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27 September 10:21 pm

The Fire travel to LiveStrong Sporting Park on Friday night to face Sporting KC (LIVE 7:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network) in a game which could go a long way toward determining who wins the Eastern Conference crown. Both teams are playing well and it has all the makings of a classic. Here are a few things to watch out for from a tactical perspective...

Balls over the top: Fire defenders beware

Sporting KC have a tendency to look for balls into space behind the opposing teams outside defenders and the Fire will need to be wary of this tactic Friday night. KC attackers such as Kei Kamara, Graham Zusi and C.J. Sapong all like to make these runs which often drag a central defender out of position to cover, leaving space in the middle for the other attackers to move into.

 

PREVIEW: Fire vs. Sporting KC

 

 

The difficult part about defending these through balls is the fact that they can come from anywhere. In KC's last home match against Houston, it wasn't just midfielders like Roger Espinoza playing the balls into space but the defenders were getting in on the act, too.

Though he has played extremely well over the past month or so, Jalil Anibaba can sometimes stray too far forward which leaves space in behind him for players to run into and exploit. On the other side of the field, left back Gonzalo Segares also needs to be cautious.

High pressure: harass KC

In the Fire's past few matches, the team's policy of applying pressure to the opposition high up the field has been very effective. Not only does the pressure offer up the opportunity for a turnover, but it also disrupts the other team’s attacking rhythm.

In KC's last game away to Montreal, the Impact used the high pressure tactic and caused all sorts of problems for the away side. I look for the likes of Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko to be pressuring the KC players all night when they are in possession.

In the absence of Pavel Pardo, Alex has excelled in his new holding midfield position and his energy in the center of the park will be needed against Sporting KC. If he can also use his pace to pressure the KC midfield without straying too far out of position, it will be crucial to the Fire's chances of coming away with points.

Playoff atmosphere: keeping a cool head

There is so much riding on Friday night’s match and both teams know what is a stake, which is all the more reason for the Fire players to keep cool heads throughout the game. Kansas City has a tendency to get riled up very easily, starting with their coach, Peter Vermes. Players such as Kai Kamara and Michael Harrington also can get very emotional on the pitch, especially if they feel calls are not going their way.

With this in mind, I'm sure Frank Klopas has reiterated to his players not to let their emotions get the better of them in this high pressure game. For the most part, the Fire haven't had any problems with this aspect of their game this season but in a match of such importance where there isn't much between the teams, keeping your head can mean the difference between a positive and negative result.

Scoring first: stopping the bad habit

Though not necessarily a tactical point, a worrying trait that many would like to see addressed is reversing the trend of giving up the first goal.

This season, the Fire have gone a goal behind in games much too often for the coaches, fans and players liking. Though the team has often come back to tie the game and gone on to win it in many cases, sooner or later giving up the first goal is going to come back to haunt the Men in Red.

Clearly there is no one reason for going behind in so many games this season but if the team can reverse that trend it will make everyone happy. In the regular season to date, the Fire have only kept five clean sheets, the last of which came 11 games ago (1-0 July 14 vs. Vancouver). A clean sheet away from home Friday against Sporting KC would be a fantastic achievement.

Prediction: 1-0. Nyarko scores and Fire keep first clean sheet in 11 games to move into first place in the East.

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

27 September 4:03 pm

Over the summer, we presented 15 Memorable Games and Goals from the club’s first 15 seasons. We also asked you the fans who the top 15 players in club history were.

As we come closer to our 15th Anniversary on October 8th, we also get closer to completing the the #Fire15 players list presented by TrueCar as voted on by our loyal supporters. To be clear, you won’t see numbers ranking the players. That’s because this isn’t a countdown but rather a series to honor 15 great players in Fire history.

In the third installment of the series on Tuesday, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride and Zach Thornton joined DaMarcus Beasley, Ante Razov, Chris Armas, Jesse Marsch, Logan Pause and Chris Rolfe on the list.

Today Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Marco Pappa and Lubos Kubik bring the total to 12...

Cuauhtemoc Blanco – Widely considered by many as the best Designated Player in MLS history, Blanco brought a different type of flair to the Chicago Fire when he joined mid-way through the 2007 season. Upon his arrival, the iconic Mexican international proved many a doubter wrong who thought he’d come to Chicago to earn one final pay check ahead of his retirement.

Instead, the veteran attacker teamed with the likes of Chris Rolfe, Brian McBride and Patrick Nyarko to form one of the most dynamic attacks in the league. Blanco would tally 19 goals and 28 assists in 77 competitive matches, helping the Fire to three-straight Eastern Conference finals as well as the 2009 SuperLiga final, coming up just short in each.

Brought to Chicago to appeal to the city’s Mexican population, despite never winning a championship with the Men in Red, Blanco became an iconic figure in Fire history through his skill, desire to compete and win at all costs mentality.

Marco Pappa – If there ever was a player that matured and came into his own with the Men in Red, it was the recently departed Marco Pappa. As I say in the video, there’s no better word to describe the ability of Marco’s production than “spectacular”.

Coming to the Fire as a 19-year-old in 2008, Pappa somewhat quietly climbed his way up the club’s goal scoring charts, moving all the way to seventh all-time with 26 career goals and fourth all-time in MLS. One of just 21 players all-time to appear in 100+ competitive matches for the Men in Red, Pappa, like Blanco never won a title but became a mainstay in the Guatemalan national team during his time with the Fire before launching off to a career abroad  last month with Dutch side Heerenveen.

Lubos Kubik – The rock at the back in the early years, Lubos Kubik is likely one of the most skilled Fire players to ever wear the badge. The third inductee to the club’s Ring of Fire, Kubik was a key cog in the 1998-double winning team and helped to solidif the Fire defense, partnering with the likes of C.J. Brown, Francis Okaroh, Tom Soehn and a young Carlos Bocanegra.

The former Czechoslovak international had the additional ability to add to the attack, leading Fire defenders all-time in tallying 19 goals and 28 assists in 88 competitive matches for the Men in Red.

Aside from his play, perhaps one of the best reasons to include Kubik on the list is for something he did in another uniform.

Kubik returned to Soldier Field as a member of the Dallas Burn on July 21, 2001. Starting the game as a substitute, Kubik was warming up and looked ready to soon come on to help Dallas protect a 1-0 lead when referee whistled Burn goalkeeper Matt Jordan for a penalty kick by referee Richard Heron.

Standing behind the goal, Kubik jumped over the boards and onto the field to confront the referee who then issued a red card to Kubik for illegally entering the field. Walking away from Heron, the former Fire defender then turned and confronted him again, this time pulling the whistle out of his mouth.

As they say, this all came “allegedly” as Kubik did not want to face the Fire at Soldier Field. Of course, he did suit up and play 86 minutes against the Fire on the final day of the regular season, but who wants facts to get in the way of a legendary story?

True or not? Ask Lubos yourself at the 15th Fire Anniversary party on October 8. Get your tickets to that event by visiting www.fireanniversary.com and be sure you’re at Toyota Park for Wednesday’s Anniversary match against the Philadelphia Union. 

Stay tuned to Chicago-Fire.com next week for the installment of the #Fire15 Players presented by TrueCar.

27 September 1:10 pm

Since the start of the 2012 MLS season, the Fire have added six new players to the roster. With the Men in Red set to battle for first place tomorrow, Friday Sept. 28 against Sporting Kansas City at 7:30 p.m. CT on the NBC Sports Network, it’s hard to argue against the impact that the newest players have had on the team.
 
Here is a quick look at the Fire’s midseason acquisitions:
 
Chris Rolfe
Rolfe returned for his second stint with the Fire on April 16. Having suffered an ankle sprain in his first week back that kept him out commission for two months, Rolfe made his Fire “re-debut” on June 2 in a 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution. Since then, Rolfe has started 14 of 17 games and now leads the team in scoring with 8 goals. Rolfe has two multi-goal games so far this season, scoring two goals in a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union on Aug. 12 and two goals in a 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew on Sept. 22. The veteran Fire forward has five games left to hit double-digit goals, a feat he never accomplished before leaving for Denmark in 2009.
 
Alex
Brazilian attacker Alex joined the Fire from Swiss side FC Wohlen on April 26. Alex has two goals to his credit in 13 appearances. Having started five games, the Brazilian attacker has found fire of late, scoring both of his spectacular goals during the month of September in 3-1 wins over Houston (September 2) and Montreal (September 15).
 
Sherjill MacDonald

Sherjill MacDonald signed with the Fire on July 24 from Belgian club Beerschot AC. In nine games for the Men in Red, the former Dutch youth international has two goals and three assists to his name. Since earning his first start on Aug. 12 against the Philadelphia Union, MacDonald has started seven consecutive matches, helping the Men in Red to a 6-1-0 record in those matches.
 
Alvaro Fernandez
Uruguayan playmaker Alvaro Fernandez joined the Men in Red via trade from Seattle Sounders FC on July 27. Fernandez, who has made seven starts in eight games, scored his first Fire goal on Sept. 12 against Toronto FC. Just three days later, Fernandez scored his second goal of the season and added an assist in a 3-1 win over the Montreal Impact on Sept. 15.
 
Wells Thompson
Thompson joined the Fire in a trade from the Colorado Rapids on Sept. 10. Thompson, a 2010 MLS Cup winner with the Rapids, provides additional depth to a strong Fire midfield, and has made three appearances off the bench in his young Fire career.
 
Guillermo Franco
On Sept. 14, the Fire announced that the club signed two-time World Cup veteran and Mexican international forward Guillermo Franco. Franco saw his first action in a Fire shirt in MLS Reserve League action when the Fire defeated FC Dallas 2-1 on Sept. 18. Franco, who has yet to make his first team debut, is available for selection by Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas when the Men in Red take on Sporting Kansas City on Friday, Sept. 28.

26 September 1:30 pm

In this edition of Burning Questions we sat down with forward Sherjill MacDonald. Since joining the Fire on July 24, the Dutch striker has scored two goals and tallied three assists, helping set up a battle for first place against Sporting Kansas City on Friday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. CT on the NBC Sports Network. Sherjill took the time to answer our Burning Questions about how he spends his time in Chicago, the difference between European and American fashion and just how many people mispronounce his name.  

Always on the Inside: You’ve been in Chicago now for a few months. How are you liking it?

Sherjill MacDonald: I love it. I love the restaurants; my favorite of the moment is an Italian restaurant called Scoozi! It’s close to my house so I go there a lot. I’ve been to the Hancock Center and eaten upstairs on the 95th floor, so that was fantastic. I have an apartment in River North. I love it. It’s a quiet neighborhood, it’s nice for dogs, so I like to walk the dog. It seems like a dog-friendly neighborhood.

WATCH: MacDonald equalizes vs. Montreal

 

AOTI: What kind of dog do you have?

SM: She is a Chihuahua mixed with a French Bulldog. Her name is Nala, from the Lion King.

AOTI: You’re pretty active on Twitter. What do you like about it?

SM: I like to talk to the fans. The last game I traded a fan that had made a banner for me with a jersey, so I like to do those kind of things. Sometimes I give away shoes to the fans; it helps to keep in touch with the fans.

AOTI: You’re a pretty stylish guy. What is the main difference between European and American fashion style?

SM: I’ve noticed that everybody wears running shoes, like downtown, so now I also do it. I think it’s an American thing because the distances are a little bit further. I’ve sometimes seen people wear suits with running shoes. It’s a lot of people.

AOTI: Who do you think are the best and worst dressed guys on the team?

SM: I like everybody’s style. It’s difficult to see in football because when you come to training, you dress comfortably.

Editor’s Note: During the interview, Daniel Paladini declared that Hunter Jumper was the worst dressed player on the team because he favors Polo Ralph Lauren. This editor does not agree with the views and statements of Daniel Paladini.

AOTI: What percentage of people in Chicago mispronounce your name and what’s the worst pronunciation you’ve heard?

SM: I think 80-85 percent. The worst I’ve heard is “Sheryl,” like the girls name.

AOTI: What do you like to do on a typical day off?

SM: Normal things. I like to go into the city with my girlfriend, do a little shopping. I like to walk the dog. Sometimes we stay outside for two hours walking the dog, especially when there is good weather. We like to enjoy the weather.

I also watch all kinds of television series and all kinds of movies. I watch a lot of movies; sometimes I watch like five movies a day. I’m a movie freak. “Gladiator” is one of my favorites.

AOTI: Who is your roommate on the road?

SM: Last time it was Wells Thompson. He’s a very good roommate. He sleeps very early but it’s good for me. It was a good example for me so I also sleep early. He’s a nice guy, a very gentle guy so I like him.

AOTI: One of the things that has helped endear you to fans is your passion on the field. Is your on-field persona similar to your off-field persona?

SM: Off the field I’m not emotional, not the same as on the field but sometimes I have to keep my emotions more to myself. I just have to control them sometimes on the pitch. I’m working on it; some people like it, some people don’t like it. Personally I don’t like it. I have to be more focused.

AOTI: FIFA 13 was recently released. Which team and difficulty level do you usually use? If we had a team FIFA 13 tournament, where would you rank?

SM: I love FIFA. I’m going to get it. I play with Chelsea on the highest difficulty level. I think I would be maybe first or second on the team. Sean [Johnson] would maybe be first. Sean is very good. 

 

25 September 5:05 pm

Over the summer, we presented 15 Memorable Games and Goals from the club’s first 15 seasons. We also asked you the fans who the top 15 players in club history were.

As we come closer to our 15th Anniversary on October 8th, we also get closer to completing the the #Fire15 players list presented by TrueCar as voted on by our loyal supporters. To be clear, you won’t see numbers ranking the players. That’s because this isn’t a countdown but rather a series to honor 15 great players in Fire history.

In the second installment of the series last week DaMarcus Beasley, Ante Razov and Chris Armas joined Jesse Marsch, Logan Pause and Chris Rolfe on the list.

Today, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride and Zach Thornton bring the total to nine...

Carlos Bocanegra – There was always something special about Carlos Bocanegra and from the moment he came into the league in 2000, it didn’t take long for the future U.S. Men’s National Team captain to make his mark.

Appearing in 39 competitive matches while tallying a goal and an assist, Bocanegra would go on to win MLS Rookie of the Year that season and was part of the defense that helped the Fire to its second MLS Cup final in three seasons as well as second U.S. Open Cup title in the same time span.

In 2002 and 2003, Bocanegra would show his dominance defense around the league, becoming the first player to win the league’s Defender of the Year award in back-to-back seasons, before ending his time in MLS with a Supporters Shield, another U.S. Open Cup title and a trip back to the MLS Cup.

Having recorded seven goals and nine assists across 122 competitive matches, it’s safe to say the time in Chicago laid the groundwork for one of the best American defenders of all-time. Bocanegra’s legacy around the Fire is still felt, with fans often clamoring for an eventual return to the Windy City.

Brian McBride – Ironically enough, McBride was a longtime teammate of Bocanegra both with the U.S. Men’s National team and during their time at English Premier League side Fulham FC.

Brian’s return to MLS with the Fire in 2008 was one that he’d long made known he’d like to make in order to finish out his career in his hometown. Having tallied 21 goals and seven assists across 72 competitive matches, McBride’s contributions at the Fire, like those with the national team and abroad weren’t always measurable purely by stats.

Rather, talking to guys about what McBride provided during his time with the Fire, they mention what American fans had long come to know: a strong, hard-working presence up top. There’s something else that’s more strike what still may pay dividends down the road…

QUOTABLE: “He brought a great level of education to the younger guys. I know personally he had a huge impact on my game. I got to spend a lot of time with Brian. He had the highest level of professionalism  that has been exhibited by a player. He came in every session and worked hard every day to the point that you didn’t realize how old he was at the time. Us young kids benefitted because he’s always coaching through the game. He never criticized anyone but just offered his view. He knew the game inside and out and you could see the impact it brought to this team.” – Patrick Nyarko

Better yet, McBride today was announced as another of many special guests at the October 8th Anniversary Party at the Chicago History Museum,,,

Zach Thornton – What can you say about Big Z? I think it might be best to draw the comparison to another of the Fire15 in Ante Razov. Much like Ante with LA, Zach had played sparingly in New York through the first two seasons of MLS before joining the Fire via the 1997 Expansion Draft.

That season he had to contend for playing time with the much higher profile Jorge Campos who was in and out of the team due to commitments with the Mexican national side as well as splitting time with Pumas UNAM. Thornton would finally make the job his and be in goal to back stop the side to the 1998 MLS and U.S. Open Cup double, winning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and being named to the Best XI in the process.

The goalkeeper would go on to be one of three players (along with Chris Armas and C.J. Brown) to be part of the all six of the club’s domestic titles, holds nearly all of the club’s goalkeeping records and sits third all-time behind only Brown (372) and Logan Pause (298) for most competitive appearances with the Fire at 276.  

Stay tuned on Thursday as we name three more members of the #Fire15 and be sure to get your tickets to the October 3rd 15th Anniversary match vs. the Philadelphia Union as well as the 15th Anniversary Party to be held October 8 at the Chicago History Museum. Fire legends will be in attendance at both events.

24 September 11:51 am

After Sunday, D.C. United continued to move up the Eastern Conference table even without Dwayne DeRosario, earning a 1-0 home win over Chivas USA. The shock result of the weekend likely came earlier in the day as Houston dropped a 3-1 decision at lowly Philadelphia, leaving them just one point above sixth place Columbus for the final playoff spot in the East.

Seeing as I broke down each team’s remaining schedules prior to Sunday’s two matches, I won’t do it again here… Refer to that blog for an almost up-to-date breakdown.  

Instead today’s edition of Playoff Math will be shorter and potentially sweeter as I focus on “Magic Numbers”…

I’ve come to find out that with three variations of a result, “Magic Numbers” in soccer are more difficult to come by than in baseball, basketball or football. but I felt it part of my duties as Team Writer to work out just how close the Fire (and the rest of the East) are to playoff qualification.

To be clear, the “Magic Numbers” below do not reflect the number of points a team needs to earn but rather, the number of points a team needs to gain combined with the number of points the sixth place team (right now Columbus) needs to drop. In the Crew’s case, it’s in comparison to fifth place Houston.

As an example, the Fire could achieve their magic number of five by winning Friday night at Sporting KC (3 points) and then have Columbus lose (drop 3 points) or draw with Philadelphia (drop 2 points).  

Also find the "Soonest Could Clinch" column which is pretty self-explanatory. It's factored by taking into account the date a team could gain maximum points and have the sixth place team no longer able to catch them.

Make sense?  Here’s the table…

Team Games Left Points Max. Points Magic Number Soonest Could Clinch
Sporting KC 4 55 67 3 9/28
Chicago Fire 5 53 68 5 9/29
NY Red Bulls 4 50 62 8 10/7
D.C. United 4 50 62 8 10/7
Houston Dynamo 4 46 58 12 10/7
Columbus Crew 4 45 57 13 10/20

The only other team that can clinch qualification this week is of course Sporting, who simply need a victory over the Fire or a draw and Columbus defeat to book their ticket to the postseason.

Not that you need much more reason to tune into the Fire’s game at Sporting KC Friday at 7:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network but it could end up being one of the biggest games of the season…

24 September 11:37 am

With a 2-1 victory over the Columbus Crew Saturday evening, the Chicago Fire maintained their hold on second place in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference. After Crew forward Jairo Arrieta capitalized on a rare defensive miscue, Fire forward Chris Rolfe lead the charge with two goals in three minutes for a big Fire victory. Catch all of the highlights here.

Rolfe, who now leads the team in scoring with eight goals, was glad the Fire were able to convert their chances as  he said it’ll get tougher towards the end of the season.

The victory marked the eight time this season the Fire were able to come from behind to take the full three points, which Rolfe calls, “A good thing.”

One of the reasons the Men in Red were able to bounce back so quickly from the defensive gaffe that lead to the Columbus goal was the team’s positive mentality, which according to Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas, was evident in the team’s reaction.

Tim Howard, currently the top ‘keeper for the U.S. Men’s National Team, told Soccer by Ives that for Sean Johnson and his fellow young, American ‘keepers, while growing pains are inevitable, “The sky is the limit.”

With the result, the Fire remained in second place in Jeff Carlisle’s most recent Power Rankings for ESPN, setting up for an exciting match on Friday night against Sporting Kansas City, who are ranked third this week.

The Guardian says that there is “no doubt” that Friday night’s clash for first place under the lights of LIVESTRONG Sporting is a must-watch, so make sure to “clear your diaries.”

24 September 8:10 am

It was good to see DaMarcus Beasley back in Chicago for Saturday night's 2-1 win over Columbus.

With the five-year Fire veteran still an active player and unable to get away from Mexican side Puebla for next month's 15th Anniversary celebrations, he took advantage of a little schedule gap after playing 90 minutes for the side in a 1-1 draw with Leon Friday night. 

Named earlier this week as one of the #Fire15 players, Beasley was welcomed to roaring applause at halftime of Saturday night's game but what was most interesting was what he said to our camera before the match.

When asked where he would want to play if he return to Major League Soccer, Beasley replied, "There's no other team I would want to play for. No other team I'd want to be a part of."

Given the swirling rumors recently about a Carlos Bocanegra return to the Fire, this response inevitably leads us to a fun poll question...

23 September 8:49 am

The Fire and Sporting KC did their part this week to make Friday's showdown at LiveStrong Sporting Park a massive one for the national television audience on NBC Sports Network... Below is a breakdown of the Playoff Math after Saturday's games. On Monday, following today's two matches, I'll have an update, including magic numbers for all team's in the East race.

WATCH: Chicago 2, Columbus 1 (9/22/2012)

 

1) Sporting KC
Current Points: 55
Games Remaining: 4 (2 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 67
Average Opponents Points: 43.7
Remaining Schedule: vs. Chicago (9/28), at Columbus (10/7), at New York (10/20), vs. Philadelphia (10/24).

The Rundown: Ending a stretch this weekend in which the team played three games in eight days, Sporting manager Peter Vermes did well to manage the scenario and keep his team atop the East with a huge 2-0 win over Red Bull at midweek before playing for a point at Montreal Saturday afternoon.

The decision to go for a draw with the Impact shows Vermes' confidence in his side heading into Friday's all-important six point clash with the Fire. A win for Sporting and they'll open up a five point lead at the top, while a loss would push the Fire into first place by one point, with the Men in Red holding a game in hand.

2) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 53
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home, 3 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 68
Average Opponents Points: 41.6
Remaining Schedule:  at Sporting KC (9/28), vs. Philadelphia (10/3), at New York (10/6), at New England (10/20), vs. D.C. United (10/27)

 

 

 

 

 

The Rundown: Fans had all the reason to go into Saturday's game with chewed up finger nails. Sean Johnson's early giveaway that led to the Crew's early goal might have made you loose a bit of hair. In the end, what could have been a bogey game and a missed opportunity for three points just turned into yet another Fire win.

The club is on the brink of its first playoff qualification since 2009 and while going first on Friday is a real thing, they could also potentially clinch a postseason berth if the Crew fall next Saturday night against Philadelphia.

3) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 50
Games Remaining: 4 (3 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 65
Average Opponents Points: 39.2
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Toronto FC (9/29), vs. Chicago (10/6), vs. Sporting KC (10/20), at Philadelphia (10/27)

WATCH: New England 1, New York 1 (9/22/2012)

 

The Rundown: Save Montreal who are almost completely out of the playoff race, no one in the East had a worse week than Red Bull. A flat effort at home in midweek against Sporting KC in a match that could have taken them to the top of the East table combined with a gut-wrenching 1-1 draw Saturday at lowly New England leaves New York in a precarious position at the moment.

The good thing is that three of their remaining four matches are at home and two of those are against the Fire and Sporting KC. The bad thing is both D.C. and Houston play Sunday. A win by United over Chivas USA would pull them level with Red Bull on points while a Houston win over Philadelphia would pull them within one. 

4) DC United
Current Points: 47
Games Remaining: 5 (2 home, 3 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Points: 35.4
Remaining Schedule: vs. Chivas USA (9/23), at Portland (9/29), at Toronto FC (10/6), vs. Columbus (10/20), at Chicago (10/27)

The Rundown: Not a lot to say about United until they play their match vs. Chivas USA tonight (6pm CT on Galavision). D.C. did well enough to earn three points at Philadelphia at midweek and if they can take advantage of the easier schedule over the next few weeks, they'll be in very good shape for a top three finish, even without DeRo. 

Food for thought: If D.C. were to drop a 4-0 scoreline on Chivas USA at RFK tonight, they would actually move into third place, beating Red Bull on the second tie breaker of Goal Differential...

5) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 46
Games Remaining: 5 (3 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 61
Average Opponents Points: 30.4
Remaining Schedule:  at Philadelphia (9/23), vs. New England (9/29), vs. Montreal (10/6), vs. Philadelphia (10/20), at Colorado (10/27)

The Rundown: Same as D.C. above. Houston should be favorites to win all five of their remaining matches, with their toughest opponent being Montreal on October 6. The favorable remaining schedules for both the Dynamo and United should give great caution to Sporting KC, Chicago and New York if they expect to finish in the top three.

6) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 45
Games Remaining: 4 (3 home, 1 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 57
Average Opponents Points: 37.7
Remaining Schedule:  vs. Philadelphia (9/29),  vs. Sporting KC (10/7), at D.C. United (10/20), vs. Toronto FC (10/28).

The Rundown: Again last night, the Crew continue to showed why some should be skeptical about their late-season run as the team hasn't beaten anyone ahead of them lately. For a team trying to climb up the table, dropping points against those above you won't help your cause. With three of four remaining matches at home, Columbus is far from out of the race but can't afford many more slip-ups.

The October 20 game vs. United could be the make or break of their season.

7) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 40
Games Remaining: 3 (1 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 49
Average Opponents Points: 32.3
Remaining Schedule: at Houston (10/6), at Toronto FC (10/20), vs. New England (10/27)

The Rundown: Just here because of mathematics. Montreal did the Fire and the rest of the East a bit of a favor by earning a 0-0 draw with Sporting KC Saturday but leaving two points on the field at Stade Saputo has really determined the Impact's playoff fate in their expansion season. They'll take next weekend off and the rest of the East will hope they can pull another result at Houston before they finish off the season with games at Toronto and vs. New England. 

21 September 9:37 am


(Photo Credit: Conrad Akier)

We are chewing down on some quite delicious pizza at Piece restaurant in Wicker Park, and a certain silver-haired Greek-American is practically bouncing off the walls.

When Frank Klopas is animated about something, everyone in his vicinity has little choice to not only be very much aware of it, but to embrace it: I’ve never seen one of his half-time team talks, but I can only imagine that there isn’t anywhere to hide, that Frank’s 45 minutes of side-line pacing builds into an unavoidably exuberant “talk.” Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what I like to think goes on in the locker-room when Frank’s in charge.

What I do know for sure is that on this particular evening in the summer of 2009 – when, of course, he was not the Fire’s coach but instead its technical director – Frank had a real bee in his bonnet. The Ring of Fire member and Chicagoan wanted to know why we didn’t do more to celebrate the Club’s birthday on October 8th. It was a tie that could bind the Fire community’s past and present together, Frank said, and one that uniquely linked the Club to the City (OK, I’m paraphrasing; Frank’s enthusiasm is such that I’d need more words than you want to read to actually piece together the whole conversation).

You’re right, Frank, we said. Let’s do something on October 8th. We only have a few weeks (it was late August, if I recall correctly), but if there’s one thing those of us in Section 8 can do, it’s scratch together an event on short notice by drawing on the collective willingness of slightly unhinged fanatics to volunteer and pull together when the inspiration strikes.

And strike it did. Why wouldn’t we celebrate every October 8th? After all, whatever the ups-and-downs of the Club, the one thing anyone who says they are “Fire til I die” with a straight face ought to be keen to honor is the date of the club’s founding, the name of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club announced on a Fall day at Navy Pier back in 1997 on October 8th.

The date, you probably know, was not chosen by accident. It was 126 years earlier, October 8th 1871, that Chicago was set ablaze not for the first or last time, but for the defining time: a conflagration that tore a city asunder, only for its survivors to respond by building a city greater than anyone could ever have imagined possible.

“Flames! Flames! Terrible flames! What a fearful destruction they bring. What suf'fring and want in their train follow fast, As forth on the streets homeless thousands are cast. But courage! Courage! From the mid'st of the furnace we sing.”

Those words written by George S. Root come from the Chicago History Museum’s “Web of Memory,” a remarkable collection of contemporary accounts of the Great Chicago Fire. And sing Chicagoans did, of the tragedy and of survival and of reconstruction. A popular song soon emerged, one you may now hear in the Harlem End of Toyota Park, and it goes like this:

Late one night, when we were all in bed, Mrs. O'Leary lit a lantern in the shed. Her cow kicked it over, Then winked her eye and said, "There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight!"

With this kind of folklore building, Chicagoans had determined that, however it really started somewhere around 12th and Halsted Streets , the Great Fire that destroyed nearly 20,000 homes, left 90,000 homeless and killed 300 people would not be forgotten – and nor would the monumental rebuilding effort soon undertaken to remake the city. Within a week, 6,000 temporary structures housed the homeless, as the Tribune declared CHICAGO SHALL RISE AGAIN.

Every year, as the city continued to expand in the late nineteenth century, Chicagoans gathered on the Great Fire’s anniversary to show this city had not been cowed. As G.W. Steevens put it: “Therefore the men of Chicago resolved that the twenty-fifth anniversary of her destruction by fire should not pass without such a demonstration as should convince the world that she is very much more alive than ever.”

The annual celebration in October became known as Chicago Day, and editorials in the Chicago Tribune were accompanied by gleaming illustrations, beams of light shining from the resurrected city. Great monuments were proposed: one never built was designed by William LeBaroney Jenney (a key developer of the skyscraper), a tall tower crowned by a female figure clutching a flaming torch to symbolize – as the Tribune put it – “the triumph of energy and enterprise” in the wake of disaster.

In some ways, it is difficult now to grasp just how monumental Chicago’s survival and growth in the wake of the Great Fire seemed in the late nineteenth century. But for city boosters – especially as Chicago’s business sector dramatically expanded – elegiac heights of almost absurd proportions were reached to describe the rebuilding effort. A poem by Edmund S. Holbrook on the tenth anniversary of the Fire illustrates this well. Chicago is reborn not by providence but by man’s Herculean effort, becoming a symbol of Civic beauty in the New World – the Garden City:

       The massive stones are laid below, the walls arise above.

       In strength that neither flame, nor storm, nor time itself shall move.

       Nor Use alone, but Beauty comes, and with deft hand adorns:

       See parks, and boulevards, and groves--see lakelets, flowers, and lawns.

       The Garden City, twice herself, sits as a Queen again--

       Not by Amphion with his lyre, but Man, stout-hearted MAN.

Enduring symbols of Chicago continued to be shaped by the Great Fire. It imbued the spirit of the 1893 World’s Fair: the “I Will” maiden’s bust was topped by a phoenix that, naturally, arose from the ashes. Indeed, the entire Fair – commemorating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas – was planned by the city’s elite to showcase Chicago’s remarkable transformation into a great metropolis following the Fire. Twenty-seven million visitors duly passed a number of statues that referenced the Fire in the White City, such as Karl Bitter’s “Fire Controlled.”            

Chicago Day’s commemoration of the Great Fire at the Fair saw the presentation of a “monster concert,” a “grand chorus,” “the most gorgeous display of fireworks ever seen in America,” all forming “the Most Significant and Grandest Spectacle in Modern Times.” Actually held on October 9th (rather than the 8th), over 750,000 citizens crammed in to the gleaming White City to celebrate the city’s emergence from the Great Fire’s disastrous wake, almost triple the Fair’s record attendance.

(In a terrible irony, White City itself was left to be destroyed by fire in the coming years.)

The Great Fire would not be forgotten as the decades rolled on. In 1921, the Great Fire’s 50th anniversary was commemorated in the city as all high school soccer and football games played on October 8th were made part of the “Semi-Centennial Games.” Songs were created, pageants were held, and a play called The Seven Fires: A Masque of Chicago was held in Humboldt Park. When Chicago held its next World’s Fair in 1933, the “I Will” maiden was still adorned on top by a phoenix rising from the flames, and Chicago Day was held again in October (though not with the fanfare of its predecessor in 1893).

By 1946, at the 75th anniversary, the Fire Department itself was involved in a week long “Fire Show” held from October 4-11, with “thrilling exhibits and demonstrations marking the 75th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire.” In the local press, the spirit of the city’s rebuilding from the Fire was brought up as civic leaders were urged to tackle the post-war issue of homelessness with the same dedication that homes had been built with after the 1871 disaster.

The 100th anniversary in 1971 was topped by a gala dinner: the menu included “Mrs O’Leary’s Baked Beans,” and in 1996, a “FireBall” was held to mark the 125th anniversary in October. But it would be the next year that a new, lasting monument to the Great Fire would be announced:  the Chicago Fire Soccer Club.

The news that Chicago’s new Major League Soccer club would be known as the Fire was kept a secret until it was unveiled on Navy Pier that October 8th in 1997: the club’s General Manager Peter Wilt fooled the media by feeding rumors that the team was to be called the Blues, sending invitations out to media for the event featuring a pen drawing of the Blues Brothers.

Fortunately, the club’s name also didn’t end up being the Rhythm either, as Nike – who shaped the identity of numerous late ‘90s MLS teams whose names have now been changed or disappeared into the history books – had wanted. It took a high-level intervention to ensure that the Chicago Rhythm was never born, as Peter Wilt explains:

“To the joy and relief of many, we avoided a lifetime of misspelled team references, bad Catholic birth control method jokes and just plain poor branding when at my urging Phil Anschutz intervened at the highest levels to Nike and told his counterpart Phil Knight that it was his team and he was going to name it whatever he wanted, but it sure as sheep sh*t wasn’t going to be “Rhythm”.  OK, he probably didn’t say “sheep sh*t”, but he wasn’t happy.”

And so we in Chicago have been able to embrace a Club called the Fire that speaks to the City’s greatest achievement, its restless, pounding energy, its desire to do – just the kind of spark I saw in Frank Klopas that night three years ago at a pizza restaurant, one that inspired us to hold a celebration every October 8th since.

On October 8th this year, we mark 15 years of the Chicago Fire and in the tradition of grand Chicago Day events, you are invited to a major celebration to commemorate the founding of the Club on a date unparalleled in significance for Chicago.

A Committee of volunteers, fans from around the stadium from the first Barn Burner Don Crafts to current ISA Chair Joel Piktel and numerous other old-timers, has been working round the clock to ensure the celebration is a fitting one. The choice of venue was key to this: it was on October 8, 1871 that the Chicago Historical Society’s building was burned to the ground. Their collection was lost.

Like Chicago generally, that building was not just replaced, but reborn grander, and is now the marvelous Chicago History Museum at North and Clark adjacent to Lincoln Park. Inside there is the Museum’s major exhibition to the Great Chicago Fire, one that will be open to attendees as we gather at the Museum and honor Club heroes scheduled to attend including Piotr Nowak, Lubos Kubik, Ante Razov, Peter Wilt, Frank Klopas and many, many more.

Please join us there and celebrate fifteen years of Chicago Fire and 141 years since the city we love rose unbowed and restless from the ashes.

Click here to order your tickets to the Chicago Fire Soccer Club 15th Anniversary Celebration on October 8th 2012 at the Chicago History Museum or head to FireAnniversary.com to learn more about the celebration.

Tom Dunmore is a former Chair of Section 8 Chicago and is currently an editor of XI Quarterly. Follow him on Twitter @tomdunmore.