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13 January 1:20 pm

...defender Carlos Bocanegra brings to end his four-year stay with the Chicago Fire by signing with English Premier club Fulham FC on this day in 2004.

Arguably the best defender in Chicago Fire history, Bocanegra was a two-time MLS Defender of the Year and League Best XI selection (2002, 2003) as well as being the first Fire player to claim MLS Rookie of the year in 2000 and helped the club to three domestic titles (2000, 2003 U.S. Open Cup, 2003 Supporters Shield) as well as an additional two finals appearances (2000, 2003 MLS Cup).

Bocanegra was one of just three defenders named to last year's #Fire15 player's list along with former teammats C.J. Brown and Lubos Kubik. 

At the time of his Fire departure, Bocanegra had only just begun to break into Bruce Arena’s U.S. Men’s National Team squad, with the future captain scoring four goals in his first full campaign for the Stars and Stripes in 2003.

With the UCLA product proving his worth for both club and country, Fulham signed Bocanegra on a free transfer (in the same window that future Fire forward Brian McBride arrived at Craven Cottage) and the two formed the basis for a long-term American occupancy of the West London club.

He would parlay his form at Fulham into making the 2006 U.S. World Cup team and while his time there would come to an end, Bocanegra was eventually named as new U.S. captain when former Fire coach Bob Bradley took the national team reins in 2007.

Moving to a less traditional American soccer destination with French clubs Stade Rennes (2008-10), Bocanegra led the U.S. to the Round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa before moving to St. Etienne following the tournament.

A move to Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers would follow but after the side went into administration this past summer, whispers of the former Fire defender’s MLS return could be heard league-wide before he eventually went on loan to Spanish Segunda side Racing Santander.

Having now a decade of national team experience under his belt, the 33-year-old center back sits tied with Paul Caligiuri for sixth all-time on the national appeance list at 110 and is has scored more international goals (14) than any defender in U.S. history.

With his time for the national team and career winding down, a return to MLS could still be in his future. Remember, returning to Chicago for a U.S. friendly vs. Poland in October 2010, Bocanegra was quoted as saying this

This is my first choice. You never know how it works with (Major League Soccer) and allocations, but I love this city. For me, it would be cool to play for one team my whole career in MLS. I would like to come back to Chicago."

WATCH: Bocanegra Named to #Fire15

10 January 11:11 am

Ahead of the opening of the 2013 Combine on Friday, the SuperDraft “Big Boards” have begun to make their appearances.

MLSsoccer.com’s Simon Borg, Matt Doyle and Jason Saghini ran through their initial thoughts on the first 19 selections for Thursday’s SuperDraft.


Manneh (L) or  Hurtado (R) could make for
interesting offensive projects

Simon and Matt both agreed on the Fire’s choice at 11th overall, saying they thought Frank Klopas and Co. would select Generation adidas signing, Gambian forward  Kekuta Manneh, while Saghini differed with his pick of midfielder Erik Hurtado from Santa Clara.

Having just turned 18, Manneh seems to be a wild card in this draft. During the 2010-11 U.S. Soccer Development Academy campaign, the 5-9 forward tallied 35 goals for the Texas Rush.

The closest teammate to him goals scored was Marco Molina at seven.

Manneh didn’t play in the Academy league this past year but the then 17-year-old did suit up for the USL Premier Development League’s Austin Aztex, tying for the team lead in goals with 10 in 12 games before adding three more in two playoff matches.

Hurtado is a bit more of a known quantity.  The Beaverton, Ore. product was a four-year stand-out at Santa Clara where he was actually teammates with current Fire defender Jalil Anibaba in 2009.

The attacking midfielder led the Broncos in goals all four seasons, tallying 33 to go along with 20 assists over 76 matches.

The last two summers, he’s suited up for the Portland Timbers U-23 PDL side, tallying an impressive 14 goals in 18 matches.   

Elsewhere over at TopDrawerSoccer.com, J.R. Eskilson and Travis Clark projected the Fire to select Maryland midfielder John Stertzer 11th overall.


Maryland's Stertzer is another name in the Fire mix

A product of Oakton, Va., Stertzer tallied 25 goals and 14 assists over 79 matches between 2009-12.

Stertzer came into his own offensively over the last two seasons, bagging 21 goals and 11 assists and helped the Terrapins in their return to the NCAA College Cup this past December but is expected to take on more of a holding role in MLS.

What do you think of the three projected players? Certainly with two offseason additions in attack, none of the three may stick out to Fire fans on paper and all would seem to be sort of project players. Of course these are just initial lists and the Combine has a lot to do with the reshuffling of the draft order.

We’ll be sure to keep up with the combine this weekend and the newest Mock Drafts to come out from it…

09 January 1:13 pm

So the Fire’s 2013 regular season schedule OFFICIALLY came out earlier today and while I’m crushed that the league didn’t go for my MLS Cup re-match on October 25 idea, there are still some dates beyond the three we already knew about that I’m looking forward to.
 
As always, there are also some things I dislike about the schedule…

DOWNLOAD PRINTABLE SCHEDULE (PDF)
 
Four games I’m looking forward to…

  • April 14 at Houston – A rematch of the Fire’s 2012 MLS Cup playoff defeat. Houston outplayed the Fire back on Halloween and though they were a #5 seed went all the way to the final. I’d hope that every player that went through that defeat has the game circled.
     
  • April 27 at Montreal – What can I say except that I’m a sucker for French Canada? The trip to Montreal to begin the 2012 season was one of my favorite Fire memories and now with the Impact back into Stade Saputo, I have something else to look forward to.
     
  • June 2 vs. D.C. United – Though I’d prefer this game to be played on October 25, the first game against United should be another one Fire players mark on their calendar after drawing with them 1-1 at home to end the 2012 season. Despite an onslaught at the end of the match, the team couldn’t find a second goal to avoid the knockout playoff match. The addition of Maicon Santos also makes this one more interesting
     
  • September 7 at Seattle – I put in my Fire New Year’s Resolutions that whenever the team traveled to Qwest Field, the goal should be to come away with three points. Having gone 0-5-3 against the Sounders since 2009, its time to put that winless streak to bed.

Things I don’t like…

  • I love Montreal so I don’t like that though the Fire play the Impact three times this season, the only trip to Quebec will come on April 27. There’s always 2014 I suppose…
     
  • Though a common occurrence in the old days of MLS when there were 10-12 teams, that odd back-to-back home and home series in mid-May with Philadelphia just feels strange…
     
  • The Fire only play Toronto FC twice and the away game is on a Wednesday, making away supporters travel difficult. The two teams met on the same Wednesday the year before and I believe the combination of TFC’s poor form and the midweek match were at fault for really poor attendance.
     
  • For the second straight year, the Fire will have to venture to Houston in the dead heat of summer for their fixture on July 27… Is there any way BBVA Compass can build a dome for the summer months?
     
  • Down the home stretch, only one of the team’s last four matches is being played at Toyota Park (October 19 vs. Toronto FC). If the playoff race is as tight as it was last season, this could be difficult.
08 January 10:16 am

The 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year award just wasn’t enough for Fire defender Austin Berry.

The now second-year MLS back liner garnered another honor last week when he returned to high school alma mater Summit Country Day School in Cincinnati where his #21 jersey was retired during halftime of the basketball team’s game vs. Seven Hills Academy.

The ceremony marked the first time the school had ever retired a number for the soccer team.

A 2007 graduate of the school, Berry was an Ohio All-State selection as well as being named Cincinnati Player of the Year during his senior season.

“Nothing Austin does surprises me anymore,” said high school coach Barnard Baker. “There are a lot of coaches in this area that say they got him to where he is today and it’s not true. Austin got himself there.

“He’s worked harder than anyone I’ve ever seen and the cool thing about it all is he hasn’t changed who he is. He’s still a great kid who continues to want to prove people wrong.”

Check out the story on Austin’s jersey retirement courtesy of Cincinnati.com and more photos of the ceremony by clicking here.

08 January 7:39 am

59 Days until Opening Night at Toyota Park
54 Days until First Kick in Los Angeles
12 Days until the First Team departs for training camp in Ave Maria, Fla.

These are important beginning of the year days but none are as close as the 2013 MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis which is now literally right around the corner next Thursday, January 17.

With the event being so close to our fair city, Section 8 Chicago is running a bus to and from the SuperDraft for just $10 (departing Toyota Park at 7AM and returning at 9pm).

Admission to the actual draft is FREE and signups are beginning to go quickly.

So...get on the bus and you’ll be the first fans able to greet (and indoctrinate) the newest member of the Fire like these folks did with the future MLS Rookie of the Year last year in Kansas City…

Convinced yet? Sign up here and see you in Indy!

07 January 10:20 am

Atletico Madrid
Atletico came away with a 1-1 draw away to bottom-of-the-table Mallorca this past weekend. After going up 1-0 through Raul Garcia in the 72nd minute, Mallorca equalized in the 87th through Kevin.
Atletico Madrid take a short break from league action Thursday when they pay a visit to Getafe for the second leg of their Copa del Rey tie in which los Rojiblancos 3-0 on aggregate.  
Now sitting 11 points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona, Atletico will look to close the gap when they welcome Real Zaragoza to the Calderon this Sunday.

Club America
Los Aguilas opened the 2013 Clausura campaign with a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over Monterrey Saturday afternoon in Mexico City. Ecuadorian midfielder Walter Avoyi put the visitors ahead from the penalty spot in the 15th minute before America’s Jesus Molina equalized in the 39th.

With the match looking like it would end in a 1-1 draw, America was granted a late penalty kick which Rubens Sambueza converted in the 94th minute to clinch the three points.
The club will hope to continue it’s one-hundred percent record when they visit Jaguares this Friday.

Besiktas
Turkish side Besiktas most recently fell 2-0 to German side Wolfsburg in a friendly match this past Sunday. They’ll continue their winter break before returning to Super Lig action January 19 in a derby match against Istanbul BB.

Raja Casablanca
Raja Casablanca maintained their GNF league lead with a convincing 4-1, win over Difaa El Jadida this past Sunday. This upcoming Sunday, they will try to keep their slim league lead against lowly Raja Beni Mellal.  
 

04 January 7:15 pm

First, a warm welcome to the newest member of the Chicago Fire, midfielder Joel Lindpere.

The move to acquire the Estonian international was met with pretty high praise from yours truly, considering all that was exchanged was an international roster spot. Also consider that the guy has scored a few goals against the Fire since coming to MLS (three to be exact and four if you count a preseason goal he scored back in 2011). 

That aside, here are five other reasons I can really appreciate the move for the club's latest addition...

He’s the very definition of an iron man – In a total of 98 MLS regular season matches he’s been eligible for over the last three seasons, Lindpere has appeared in exactly 97 games, the most of any MLS player in that time span. That also includes goalkeepers.  

Players on the current Fire roster with comparable MLS appearances over the last three MLS seasons: Dominic Oduro (93 with Chicago/Houston), Patrick Nyarko (91, Chicago), Logan Pause (87, Chicago) and Wells Thompson (79, Colorado/Chicago).


Lindpere has 3 goals in 7 games vs. the Fire

There’s a certain swagger he has… He looks intimidating and the Estonian international has a certain bite that backs up the way he carries himself. His aggression and ability in the attack reminds me a bit of Dema Kovalenko, though with a few less yellow cards.…

He has a pretty powerful left foot – Watch the video below. He’s a threat in crossing the ball but can also unleash a pretty powerful shot. Combine this acquisition with that of Maicon Santos and the power in attack has been greatly upgraded.

Competition (and rest) in the midfield – The biggest knock against the Fire in 2012 was the perceived lack of enough squad rotation. By season’s end, the team looked a little bit tired and perhaps slightly predictable. With the likes of Nyarko, Alvaro Fernandez, Alex and the potential return of Corben Bone, the attacking midfield options available to Klopas in times of heavy fixture congestion have been upgraded as well.

Good Results from transactions with Red Bull – Back in 2007 when Fire owner Andrew Hauptman filed tampering charges with New York relating to the Juan Carlos Osorio affair, the team received the Red Bulls’ first round selection in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft which the team used to select the-ever dangerous Patrick Nyarko.

Just about a year ago, the Fire traded the rights of defender Wilman Conde to Red Bull in exchanged for an undisclosed, but rumored to be high amount of allocation money that presumably went towards the acquisitions of defender Arne Friedrich and forward Chris Rolfe.

Not a bad track record…

WATCH: Joel Lindpere Highlights

31 December 10:44 am

Well its the last day of the year and we're aptly left remembering all that went down in the Fire world during 2012. 

A new jersey sponsor, a Ring of Fire induction, a 15th Anniversary, playoff qualification and a Rookie of the Year winner are just some of the highlights. 

Take a photographic look back on the club's memorable 15th season:

officialfiresoccer's 2012 In Review album on Photobucket

Stay tuned on Tuesday as I give my New Year's Resolutions for the Fire in 2013!

28 December 12:35 pm

One of the final pieces of business for Section 8 Chicago every calendar year is to finalize the candidate listing for the board elections which take place at the ISA’s Annual General Meeting set for the last weekend of January every year.

Much like American presidential candidates have a deadline to declare candidacy in order to receive federal funding, Section 8 board candidates had to declare their intention to run by posting to the ISA’s forums by midnight on Thursday.

The deadline came and went Thursday night with all eight positions having at least one candidate running. While most are unopposed, two positions, Director of Finance and Director of Marketing will have election races.

Don’t like the American style two-party system? An interesting play in the Section 8 board elections is that candidates also list their group affiliation.

Though there are a number of different supporters groups that make up the umbrella of Section 8 Chicago, three (Ultras Red Side, Whiskey Brothers Aught Five and Westmont Ultras) are represented along with a number of folks who have no group affiliation (Independents).

In the coming weeks, candidates will lay out the plans they have for their positions via the Section 8 forums ahead of the AGM to be held January 26 (location to be confirmed). ALL Fire supporters are encouraged to attend the AGM and allowed to vote on board positions. 

Find below the list of candidacies as well as their group affiliations and follow the race via the Section 8 forum:

Chair: Joel Biden * / Independent
Vice-Chair: Jeffrey Marinacci * / Independent
Communications: Nick Fedora / Whiskey Brothers ‘05
Events: Annie West / Independent
Finance: 1) Merrie Bunt / Ultras Red Side  2) Josue Gomez ** /  Westmont Ultras
Operations: Eric Kekeis / Ultras Red Side
Marketing: 1) Frank Cardenas / Whiskey Brothers ‘05   2) Marty Groark * / Independent
Merchandise: Freddy Coba / Ultras Red Side

* - Incumbent    ** - Current Board Member, new position

Good luck to all candidates!
 

23 December 5:29 pm

Well you heard a bit about Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry spending time at Atletico Madrid last month. Our friends at Kick TV followed the Fire's defensive pair during their stay at the Calderon... Check out the video below!