the Fire, forcing a new-look SKC into mistakes will be critical.

If Benji Joya gets the start again in the center of the park, I expect to see more from him in this regard. Joya is slowly but surely improving the defensive side of his game but against a team like SKC, I expect him to take a page out of the Dax McCarty playbook and not allow the SKC players any time on the ball.

Joya has the comfort of Jeff Larentowicz behind him so taking a few risks and pressing higher up the field could reap rewards

Providing more support to the outside backs – wing backs exposed again against NYRB last week

As I discussed last week, a lot of the problems for the Fire defensively stem from attacks coming from the wide areas. That was again the case against the Red Bulls in Saturday’s game. It was obvious that NYRB coach Mike Petke told his team to try and isolate Greg Cochrane on the left hand side. During the first half, the Red Bulls attacked almost exclusively down the Fire left. Cochrane certainly held his own but he lacked support from Harry Shipp who was playing in front of him.

On the other side, Lovel Palmer had a tough game in New York. The Red Bulls were again allowed space and time to put in crosses and it really hurt the Fire. Case in point being the Red Bulls first goal, where Eric Alexander was given yards of space to pick out a cross and he duly found the head of Tim Cahill, the best header of a ball in the league.

Against a team like Sporting KC, who put an emphasis on getting their full backs forward to support the outside attackers, the Fire need to try and minimize the amount of 1v1 situations between our outside backs and the SKC wide men.

Prediction: The Fire are hitting KC at the right time: 2-1 Fire with goals from Mike Magee and Benji Joya.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.

WATCH: No cardiac arrest after 5-4 win in New York

11 April 7:58 am

Whether you like having just a few libations with some of the club’s most ardent supporters, enjoy the beautiful landscapes of rural Indiana, Michigan and Missouri, or just really like seeing the Chicago Fire play away from home, Section 8 On Tour Bus Trips (#S8OT) have something for everyone.

Returning this year, the Independent Supporters Association is offering all Fire supporters an away season ticket, which guarantees round trip bus fare and match tickets for this season’s Fire away games in Columbus (May 24), Kansas City (July 6) and Toronto (August 23) for just $200.

While the execution of an Away Season Ticket isn’t something new to Section 8 Chicago, it does return for the first time in a number of years because of the way the MLS schedule fell for the club’s three closest away trips according to ISA Chairman Jeff Marinacci. 

“The stars aligned for us,” he told Chicago-Fire.com this week. “When we saw the schedule, having Toronto on a summer weekend makes it an easy sell. Though Columbus or Kansas City are good road games, Toronto just offers so much more, the trip is worth doing outside of just going to watch a match.”

Toronto nightlife no doubt has more to offer than Kansas City or Columbus but what Marinacci is referring to is the fact that the past few seasons, the team has played away in Toronto at midweek in September, making it difficult to coordinate a strong contingent of Fire supporters to travel by bus.

 This year the Columbus and Toronto trips both fall on Saturdays, while the Kansas City trip falls on the Sunday of Independence Day weekend making the travel much easier all around.

As they do on all buses, Section 8 Chicago is subsidizing an additional $35 per person on the 2014 Away Season Ticket on top of the $50 subsidy provided for individual bus travel to these matches.

“Our commitment to spending our money is to support the guys on the field home and away,” he said.

A great deal no doubt, not what if someone buying can only make it on one or two of the trips instead of the full complement of three? Marinacci said that while there is no partial away season ticket (and no refunds), the ISA will accommodate ticket transfers as coordinated through communications@s8c.org.

Now through mid-May (when bus tickets for the Columbus trip will cut off), Section 8 Chicago is in a heavy push to sell the Away Season Ticket for the year. As part of that push, the ISA will be raffling one off during Saturday’s Watch Party at A.J. Hudsons

Next Saturday, the ISA will raffle off a second Away Season Ticket, purchased by the Club, at their tailgate in the north lot prior to the Chicago Fire/New England Revolution match.

If you’d rather just support a great initiative to get more Fire fans out on the road this season, go ahead and buy your Away Season Ticket by clicking here.

24 January 10:22 am

Chicago Fire midfielder Logan Pause returns for a twelfth season with the Men in Red in 2014

A third round pick in the 2003 MLS SuperDraft, Chicago Fire midfielder Logan Pause had already capped off a decade with the Men in Red last year before extending his deal to come back for a 12th season with the club in 2014 on Friday.

Logan's longevity got me thinking about players that held the longest consecutive tenures in terms of both years and games played ith one MLS club. After some research, I found that Fire legend and new assistant coach C.J. Brown holds the record for consecutive seasons with one team at 13, while Logan will tie Cobi Jones (LA Galaxy) and Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids) when he makes his first appearance for the Fire in 2014. 

A look at the Top 10 players with the most consecutive seasons at one MLS club...

Rank Player Club Years Consecutive Seasons Games Played
1 C.J. Brown Chicago Fire 1998-2010 13 296
2 Cobi Jones LA Galaxy 1996-2007 12 306
3 Pablo Mastroeni Colorado Rapids 2002-2013 12 216
4 Logan Pause Chicago Fire 2003-present 11* 274
5 Shalrie Joseph New England Revolution 2003-2012 10 261
6 Davy Arnaud Sporting KC 2002-2011 10 218
7 Jason Kreis Dallas Burn 1996-2004 9 247
8 Kerry Zavagnin Kansas City Wizards 2000-2008 9 237
9 Landon Donovan LA Galaxy 2005-present 9* 216
10 Jay Heaps New England Revolution 2001-2009 8 228

*-denotes active MLS player

You may be wondering where are Jaime Moreno and Ramiro Corrales? Good question. Moreno holds the MLS record for most seasons with one club, spending 14 years with D.C. United but he did have one stint with the MetroStars that broke up his two long stints in the nation's capital.

In Corrales' case, while he never played for another MLS club other than San Jose after being traded back to the Quakes in 2001, he did spend a few years abroad in Norway with HamKam that keep him out of the consecutive seasons count. Corrales spent a total of 12 seasons in San Jose over three stints (1996-97, 2001-04, 2008-13)

Just for fun, a look at the record number for consecutive appearances for MLS club is below too:

Rank Player Club Years Consecutive Games Played  Seasons
1 Cobi Jones LA Galaxy 1996-2007 306 12
2 C.J. Brown Chicago Fire 1998-2010 296 13
3 Logan Pause Chicago Fire 2003-present 274* 11
4 Shalrie Joseph New England Revolution 2003-2012 261 10
5 Jason Kreis Dallas Burn 1996-2004 247 9
6 Kerry Zavagnin Kansas City Wizards 2000-2008 237 9
7 Jay Heaps New England Revolution 2001-2009 228 8
8 Ramiro Corrales San Jose Earthquakes

2001-2004;
2008-2013

225 10
9 Nick Garcia Kansas City Wizards 2000-2007 224 8
10 Davy Arnaud Sporting KC 2002-2011 218 10

*-denotes active MLS player

25 November 3:04 pm

One of my favorite days of the year is the day the MLS schedule is released.

For many fans, this announcement means compiling a list of blackout days where the Fire are playing at Toyota Park. For Fire fans not residing in the Chicagoland area, it means finding out when the Men in Red will be visiting your nearest MLS team. But for someone like me who has been on quite a few road trips (over 50 but not as many as this guy), the schedule release day means not only looking at the home fixtures but also the away ones.

Questions I asked myself earlier today: Does Toronto away fall on weekend instead of a Wednesday night? How much does it cost to fly to Portland in March? These important questions get answered on this special day.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at five exciting dates in the 2014 Fire calendar:

Week 2 – Portland away – Saturday, March 15 

Ever since Portland came into the league in 2011, the Fire supporters umbrella, Section 8 Chicago, has had a very good relationship with the Timbers Army, Portland’s main supporters group. The relationship is based on mutual respect and a shared “dislike” of all things Seattle.

Fire fans are always treated well in Portland and it’s not uncommon for Fire and Timbers fans to hang out before and after the games, something you would never see Fire fans doing in Columbus or Kansas City.

The atmosphere at JELD-Wen Field is also second to none. Though is certainly isn’t going to be the easiest away trip on the field or the lightest on the wallet, I think we will see quite a few Fire fans making the trip to Portland in Week 2 instead of traveling to LA to watch the Fire face Chivas in the season opener.

Week 6 & 22 – Montreal away – Saturday, April 12 and Sunday, August 16

The Fire were the Montreal Impact’s opponents in the Canadian club’s first home MLS back in 2012 and I was lucky enough to be at the game and had a great time.

That game was played indoors at the Olympic Stadium with a less than favorable playing surface – something many of the Fire fans observed firsthand the day before the game when we were invited to watch the team train (see photo above).

Now the Impact have Saputo Stadium refurbished, which provides another incentive for traveling Fire fans who may not have gotten there earlier this year.

Montreal is also a unique MLS city for a number of reasons. I can’t think of another MLS city where fans can brush up on their French by talking to the locals or take in the spectacular Notre-Dame basilica while eating some amazing poutine!

Montreal can be quite cold in April, but luckily for Fire fans, the April date is only the first time the Men in Red visit The City of Saints. I hear the weather is a lot nicer in mid-August, when the Fire visit for the second time.

Week 11 – Columbus away – Saturday, May 24

Columbus or Fire House East as many Fire fans call it is the closest away trip of the season distance wise. Due to this fact, the number of Fire fans attending this match is exponentially bigger than most other away games.

In 2001, Fire fans went to Crew Stadium in their hundreds, even when the Fire was not playing! The Fire had been knocked out in the Conference Semifinals by the Los Angeles Galaxy and many fans turned up to cheer against LA (and for the then Frank Yallop-led San Jose Earthquakes) at MLS Cup.

There have been many highs experienced in Columbus, such as Paulo Wanchope’s winning goal in a 2007 match after the game was delayed due to a torrential downpour. Fire fans were also 45 minutes away from MLS Cup in 2008 but for a Crew comeback in the second half which left Fire fans, including myself, devastated. There’s also the 2012 invasion which saw 600 Fire supporters make the trek.

The Fire only play once at Fire House East this season and I expect to see a lot of red behind the goal on May 24.

Week 16 & 32 Kansas City away –Sunday, July 6 &  Friday, October 10

Kansas City is another road trip that fans have attended in large numbers throughout the years. My first trip to Kansas City was a disappointing one, with the Fire losing to the Kansas City Wizards in the final of the U.S. Open Cup in 2004.

Since then, the Kansas franchise has a new name and a soccer specific stadium. You can no longer play the count the crowd game that we often did when the Wizards played at Arrowhead Stadium.

Most fans travel to this game by bus thus skipping the “delights” of downtown Kansas City and the bus ride does offer one cool treat – a visit to the world’s largest truck stop in Iowa.

Though SKC are not really a Fire rival (despite efforts made by the KC front office to make it into something bigger) there is certainly a dislike between the players and fans on both sides.

With the October 11 game coming so late in the season, it may be a pivotal one in terms of Playoff positioning.

Week 23 – Toronto away – Saturday, August 23

By far my favorite MLS city to travel to is Toronto. It's roughly the same distance from Chicago as Kansas City and again many fans travel to Canada on supporter’s buses.

Each visit, Fire fans shack up at a great hostel where we run into soccer fans from all over the world. Toronto itself is a great city aside from the prohibitive drinking laws on weekends (who doesn’t want to have a pint at 10am while watching the Premier League the next morning?).

BMO Field is located right on the shores of Lake Ontario and is thus left exposed and is often windy and chilly but the warm pies served at some of the concessions stands are an excellent halftime treat.

On the field, the Fire have had some good success against a TFC team that has languished near the bottom of the MLS table since starting in 2007. Thankfully, this match is on a Saturday in August so I expect a much larger contingent of Fire fans to attend.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.

20 October 5:13 pm

I'm not going to bog you down with a bunch of math, it is Sunday afterall.

Following New York's 3-0 win today at Houston, the Eastern Conference playoff picture has become very clear heading into the final week of the season.

First I give you the updated table via MLSsoccer.com:

 

Now, the remaining Eastern Conference fixture list...

Saturday, October 26
Philadephia Union  vs. Sporting KC - 2pm CT (NBC Sports Network)
Toronto FC vs. Montreal Impact - 3pm CT (MLS Live)

Sunday, October 27
D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo - 12:30pm CT (NBC)
Columbus Crew vs. New England Revolution - 3:00pm CT (MLS Live)
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire - 4:00pm CT (My50/Time Warner Sports WI)

The Chicago Fire can qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs the following ways...

- Win at New York
- Draw/lose at New York and have either Houston draw/lose at D.C. or New England draw/lose at Columbus
- Draw at New York AND Montreal lose at Toronto
 
The Fire can clinch the East's third seed if...

- Win at New York AND Toronto FC win/draw vs. Montreal
- Draw at New York AND Montreal loses at Toronto FC AND New England draws/loses at Columbus AND Houston draws/loses at D.C.

13 October 2:22 pm

Bet you didn't see that title coming two weeks ago did you? 

While much of MLS sat idle this weekend, teams in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race nearly played a full slate with perhaps the Fire coming away as the biggest winners from the weekend’s results.

A look at where the race stands heading into the final two weeks of the season...

x - 1) New York Red Bulls 
Current Points: 53 (15-9-8)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: DDWWW (11pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 10-2-4 / 5-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 59
Average Opponents Pts: 47.0
Remaining Schedule: 10/20 @ HOU, 10/27 vs. CHI

Rundown: New York sat idle this weekend, letting the rest of the Eastern Conference catch up to them on games played. Already qualified for the playoffs, Red Bull will be watching the Cascadia clash between Seattle and Portland closely Sunday night as it will have significant implications on the Supporters Shield race.

Red Bull will certainly be in the mix for their first true silverware the last two weeks of the season but with so many teams still in contention for the hardware, Fire fans shouldn’t expect New York to put out a weaker lineup on the last day of the season.

A win this week vs. Houston would at the very least lock up a top two finish in the East for New York while a loss would make things very interesting…

x - 2) Sporting KC
Current Points: 52 (15-10-7)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5: DWLWW (10pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 8-5-3 / 7-5-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 58
Average Opponents Pts: 31
Remaining Schedule: 10/18 vs. D.C., 10/23 vs. OLI**, 10/26 @ PHI

Rundown: Sporting KC could have controlled their own destiny for the top spot in the East if they would have won out but Wednesday’s draw at Houston means they’ve relinquished that opportunity to New York.

Still, Sporting welcomes D.C. United this weekend and will no doubt be in the equation for both that top spot and potentially the Supporters Shield race on the final day of the season.

By virtue of the draw between Philadelphia and D.C. United Saturday, they also locked down a playoff berth. A win Saturday vs. D.C. and Sporting will lock in a top two finish in the East.

3) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 48 (13-10-9)
Games Remaining: 1 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: DWWWL (10pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-3-4 / 4-6-4
Maximum Possible Points: 56
Average Opponents Pts: 34.5
Remaining Schedule: 10/20 vs. NY, 10/24 @ AU**, 10/27 @ D.C.

Rundown: The midweek draw vs. Sporting KC cooled off the Dynamo’s hot streak just a bit, leaving them exposed to a potential drop in the standings at the weekend. Fortunately for Houston, Montreal fell to New England and the Dynamo are still in with a small chance for a top of the East finish.

With three games in eight days to end the season, the Dynamo have a huge week ahead of them beginning Saturday vs. New York.

How the qualify this week: A win over New York combined with a Philadelphia loss or draw to Montreal or a win over New York combined with a Philadelphia draw/win and a Chicago loss or draw to Toronto FC.

4) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 46 (13-11-7)
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home/ 2 away)
Last 5 Games: LLDLL (1pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 9-4-3 / 4-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 56
Average Opponents Pts: 39
Remaining Schedule: 10/16 @ LA, 10/19 vs. PHI, 10/26 @ TFC

Rundown: Oh how the mighty have fallen. Long holders of the Eastern Conference top spot the first half of the season, Montreal are now winless in their last five following Saturday’s 1-0 defeat to New England.

Montreal still hold a game in hand over the rest of the East but make that up with a tough midweek match Wednesday at LA. In that game the Impact will be down two starters in Matteo Ferrari and Davy Arnaud due to yellow card accumulation while Landon Donovan returns to the Galaxy from U.S. Men’s National Team duty.

A loss in that match and Montreal will officially be in the dog fight for one of the knockout playoff spots and will have to recover quickly as they’ll host fellow contender Philadelphia three days later.

How they qualify this week: Two wins vs. LA and Philadelphia is the simplest way but a combined four points with the win coming against Philadelphia along with either a New England loss/draw to Columbus or a Fire loss to Toronto FC.

5) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 46 (13-12-7)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: WWDLW (10pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 9-4-3 / 4-7-4
Maximum Possible Pts: 52
Average Opponents Pts: 39.5
Remaining Schedule: 10/19 vs. TFC, 10/27 @ NY

Rundown: Following the disappointing 2-2 draw to Montreal on September 28, naysayers said the Fire should give up on the season and “play the kids” with only home game remaining out of their final four.

Two weeks later, they've won two straight MLS games for the first time since early July and both of them came on the road. Naysayers…

Now above the red line and tied on points with Montreal (and Philadelphia), the Fire are actually in a position where they could clinch a playoff berth this weekend and still have the possibility to finish in the East’s top three spots, something that would have been unthinkable back in mid-May.

With two games left, the Fire control their own playoff destiny and after two confidence boosting victories, have a very winnable game in Saturday's home finale vs. Toronto FC. 

How they qualify this week: A Chicago win over Toronto FC combined with a Philadelphia loss vs. Montreal and a New England loss or draw vs. Columbus.  

With the Chicago and Philadelphia even on points, how would this work you ask? If the Fire won and Union lost, couldn’t they still catch the Fire on points? Yes, but they would only tie Chicago and the Fire would already have a two-game edge in the first tie breaker which is total wins.

With both Montreal/Philadelphia and New England/Columbus ending before the Fire/TFC game, Saturday could be a very special night at Toyota Park. Get your tickets!

6) Philadelphia Union
Current Points: 46 (12-10-10)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home  / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: DWWLL (7pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-4-5 / 5-6-5
Maximum Possible Points: 52
Average Opponents Pts: 49
Remaining Schedule: 10/19 @ MTL, 10/26 vs. SKC

Rundown: For two weeks in a row, Philadelphia have needed a very late goal to stay in the hunt for a playoff spot. On Saturday though Jack McInerney’s strike was only good enough to equalize with lowly D.C. United, meaning the Union missed out on a huge opportunity to gain crucial points ahead of what will be two tough matches at Montreal and vs. Sporting KC to end the season.

How they qualify this week: Even if Philadelphia beats Montreal (and the Impact have lost to LA at midweek) and the Fire and Revolution both lose to Toronto and Columbus respectively, Philly would still need to get a point in the final week against Sporting KC.

7) New England Revolution
Current Points: 45 (12-11-9)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: WDDWL (8pts)
2013 Home/Away Record: 7-5-4 / 5-7-4
Maximum Possible Points: 51
Average Opponents Pts: 41
Remaining Schedule: 10/19 vs. CLB, 10/27 @ CLB

Rundown: New England bounced back well from a disappointing 2-2 draw last week at New York, earning a valuable 1-0 away win in Montreal but still find themselves in a difficult spot after the Fire win in Dallas and Philly’s last gasp draw in D.C.

An odd home-and-home series with Columbus (who are now all but out of the playoff race) will help determine their playoff fate but even if they win both matches to close the season, they’ll need help in the form of two teams above them dropping points. With Montreal, Chicago and Philadelphia all just one point ahead and the Impact and Union facing each other this week, New England still has plenty to play for.

8) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 41 (12-15-5)
Games Remaining: 2 (1 home / 1 away)
Last 5 Games: LWWWL (9pts)
2013 Home / Away Record: 7-6-3 / 5-9-2
Maximum Possible Points: 47
Average Opponents Pts: 42
Remaining Schedule: 10/19 @ NE, 10/27 vs. NE

Rundown: The Revolution and Fire wins as well as the Union draw pretty much put to bed the Crew’s hopes for the postseason. It’s not that they’re mathematically out, it’s just that it’s damn near improbable that all the results that would need to go Columbus’ way would.

It’s not even worth getting into with two weeks left but if they can play a little spoiler and win at New England this weekend and are still in the hunt on the final day, I’ll explain it next week.