Before settling in for the first day of MLS action on Saturday, head out to FireFest at the Illinois Youth Soccer Association's annual Expo from 9am-4pm at the Schaumburg Sports Center (1141 W. Irving Park).
The full schedule of events can be found by clicking here.
The Fire start the 2013 MLS season at the Home Depot Center on Sunday against the two-time defending champions LA Galaxy (LIVE 4pm CT on UniMas). Both teams made some major changes over the off-season and will be looking to start 2013 off on the right step. Here are a few tactical things to keep an eye on...
New central midfield pairing – how will the JL’s play together?
Last season, the Fire paired Logan Pause and Pavel Pardo in central midfield. This season, two new midfielders take their places: MLS veterans Jeff Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere. Both have played together in preseason but the regular season, against the defending champions at the Home Depot Center is a different animal.
Lindpere is noted for his attacking ability but he will be required to help Larentowicz defensively, especially when the Fire turn the ball over. It will be important for both players to hold their positions and not get caught too far apart.
In an away match, it is vital to hold on to possession when you get it and it will be important for both of the JL’s to link well with each other through the match.
Set pieces – how will LA deal with service from Lindpere?
One thing that really stood out during the preseason was Lindpere’s ability to deliver a good ball into the box, especially from dead ball situations. Time after time, Lindpere put balls into the danger area – the space between the penalty spot and the six yard box. The Fire got some goals from set pieces last year and players like Austin Berry are a major threat from them.
Larentowicz is also good in the air, scoring a header in the Carolina Challenge Cup from a Lindpere corner. The Galaxy will be looking to avoid giving up silly free kicks around the area and will try to limit the number of corners the Fire but with Lindpere’s quality, the Fire can be very dangerous in this department.
LA will be debuting the vastly experienced ‘keeper Carlo Cudincini and the Fire’s set pieces will question whether he and his defense are on the same page.
Dilly Duka vs Sean Franklin – youthful exuberance vs experience
Dilly Duka looks set to make his debut for the Fire on Sunday, starting on the left wing. Duka’s opponent will likely be Sean Franklin, one of the best right backs in the league and a player with well over 100 MLS games under his belt.
This matchup is fascinating because just as Duka loves to get forward and take on his man, Franklin regularly pushes up to support in the attack, contributing with his fair share of assists. Duka will need to find a good balance between trying to keep Franklin pinned back by pushing forward, and helping out Gonzalo Segares when Franklin does advance to support the attack.
Duka is a very creative player and could end up giving Franklin a tough time but on the other side of the coin, if Segares and Duka are not in tandem, Franklin could hurt the Fire.
Robbie Keane – it’s not just all about goals
Robbie Keane’s goals dragged the Gals to their second MLS Cup victory in a row last season but his play is not all about goals. He likes to drop into the hole and link up with the Galaxy’s midfielders. Keane is very good and holding onto the ball in tight spaces and playing through balls to advancing players.
At Euro 2012, Keane played a similar role for the Republic of Ireland but was often crowed out, something the Fire should look to do if and when Keane drops deeper into the hole. Keane will certainly miss Landon Donovan and Mike Magee on Sunday but even without them, he is a major threat and should prove a handful for Berry, Friedrich and co.
Prediction: 2-1 Fire with goals from Sherjill MacDonald and Arne Friedrich.
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
About this time last year, a young Italian goalkeeper named Paolo Tornaghi was making his final moves through a trial with the Chicago Fire.
With Fire number one Sean Johnson set to miss the first few matches of the 2012 season due to Olympic qualifying, the team had already brought in veteran MLS 'keeper Jay Nolly over the offseason to fill-in.
Surprising to some though, the Inter Milan product Tornaghi usurped Nolly as the presumed number two goalkeeper and made his Fire debut in front of nearly 60,000 fans at Montreal's Olympic Stadium.
With Johnson likely to be away for World Cup qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup this year, Fire fans should feel confident in the fact that Tornaghi has returned to the side for his second season and will continue to push Sean for the number one spot.
With all that said, Drew Farmer of the Forza Italia podcast rang up Paolo last week in Charleston to discuss his upbringing with Italian giants Inter Milan, admiration of star 'keepers Walter Zenga and Francesco Toldo, his decision to join MLS and how he likes living in Chicago.
The team's match at San Jose last year was quite a memorable game. Chris Rolfe had put the team ahead with a long-distance toe-poke just before halftime and Sean Johnson literally stood his head.
So good was the Fire goalkeeper in the match that he made a career high 10 saves, many of them spectacular in the 1-1 draw against the eventual Supporters Shield winners...
10 days out from Opening Night vs. New England (TICKETS HERE), we look back on Johnson's outstanding performance last year at San Jose:
With the recent announcement of Major League Soccer's Jersey Week, a lot has been raised regarding the club's plans for future kits as well as a potential third jersey. We at Always on the Inside caught up with the club's Chief Operating Officer Atul Khosla to shed some light on future jersey plans.
Always on the Inside: MLS announced that as part of a league initiative a number of clubs would be participating in a Jersey Week celebration kicking off on Monday, Feb. 25. What does that mean for Fire supporters?
Atul Khosla: The league is moving to a yearly jersey launch cycle, where every club will roll out a new jersey each year. It will rotate, primary/home one year, secondary/away the next year. Therefore, each jersey is in market for a total of two years. This new approach allows a fresh product in market every year. Since the Fire launched both new kits last year, we are on an off cycle this year, similar to a number of other teams. As of next year, we will be back on cycle, and we will launch a new home kit.
PERUSE: Chicago Fire Jersey History
AOTI: Can you talk about the merchandise progress the club has made in the past few years and how you see it developing further?
AK: We want to see Chicago Fire jerseys everywhere in Chicagoland. We want people to represent our club by wearing our colors in the community, at games and around town. It’s been a key for us to grow our merchandise and we’ve seen success over the past three years because of a number of factors.
First was design. We have tried to refresh the product line, bring back some original Chicago touches, and at the same time push the envelope in being edgier with our brand. As part of these strides the club has built a Fan Shop at Toyota Park, grown its online presence and built a partnership with Fanatics, Inc.. It has also been key for us to integrate merch and our products throughout our marketing efforts, on television and at the stadium. These actions have resulted in solid growth and we now have to continue to build on it.
AOTI: It’s a question that is raised from time to time from some Fire supporters, what’s going on with the Chicago Fire flag third kit?
AK: We hear and understand the request from some of our supporter base for a third Fire kit, especially one that from a design standpoint has strong ties to the city of Chicago. This is precisely why over the past few years we have added key Chicago elements to our uniforms. Starting in 2010 the club worked closely with adidas to have the four, six-sided stars of the Chicago flag adorn the bottom left of the white secondary/away tops.
The current secondary/away kit includes a number of elements from the Chicago flag including horizontal lines that are created by using the stripes and four stars from the civic flag representing Fort Dearborn, the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 and the Century of Progress Exposition of 1933. These details were created to pay homage to the city and the club’s origins. I believe it’s the first time outside of a third kit that our jerseys have ever had the municipal flag woven into the design.There is tremendous and deep civic pride, and the Club will continue to build on the traditions of soccer, our supporters, our club and Chicago.
AOTI: With that said, are you saying that Fire doesn't need a third kit?
AK: No. What I am saying is that the primary reason for creating a third kit would be to engage our fans in a unique way. Also, we need to take into account the practical considerations of the true demand for this product so we can meet the minimum requirements from adidas before we place the order. Since we just released new kits last year, we wanted to focus on our new designs and pace things appropriately to avoid flooding the market.
The most successful way to create a third kit, is for us to collaborate with our supporters, get everyone energized, and create the demand. In order to initiate this movement, in the coming weeks we will be launching a social campaign asking supporters to help us design a potential third kit, vote for their favorites, and then rally each other to make a commitment by putting a deposit down.
Stay tuned to Chicago-Fire.com and our social channels. We need everyone's support to make this happen and are excited to collaborate with you and create something we can all be proud of.
As they have the previous two years, the Chicago Fire ventured to the Three Lions Pub inside Blackbaud Stadium for the 2013 Carolina Challenge Cup kickoff luncheon Friday afternoon. The Fire were joined by hosts the Charleston Battery and the Vancouver Whitecaps at the luncheon while Saturday's opponents Houston were set to arrive into the Palmetto State later on Friday.
As I walked around admiring the wall-to-wall memorabilia inside the pub, I realized there were more than a few reunions occuring in the room...
First off was Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich catching up with defender Jay DeMerit. Matkovich led the Fire PDL side when DeMerit played for it in 2001 and even appeared in "Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story" to talk about his memories of Jay...
A little further down the way, I spotted a Tottenham reunion as Fire trialist Pascal Chimbonda met up with Whitecaps defender Young-Pyo Lee. The two often manned the defensive flanks together for Spurs while at White Hart Lane from 2006-2008.
Finally, just as I turned around, I spotted Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini talking to his former manager and current Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie. The Scotsman was the one that brough Paladini to the second division Carolina RailHawks from Chivas USA in 2009 where the pair would spend two seasons together.
To finish the pleasantries Rennie, Fire head coach Frank Klopas and Battery manager Mike Anhaeuser did the annual trophy photo-op.
On to Saturday's first doubleheader featuring the Chicago Fire taking on the Houston Dynamo (if they show) at 4pm CT on Chicago-Fire.com. The Battery will host the Whitecaps in the second game at 6:15pm CT.
Was nice to wake up to this news this morning that U.S. international and current Aston Villa first-choice 'keeper Brad Guzan would like to return to MLS one day and potentially suit up for his hometown Chicago Fire.
A product of Homer Glen, Ill., Guzan was quoted as saying, "Hopefully, I will get the opportunity, when I’m finished playing in Europe, to go back and play in it.
"Especially being from Chicago, which has a team. I’d love to go back and play for the Chicago Fire in front of friends and family. That would be pretty neat.”
Guzan of course teamed with current Fire forward Chris Rolfe on the Chicago Fire PDL side that went a near perfect 17-1-0 en route to the league's regular season championship that year.
Having played two seasons at the University of South Carolina, Guzan left college to sign with MLS and was picked second overall by Chivas USA in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft.
At just 28 years old and with the Fire having a 'keeper in Sean Johnson who is nipping at his heels for the number two spot with the U.S., Guzan won't likely return stateside anytime soon but would likely be a welcome addition for many a Fire fan down the road...
A quiet hangs over Toyota Park. A grey monochrome colors the morning sky and a slushy snow blankets the ground. It’s winter in Chicago.
Behind the brick façade and deep in the bowels, a solitary figure works diligently to make-ready one of Toyota Park’s most renowned features – the field. It’s been 99 days since the Toyota Park pitch saw action and Toyota Park Turf Manager Eric Adkins has #cf97withdrawals.
Only 30 days until Opening Night at Toyota Park.
Don’t worry, Eric and his crew will have the pitch ready.
Very few people have meant as much to the soccer scene in Chicago as Frank Klopas.
Tonight Dave Kaplan goes in depth with the Fire manager to talk how he came to The Windy City and learn more about his intertwining soccer story with the Sting, U.S. Men's National Team, AEK Athens and of course the Fire over the past 30 years "Inside Look" (7:00pm CT on CSN Chicago).
CSNChicago.com's Len Ziehm previews the show here.