The club announced today that starting goalkeeper Sean Johnson started a three week training stint in England earlier today, beginning with Premier League club Stoke City (Dec. 5-9) before joining U.S. Men’s National Team goalkeeper Tim Howard and coach Chris Woods at Everton FC (December 10-23) for the second straight offseason.
I caught up with Sean Wednesday morning to talk how his first session went with Stoke, his third offseason abroad and what matches he’ll be taking in over the next few weeks.
Jeff Crandall: Sean, over the past three years you’ve spent parts of your offseason in Spain, Germany and England, do you feel tired at all or is the experience too good to pass up?
It’s about soaking in the experience but also getting the rest and recover enough to be ready to go 100 percent for the season.
JC: What is Stoke like so far?
SJ: I think it’s been a great experience working with guys like Thomas Sorensen, Asmir Begovic and Carlo Nash.
Training with their goalkeeper coach and getting the chance to play and train with the guys at the top level. Just seeing how another team operates gives you perspective.
JC: Have you hung out with your U.S. Men’s National teammates Maurice Edu and Geoff Cameron yet?
SJ: I’ve hung out with both of them. I’m actually staying with Maurice at the moment. They’re great guys to be around and it’s just good to see familiar faces and make most of the time you have with your friends while you’re over here.
JC: Next week you head to Everton for the second consecutive offseason. How important is it for you to have guys like Tim Howard and Chris Woods working with you there?
WATCH: Sean Johnson #4 in MLS 24 under 24
SJ: Having been in with the national team a lot more this past year, training with Chris and Tim again here is a fantastic opportunity to keep some continuity and show how I’m growing.
To be in that environment day-in and day-out and make yourself a better goalkeeper will do wonders for me as a player.
JC: What games are you taking in the next few weeks?
SJ: I’m going to try and take in as many games as I can. This weekend’s lineup has Stoke going to Aston Villa on Saturday and then Everton hosts Tottenham on Sunday at Goodison Park so it works out well. Manchester United also player Man City in a derby match on Sunday so there’s a lot of excitement for that as well.
Depending on how things work out, I’ll hopefully go to a few more games while I’m here. It’s great to go to those stadiums and see everything that goes into a match.
JC: You end your time with Everton just before Christmas. What are you doing with the rest of your time before preseason begins on January 18?
SJ: I’m going to be back in Atlanta through Christmas and maybe New Years. I caught up with the family for a week over Thanksgiving and planned to be there longer.
Because I was coming over here I decided to go down to Florida for a week by myself to get away and be able to get ready for this experience.
JC: Great to hear from you Sean. We’ll talk soon.
SJ: Have a good one!
The MLS Regular Season Schedule may not yet be out, but the Fire already have three opponents scheduled for next eyar after the Charleston Battery released the match schedule for the 2013 Carolina Challenge Cup.
Participating for the third straight season in one of North America's top preseason tournaments, the Fire will open up the tournament with an MLS Cup playoff re-match with the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, February 16 at 5:00pm ET (4:00pm CT).
See below the full tournament schedule:
Saturday, February 16
Chicago Fire vs. Houston Dynamo, 5 PM/4 PM CT
Charleston Battery vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 7:15 PM/6:15 PM CT
Wednesday, February 20
Houston Dynamo vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 5 PM/4 PM CT
Charleston Battery vs. Chicago Fire, 7:15 PM/6:15 PM CT
Saturday, Feb 23
Chicago Fire vs. Vancouver Whitecaps FC, 5 PM/4 PM CT
Charleston Battery vs. Houston Dynamo, 7:15 PM/6:15 PM CT
If you've never been to the Charleston Battery's home at Blackbaud Stadium, I highly recommend heading south to catch a Fire match and take in the amazing Three Lions Pub. Tickets for the tournament go on sale next Monday, December 3 at 9am CT via www.charlestonbattery.com or by calling (843) 971-GOAL (4625)
When we unveiled the #Fire15 players list in conjunction with the club’s 15th anniversary earlier this year, I spoke about how spectacular most of the goals Marco Pappa scored in a Fire uniform were. Off the top of my head, I can think of only three that the Guatemalan scored from inside of the box in his five seasons in Chicago.
Since the Fire Goal of the Year tournament began in 2010, Pappa has always had at least one entry make the final four with the current Heerenveen midfielder getting there with high margin defeats of his early-round opponents.
Ironically enough though, that support seems to wane in later rounds.
In 2010, Pappa's bending strike against San Jose (which went on to win MLS Goal of the Year) was narrowly defeated in the final by Logan Pause's equally stunning long-distance bomb at Toronto.
Last year, Pappa's hat trick clincher at Real Salt Lake (one of his four entries in the tournament that year) fell at the semi-final stage to the now legendary long-distance blast "through the guise of smoke" from Jalil Anibaba in an early round U.S. Open Cup qualifier vs. Colorado.
At the very least, it’s an interesting phenomenon.
I say that because having managed the Fire Facebook and Twitter accounts for nearly three years, there is no player that evoked as much consistent response in terms of Likes, Retweets and web traffic then Marco. An update on his play in a friendly with Guatemala, a photo of him from training or even a post about another player would even bring a comment or six about “El Chapin del Fuego”.
With Pappa no longer a member of the Fire, this has all died down a bit but how ironic when you consider that his latest defeat came against a player that could take on the mantel of sentimental popularity in 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Austin Berry.
Berry has barnstormed to today’s final, where he’s facing down another fan favorite in the team’s 2012 MVP Chris Rolfe and his stunning quick kick in little space (9/22 vs. Columbus).
While Rolfe’s goal could have been a number one seed (his strike vs. San Jose was), neither of today’s finalists were top seeds in their respective brackets. As we learn every November, anyone can win.
As we have when deciding the top 15 players, goals and matches in Fire history or just putting fans on season tickets, we at Chicago-Fire.com feel it most important to utilize fan input and engagement in determining valuable pieces of our club.
Happy voting everyone!
It all comes down to Halloween. The Fire begin the quest for their second MLS Cup trophy on Wednesday, Oct. 31 when they welcome the Houston Dynamo to Toyota Park at 8:00 p.m. CT live on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes and 97.5 ESPN Deportes.
The Daily Herald’s Orrin Schwarz spoke with two Fire legends, Jesse Marsch and Evan Whitfield about what the Fire need to do to succeed in the playoffs.
“They’ve got to find a way to get some momentum going,” said Marsch, now head coach of the Montreal Impact.
One player who is on a hot streak is midfielder Patrick Nyarko, whose blast against D.C. United is up for MLS Goal of the Week.
Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com, “I’ve never been a shooter…I’ve never scored such a goal.”
His newfound confidence will be huge for the Fire in the playoffs. “I can try it from anywhere,” said Nyarko. “It gives the defense something else to think about.”
Sports Illustrated’s Avi Creditor broke down the MLS Cup Playoff field and gave reasons that the Fire will and won’t win the MLS Cup.
An integral part of the team’s success this season, the center back duo Arne Friedrich and Austin Berry sat down with RedEye to discuss the bond that they’ve formed.
The two defenders went head-to-head to see who knew the other best.
One familiar face Wednesday night will be former Fire forward Calen Carr, albeit now as a member of the Dynamo. Carr spoke to the Houston Chronicle about overcoming his recent concussion and what he remembered most fondly about his time with the Fire.
Jeff and Brendan checked back in from Toyota Park on Monday to discuss the Fire’s playoff history and Houston’s extra bit of rest heading into Wednesday’s Knockout match
It all comes down to Saturday. With one game remaining in the 2012 MLS Regular Season, the Fire host D.C. United Saturday, Oct. 27 at 3:00 p.m. CT (NBC Sports Network), the meat of the tripleheader sandwich.
While the Fire have clinched a spot in the post season, Saturday’s match is crucial for seeding purposes. With a victory, the Men in Red, currently in third place, will take sole possession of second place. With a loss, the Fire could find themselves as low as fifth place.
Though two-time German World Cup veteran Arne Friedrich is experiencing playoff soccer for the first time in his career, he understands the implications of Saturday’s match.
“Our one goal is to win the game,” said Friedrich.
One of the keys to victory for the Fire will be making sure to get the ball to forward Chris Rolfe. With teams now choosing to man-mark Rolfe, he told MLSsoccer.com that “It’s been a little bit more of a challenge finding the ball.”
Another key storyline for Saturday will be the battle between the Fire’s Austin Berry and D.C. United’s Nick DeLeon, two of the front-runners for the Rookie of the Year race. The former college teammates have been enjoying the campaigns put together by their respective clubs.
“I was dying laughing,” said Berry about D.C. United’s video in which DeLeon says, “I eat defenders for breakfast.”
Berry and his centerback partner Arne Friedrich both made Brian Straus and the Sporting News’ short list for the highly-anticipated year end awards.
With both head coach Frank Klopas and striker Sherjill MacDonald imploring fans to get in the stands early Saturday, ‘keeper Sean Johnson stopped by WGN Wednesday morning to discuss the importance of home field advantage at Toyota Park, so make sure to get in early and spur your Men in Red on to victory.
Coming within a Golden Goal of advancement to MLS Cup 2001, the Chicago Fire suffered untimely injuries to the likes of Chris Armas and Josh Wolff, falling in four of their final five regular season matches to limp into the club’s fifth consecutive postseason in 2002.
WATCH: 2002: MLS Cup Quarterfinals
Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution – MLS Cup quarterfinals (first to five points)
New England Revolution 2, Chicago Fire 0
Gillette Stadium, Foxbrough, Mass.
September 26, 2002
The regular season’s Eastern Conference champions would go ahead early in the 13th minute when Joey Franchino’s free kick from the left out picked out Taylor Twellman in the box who nodded past Zach Thornton for his first career MLS Cup playoff goal.
The Fire nearly equalized minutes later when Jesse Marsch’s skipping shot was turned away by Revs goalkeeper Adin Brown, marking the Men in Red’s only shot on goal in the match.
The halftime insertions of Hristo Stoitchkov and Dipsy Selolwane to aid Ante Razov and DaMarcus Beasley in attack came to little avail as New England iced the game on 60 minutes when Daniel Hernandez buried a long-distance blast, rebounding off of Zach Thornton’s punched clearance.
The result gave New England plenty of wind in its sails heading back to Chicago for Game 2.
Chicago Fire 2, New England Revolution 1
Cardinal Stadium in Naperville, Ill.
September 29, 2002
New England would take the early lead in Game 2 as well when Jesse Marsch’s header at midfield bounced into the path of Brian Kamler who calmly one-time a low effort past Zach Thornton in the 18th minute.
The Fire would equalize just before the half when Revs defender Jay Heaps collided with Ante Razov in the area, forcing referee Ricardo Valenzuela to point to the spot. On the ensuing spot kick, Razov tucked his left-footed take inside the right post to equalize before the break.
Into the 76th minute, Carlos Bocanegra fed Kelly Gray in midfield where the young Fire utility player strolled towards the box before playing a beautiful through ball that Razov poked past Adin Brown to give the Fire a 2-1 victory and tie the series at 3-3.
New England Revolution 2, Chicago Fire 0
Gillette Stadium, Foxbrough, Mass.
October 2, 2002
New England would prove too powerful in the rubber match back at Gillette Stadium.
For the second straight match, Brian Kamler would tally the first goal when he took a feed from Leo Cullen before beating Dema Kovalenko down the left wing and CJ Brown in the box to finish past Thornton in the 13th minute.
Despite outshooting the Revolution 17-11 on the night, the Fire couldn’t beat Adin Brown and would have their first round elimination confirmed when Daniel Hernandez slipped between DaMarcus Beasley and Jim Curtin before sending a cross to find Twellman in the box. The MLS newcomer half-volleyed his effort past Thornton for his second of the playoffs, giving the Revs their first ever postseason series victory on the way to a spot in the MLS Cup finals.
The trophy cases in the Chicago Fire lobby got a new addition last week, courtesy of the youngest members of the Fire organization. The Chicago Fire U-10 Academy team, playing up an age group, won the U-11 Crew Fall Classic Championship with a commanding 7-2 victory over the Crew Juniors Gold East on October 7. Before heading out to training last Thursday, the team was on hand to personally place their trophy in its place of honor.
For the young team, the Crew Fall Classic was their first opportunity to play together in a tournament.
"They really impressed me a lot over the weekend," said Head Coach Charlie Trout. "They really came together as a team and performed at a very high level. They started to build an identity as a team and as the tournament went on, their individual personalities really started to show. It was a great experience for them and I feel like they turned a big corner that weekend."
Perhaps what made the victory even sweeter was that it was against the Crew.
"A lot of the boys support the Chicago Fire," said Trout. "They know how huge the rivalry is between the Fire and the Crew, so that added a little more excitement for them."
And if displaying their trophy alongside the Alan I. Rothenberg Trophy from the Fire's historic 1998 MLS Cup victory wasn't enough excitement, the U-10s were given a special treat when Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas stopped by and addressed the team. Klopas spoke to the youngest members of the Fire family about the honor and responsibility that comes along with wearing the Fire badge.
"There have been times where Frank has come out and watched the boys train. You see the way they look over, see who he is and their excitement rises," said Trout. "For them to get the trophy that they worked so hard for and put it in the trophy cabinet that involves the whole club is fantastic for the young boys. It gives them such a confidence booster. It's great for them."
After taking a weekend off from MLS play, the Men in Red return to action when they head to Bean Town for their third match of the season against the New England Revolution on Saturday, Oct. 20 at 6:30 p.m. CT (NBC5.2/97.5 ESPN Deportes). With just two games remaining in the regular season, the Fire are still within reach of the Eastern Conference crown.
Midfielder Patrick Nyarko said that now that the Fire have officially clinched a spot in the playoffs, the focus will be on gaining the top seed in the conference. Missing the playoffs the past two seasons was “frustrating,” said Nyarko. “We should be a perennial playoff team.”
Dutch striker Sherjill MacDonald, who joined the team at the end of July, is destined to be a huge part of the Fire’s post-season run. Now that he has had time to settle in and get acclimated to the team and to the city, MacDonald says, “I’m very comfortable with this group. I’m very happy.”
One player who missed the dreary Chicago weather this weekend was Alvaro Fernadnez, who is with Uruguay for two World Cup Qualifiers. Flaco and Uruguay fell 3-0 to Argentina behind a Lionel Messi brace, and one writer finally put the Diego Maradona-Lionel Messi debate to bed. “Lionel Messi is not Diego Maradona,” said Zach Woosley. “In fact, he’s better…much better.”
Flaco and Uruguay have one more match this week when they take on Bolivia at Estadio Hernando Siles in La Paz, Bolivia on Oct. 16.
Gentlemen, start your playoff beards.
The Fire’s big 2-0 victory over the New York Red Bulls Saturday afternoon combined with the 1-1 draw between the Columbus Crew and Sporting Kansas City Sunday ensured that the Men in Red would be participating in the 2012 MLS Cup Playoffs.
With 56 points on the season, the Fire sit just three points behind conference-leading Sporting KC. Chicago Fire Confidential’s Guillermo Rivera took a look at the remaining schedules for each of top six teams in the Eastern Conference.
Though MacDonald’s brace Saturday afternoon played a huge part in clinching a playoff berth, the former Dutch youth international said that he had “mixed feelings” after the victory as Wednesday night’s 3-1 loss to Philadelphia still weighed on his mind. “We should have played the same the same way as today against Philadelphia, and we would have won easily.”
Now that a playoff spot has been secured, German defender Arne Friedrich can look at the losses against Sporting Kansas City and Philadelphia Union as a bit of a blessing in disguise. “I’m happy we lost before the playoffs start because in the playoffs there is no room for losing games.”
While the entire Fire squad played exceptionally well on Saturday, Friedrich and MacDonald led the team with Player Ratings of 8.
Is there a better way to celebrate the Fire’s return to post-season play than with 400 of your closest friends? The final count is in and the October 8th Anniversary Planning Committee announced that more than 400 attendees will celebrate the Fire’s 15th Anniversary at the Chicago History Museum Monday evening.