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.
- DOWNLOAD: 2014 Home Regular Season Schedule (PDF)
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.
It comes as little surprise, just a day after being named one of three finalists for the MLS Most Valuable Player award, gathered another important accolade Thursday as he was vote Section 8 Chicago’s Supporters Player of the Year.
The award comes on the heels of Magee already taking the Club’s Most Valuable Player and Golden Boot award just prior to the end of the 2013 regular season.
Mike will be on hand Saturday at A.J. Hudson’s Public House (3801 N. Ashland) to receive his award and check for $1,500 to donate to the charity of his choice. The event begins at 6pm CT with the ceremony taking place at halftime of the MLS Eastern Conference Final Leg 2 between Sporting KC and Houston Dynamo.
See you there!
In this business when you swear you won't use your laptop for a day, often times you miss something. Such was the case for yours truly Friday as I took a much-needed day off following 10 months of non-stop career work...
So the story goes, I missed what seems to be a pretty clear, if not indirect endorsement of Mike Magee for MVP from a former teammate and probably the greatest American soccer player of all-time, Landon Donovan.
It came in an article from Scott French on MLSsoccer.com where the veteran So-Cal writer spoke with Robbie Rogers about the trade that saw his rights traded to LA in exchange for Magee to come to Chicago.
While the article centered mainly on Rogers adjustment to LA, Donovan, who is teammates with another potential MLS MVP candidate in Robbie Keane, had this to say of his Magee's exploits this season in Chicago:
“Would we like Mike Magee here? Yes,” he said. “I think any team wants the MVP of the league on their team, so, yeah, we would like Mike here. But the reality is Mike's not here, and we're all happy for Mike, and there's no guarantee those things [Magee achieved in Chicago] would have happened had Mike stayed here."
If you know Magee, he'd traded the chance to still be playing for any individual accolade but it does seem we should add Landon to the list of MLSsoccer.com editors, Washington Post reporter Steven Goff and Soccer America's Ridge Mahoney on #MikeMageeMVP endorsements.
CHICAGO FIRE HEAD COACH FRANK KLOPAS
On the match:
Yeah I mean I just think that we had some chances in the first half and I think if we could have got the second goal I think that could have changed things a little bit and then I think when we started the second half we had some bad turnovers in bad spots. I feel we had the ball and we turned it over and when they get the ball in good spots they have quality players that are going to hurt you. In the first half we had our chances to score another goal and the second half was just the key I think, in possession when we had it I think we just turned it over in bad spots and then once they went two, three up, we knew the score, we knew the results of the other game and we had to push the game. From then on, for me, it really didn’t matter; we just kept on pushing to try to come back [and at least tie the match to get into the playoffs].
On the season:
Right now it’s a lot of emotions. I’m proud of the guys just the way the second half of the season [went] and we were probably the best team in the league in the second half of the season. Through adversity you learn and you become better but I think the group fought all the way to the end, it’s just unfortunate that early on [in the season] if you get one more win it’s a different thing. I take my hat off to the guys because they competed. I know it’s disappointing right now for sure, but you have to learn from every situation and move on.
On Mike Magee:
For me he’s the MVP. Another very good performance, scored another very good goal tonight and look at the impact he’s had on our team. He’s a fantastic player and we’re happy to have him starting next year from the beginning [of the season].
CHICAGO FIRE FORWARD MIKE MAGEE
On the match:
I wish I knew [what went wrong in the match]. First and foremost I think New York was great. I think anytime you got Tim Cahill and [Thierry] Henry on your team and those guys are in the form that they were in tonight they’re going to be hard to beat. I definitely think we might have lain down a little bit.
On reflecting on his season:
This is going to hurt for a while. It’s cool to score goals and all but you play the game to lift the trophy and to kind of come that close after so much work just to get ourselves back in a spot to have a chance at making the playoffs – to be honest, it’s heartbreaking.
On Thierry Henry:
He’s the best. He’s probably the best player in the league and one of the classiest guys I’ve met. I got a chance to hang with him a little bit in Kansas City this year and I have nothing but respect for him. I just told him I wish him luck and that’s all.
Select shots from the Fire's loss to the Red Bulls
With three wins on the bounce, the Fire are on the brink of a playoff spot with only one game to go. The Men in Red could be in before the start of play on Sunday but the earliest they’ll know is a little over an hour from kickoff of their match vs. New York Red Bulls (LIVE 3:30pm CT on My50/Time Warner Sports WI; 4pm on UniMas).
Still, there is plenty to play for, including a possible third place finish thus avoiding the play-in game. For New York no incentive is bigger than knowing a win against the Fire will guarantee the team’s first ever trophy. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.
Patrick Nyarko and Jalil Anibaba vs New York’s left back – taking advantage of a Red Bulls weak spot
Left back has been a problem position for the Red Bulls this season and with the two natural left backs nursing injuries, the Red Bulls may have to resort to playing right-back Brandon Barklage out of position as cover. Red Bulls coach Mike Petke admitted that he is wary of Patrick Nyarko and hinted that it could be Barklage that gets the start due to his strong 1v1 defending.
WATCH: Segares, Nyarko preview NYRB
With that in mind, I feel the Fire coaching staff will be encouraging Nyarko to get the ball and take the left back on as much as possible. Left midfielder Johnny Steele is not the best at tracking back and helping in the defensive third and this could also allow Jalil Anibaba to get forward and support Nyarko on the Fire’s right.
Anibaba’s crossing ability has improved dramatically this year and regardless of who New York starts on the left, I expect the majority of the Fire’s attacks to come down that side.
Logan Pause vs Alex – who will partner Rios in the middle?
The toughest decision for the Fire’s coaching staff this week is who will replace the suspended Jeff Larentowicz in the center of the midfield alongside Arevalo Rios. One of Logan Pause, Alex or Daniel Paladini will be half of the tandem that will have to compete against one of the strongest midfield pairings in MLS: Dax McCarty and Tim Cahill.
On the one hand, the Fire know that the Red Bulls will be playing for the win and the Supporters Shield crown that comes with the points. On the other, the Fire will also be going for the win, knowing what they will have to do to finish in either fifth, fourth or even third.
With this in mind, Alex would be a more logical pick to start alongside Rios due to his attacking creativity and willingness to get forward and support the strikers. To those who argue that starting Alex over Logan would mean the team loses some defensive clout, coach Frank Klopas would argue that Alex’s defensive play has been excellent this season.
Tactically, I think starting Logan Pause would be the wiser choice, especially when you take into account the fluidity of the New York attack. The center midfielders and strikers for the Red Bulls are never static, with players like Henry often drifting wide and Cahill moving forward to play as the target striker.
With Pause alongside Rios, the Fire would form a very solid block of four, similar to the formation that the Republic of Ireland played under Giovanni Trapattoni. This formation would make the Fire very difficult to break down but would put a lot more emphasis on the wide players to create. This coaching decision has the potential to have huge impact on the match.
Shutting down Fabian Espindola – a player easily lost in the shadows of Henry and Cahill
In the Red Bulls last home match against New England, Mike Petke started with Henry and Fabian Espindola up front and in the first half in particular, Espindola was unstoppable. The New England defense could not keep up with the Argentine striker, who dropped deep and wide in search of the ball, dragging defenders out of position along the way.
Espindola is a player that any coach would love to have due to his tireless work rate. He also hounds opposition defenders when they are in possession, always looking to force a turnover or mistake and does not give up possession easily.
His low center of gravity can be very difficult for defenders to contain and he will certainly pose a challenge for the Fire’s backline on Sunday afternoon. The Fire defenders must not allow Espindola to get behind the backline.
Individually the defenders must not allow him to drag them out of position and create space for players like Cahill and McCarty to move into.
Prediction: With both teams knowing a win would be massively rewarding, I expect an end to end thriller, especially if there is an early goal. 2-2 with goals from Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko.
When Sasha Chanoff, the founder of RefugePoint, reached out to the Fire’s ownership about hosting a family at Saturday’s Fire game that seemed like the least we could do.
The Lokango family, a Congolese refugee family (whose lives RefugePoint saved) are new arrivals in Chicago. Prior to Chicago, they were living as refugees in Kenya for a number of years. Not only did they suffer unspeakably before escaping the Congo, but the 13-year-old, Emile, was shot in the leg in Nairobi because they were living in a dangerous area where refugees had become targets.
RefugePoint’s Cheryl Hamilton, who escorted the family to Toyota Park, had met them a few months ago in Nairobi and worked with RefugePoint to get them out as soon as possible. They are overjoyed and overwhelmed with relief to finally be in Chicago and safe.
Sasha and Cheryl knew Chicago Fire owner Andrew Hauptman and had worked with the Hauptman family as they had hosted a fundraiser for RefugePoint in the past. Additionally, in 2010, RefugePoint's effort in protecting the world’s most vulnerable refugees was awarded with the prestigious Charles Bronfman Prize (one of whose founders is Andrew Hauptman). As the boys also love soccer, Cheryl knew that it would be a warm Chicago welcome for them to come and experience a Chicago Fire game. They were seen cheering on the Fire and high-fiving other supporters after Mike Magee’s magical penalty kick.
In the end, it was an honor to host the family and for them to be recognized on field during Saturday’s game against Toronto. Their story touched everyone who met them at Toyota Park on Saturday, and they definitely brought the Men in Red good luck as well.
For more on RefugePoint and the hundreds of families they help (including the Lokango’s) visit http://www.refugepoint.org/.
What's more awesome than watching a Mike Magee penalty kick conversion? Watching a Mike Magee penalty kick conversion in slow motion, of course!
With the magic of a GoPro camera, a talented videographer (@laflores037), and some editing software, we're able to make it happen.
Check out this sweet video below, and remember to tweet your support of #MikeMageeMVP!
There were shots off the post, a disallowed goal, more Sean Johnson saves, the dramatic contexts of playoff contention and the last regular season home game of the season - Saturday’s win had a handful of talking points, but it had really only one truly interesting scene: Mike Magee’s game winning penalty.
Because despite the atmosphere and everything that was at stake, the game, in fact was pretty flat. Maybe it was the rain-soaked field, maybe it was a bit of nerves but Fire fans had to be uncomfortable when they saw the first 10 minutes with little of the urgency, high pressure, and high defensive line that pushed the team to those two huge away wins in D.C. and Dallas. Toronto was finding gaps all over the field to exploit and if it wasn’t for such bad finishing by Robert Earnshaw, they would’ve been in front.
The Fire grew into the game, however, and were in control when Magee scored the winning penalty. Then, as we’ve seen for the past month or so, the Fire managed the remainder of the and took all the points.
So maybe it’s good that it wasn’t a spectacle of high drama. Maybe it was just a professional victory -- a cold blooded three point snatch.
But then there was Magee’s PK.
Just a few weeks ago, Magee hit the crossbar with what would’ve been a game winning PK against Montreal. It cost the Fire two crucial points. “Tonight's on me,” he said after the game. “It won't be the last one I miss but I'm confident taking them and I'll bury the next one.”
It’s more or less the approach you expect from someone leading the league in goals and there aren’t many better opportunities to pad your stats than from the penalty spot.
And yet, and YET, Saturday’s PK was terrifying. I didn’t like the way Magee looked, I didn’t like his set up. He kept wiping his hands, and he started his run-up exactly at the whistle. You can often tell if a player’s going to score their PK based on their face, their calm, their approach, and their cool. We all know Magee is cool in front of goal, but wouldn’t the Montreal miss be on his mind? There he was, right in front of Section 8, back in his home city, a stadium chanting MVP - it was a moment, just a second or two, where some people might have thought about the whole chaos of the season. All the missed chances, all the posts they hit, all the points they dropped, all the mistakes and antagonism and pressure.
It happened so fast. Magee didn’t let the moment fester. He knew what he was going to do. He knows where the goal is. He wipes his hands, he tugs his shorts down a bit, he looks at the ref waiting for the whistle. When it comes he leaps off the line like a 5k start, skips a bit to the left of the ball, and approaching it that way, executes the deftest of chips right into where the goalie’s chest would’ve been if he hadn’t dove down to his right, where he thought Magee would go.
What I love about the way he took it is that he seemed to beat the rhythm of the game. I wanted a dramatic pause. I wanted to consider the entire season in the moment, and I wanted him to look straight at the keeper with fire in his eyes, like Rivaldo in 2002. But then, that’s what makes him such a good finisher, isn’t it? It’s the way he seems to catch defenders and goalies unaware. For some goals he’s quicker than you think he can be, and for others he seems to wait an eternity before calmly putting it away. The PK on Saturday was a combination of both. It had the quickness to take a few people by surprise (and short circuit any nerves), and the calmness to chip a Pirlo-esque panenka in front of thousands of people, in the most important game of the season.
After the game, Magee admitted he had some nervousness: “Normally I get up there and don't think twice about missing, and this time the last one off the back of the post was on my mind, so I figured I couldn't hit it off the post if I shot it up the middle.”
Even when admitting nerves, he sounds like the doubt in his mind didn’t really make him fear not scoring, it just pushed him to score differently.
And so now the Fire go to New York with nerves and doubts, but like Magee, they’ll have to use those doubts to push forward. They’ve learned from their mistakes against Montreal (and Columbus, and etc. etc.) but for three games in a row they’ve managed games and have a chance to finish the season the way Magee finished his PK: maybe a little afraid of the posts, maybe not exactly with the suave calmness of a secure playoff spot, but with a chance to kill it off, take the points, and head into the playoffs.