Jalil Anibaba and Austin Berry aren’t the only Fire representatives at Atletico Madrid.
Earlier today Fire head coach Frank Klopas, assistant Mike Matkovich as well as President of Soccer Operations Javier Leon and Vice President Guillermo Petrei all checked in on how the Fire’s young defenders are doing in their training stint.
The group was able to see Anibaba and Berry train with the Atletico first team and even see the pair mark Colombian superstar Falcao during the proceedings.
Afterwards the Fire technical delegation held meetings Atletico CEO Miguel Angel Gil, Academy Director Carlos Aguilera, Marketing and International Development lead, Emilio Gutiérrez as well as Slanisa Jokanovic, the coach of Thai giants Muanghtong United, another member of the Atletico alliance.
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!
While the Chicago Fire are out of action for a bit, we thought it appropriate to check in to see how the club’s worldwide Alliance Partners are doing in their current campaigns. Here’s a quick update on their recent results…
With Fire defenders Austin Berry and Jalil Anibaba in attendance, Atletico defeated Sevilla 4-0 on Sunday, with Colombian superstar Falcao scoring his 11th goal in 12 matches. They currently sit second in La Liga with 34 points, three behind league leaders Barcelona.
Atletico take the field again Wednesday in a Copa Del Rey match against Real Jaen and return to league action this weekend for a derby match against Real Madrid at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Sport Club Internacional
Sport Club Internacional fell 2-0 to Portuguesa in Campeanto Brasileiro action Sunday. Currently ninth in the Serie A table, Internacional head into their final match of the season with a chance to finish as high as seventh as they visit Gremio on Sunday.
As Internacional look to build for next season, it seems they could do so with Dunga at the helm as the former Brazilian national team captain and head coach reportedly held a meeting with club President Giovanni Luigi Tuesday morning.
After falling 2-0 in the first leg of the Liga MX Apertura semifinals against Toluca last Wednesday, goals from Miguel Layun and Daniel Montenegro brought Club America level on aggregate at halftime of Sunday’s second leg at the Estado Nemesio Diez.
With all to play for in the second half though, Toluca’s Edgar Benitez tallied the lone goal in the 59th minute to regain the aggregate lead and eventually send the home side on to the Liga MX final with Club Tijuana.
Nine matches into the Emirates Pro-League season, powerhouse Al Ain sit top of the table with 22 points from nine matches. Last Frieday the side received braces from Ghanaian international Asamoah Gyan and Omar Abdulrahman to earn a 5-2 decision away to Dubai Cultural Sports Club.
Currently sitting with a +26 goal differential, Al Ain welcome 12th places Al Shaab to the Tahnoun Bin Mohamed Stadium on Friday afternoon.
After seeing Saturday’s encounter at FAR Rabat postponed, fourth place Raja Casablanca will hope to move further up the Moroccan Botola Pro league table as they welcome 13th place Khourigba to the Stade Mohamed V on Saturday.
It's been exactly 23 days since I last did a Five Things article. Just because there won't be another Fire game until sometime in January doesn't mean this great piece of content can't be repurposed with a little holiday twist... With that, I give you "Five Fire-related Things I'm Thankful For..."
1) MLS Live – In my opinion, perhaps the most significant technological success Major League Soccer has had in 17 seasons. MLS Live is reliable, affordable and provides an absolutely crystal clear picture of up to 230 games that don’t involve the Chicago Fire.
While it was great to see the league sign a deal with NBC Sports this past year, with 19 teams now in the league, the peacock, ESPN and Univision networks simply can’t carry every game nationally. What’s more, the product even got better from 2011 to 2012 providing more interactivity.
Trust me when I say that the Playoff Math pieces that you all loved this fall wouldn’t have been accomplished quite as easy without MLS Live. Now if only they can turn the corner on local blackouts...Something to improve upon for next year perhaps?
2) The Chicago Fire PR and Digital Team – My job sort of fits me into both categories but the two sides almost always work hand in hand. There’s never an idea too wacky or too out of bounds for us to go after…
Get Logan Pause to eat a million Chewy bars to launch a Quaker jersey? Uh huh.
Pester an MLS owner to change his stadium’s flag policy? Sure, why not.
Create a Twitter campaign to beat the Crew in the digital realm? Of course.
Create another campaign to potentially get Pat Nyarko on the All-Star Team? Yup.
Partner with Quaker to help Austin Berry win Rookie of the Year? Did that.
Dress up as eachother to ease tensions ahead of a Halloween playoff game? And that.
Stupidly race Dominic Oduro with a jelly doughnut on the line? Sure.
Risk suffocation by jumping in a large equipment bag for a blog promo? Still can't breathe.
Interviewing a stuffed tiger during for a live blog piece to Columbus? Roar.
The list goes on and on but I just have to say I’m proud to be a part of this team. Thanks Emigdio, Brendan, Eunice, Leo, Nick and all of our trusted interns over the past year.
3) The Chicago Fire First Team – Getting to work with professional athletes on a daily basis is a fan boy’s dream. With that said, athletes don’t always reciprocate with the same feelings.
That isn’t the case with the Fire where there is a true sense of family that emanates from the locker room. From Frank and his staff, to stars like Arne Friedrich, Pavel Pardo and Logan Pause all the way down the roster, these guys are a pleasure to work with.
To all the players and staff, I appreciate your tolerance of a digital recorder often being in your face.
4) Having my own tifo – I’ve checked with the MLS Team Writer’s Union and discovered I’m alone among my counterparts when it comes to having their own dedicated two-pole display. Contrary to popular belief, my favorite song is not Fun’s “We Are Young” though I do think it’s an appropriate song to be sung at Fire games (just need to work on timing).
To the few fans (you know who you are) that took this from conception, made it a reality and hoisted this as my birthday present from the Section back on July 8, you are truly amazing.
Every time I see the two-pole and hear that song, I get chills, so thank you.
5)Traveling and getting to know Fire supporters – I was able to take in 11 of the team’s 18 road matches in person this season. While I was working at some, I was a fan at seven of those games. Those matches provided me a nice release that I don’t get to have at Toyota Park -- mainly the opportunity to scream, shout and support the guys I work with on a daily basis.
Beyond just taking a game in, I came to appreciate the camaraderie that is formed by fans on the road. There’s something to be said for what a nine-hour bus ride to Toronto or Kansas City to bring folks together.
Even better are the times where the away city is so far away that you are FORCED to spend a night out on the town in a fun city such as Montreal before cramming six people into a tiny hotel room (not to say this ever happened…).
When you work for a club, you don’t ever really feel like you’re not part of it. However, I’ve gained even more love for the Chicago Fire by returning to my roots as a fan and getting to better know and understand this club’s most ardent supporters. If you can travel away next year, please do!
There are plenty of other things I’m thankful for but you’d be here all day.
Happy Thanksgiving Fire Fans!
I'm a morning person. So when I saw Jalil Anibaba online today, I thought why not see how things have been going through his first few days training at Atletico Madrid. We talk Ja's touring of the training facilities and stadium, how he plans to spend Thanksgiving and his picking up of the Spanish lisp. Enjoy!
Jeff Crandall: How has your training stint gone so far?
Jalil Anibaba: It’s been going really well. I’m having a great time out here and I’m really loving the experience so far. The training facilities are top class. It’s separate from the stadium which is in the city itself. Amazing grass and turf fields and really everything you could need for training.
JC: Who are you training with?
JA: I’m training with the B team. The first day we scrimmaged the first team. They provided good competition and a great experience. It is rewarding to be able to measure yourself against guys that have proven success in winning the Europa League last season.
JC: Thanksgiving is a uniquely American holiday, so how do you plan to celebrate it there in Spain tomorrow?
JA: Of course I’m American at heart and unfortunately I’m away from home and my family over Thanksgiving. I’m probably going to Skype in with the family before they eat dinner and say hello. That’ll do for me.
JC: Have you been able to get into the city yet?
JA: Yeah, some of the representatives from the club took me into the city. I got to see their stadium and museum, the locker room and all their facilities. It was a great experience.
JC: Have you had paella yet?
JA: I haven’t had paella in Spain yet but I’ve had it lots of times because my stepmother’s mom is from Spain actually. She cooks it for us all the time. Spanish food is really nothing new to me to be honest.
JC: How is your Spanish? Are you speaking with a lisp yet?
JA: My Spanish is okay. I can speak a bit and I know enough to get by when I need to. The lisp throws me off but you have to adapt!
JC: What have you been doing with your down time?
JA: I’ve treated my down time as seriously as I do back in Chicago. Making sure I get enough rest in between sessions is the primary focus. However, if situations permit, I will explore. Like I said earlier, I got the chance to tour their stadium and all their facilities and that was amazing. From what I've seen, the city of Madrid is beautiful to say the very least.
JC: How have the players received you? Have they talked to you about what MLS is like?
JA: The other players have been great. They have received me well and they treat me with respect and kindness. Many are curious about MLS and how much the league has grown in recent years. From what I have experienced thus far, it's safe to say our league's growth has expanded beyond our shores and people around the world are becoming more aware of what we are doing in the US.
JC: Any chance you’ll be able to take in a first team game?
JA: Yeah it’s looking like I’ll be able to see a few. I think definitely their game against Sevilla on the weekend. I’m looking forward to seeing them play live and just the atmosphere to see how everything compares. When you watch teams play on television from a thousand miles away, you don’t get the experience firsthand so being here will be tremendous.
JC: On Monday Austin Berry was named Rookie of the Year and Logan Pause won the Fair Play award. What is your reaction to having your teammates be recognized?
JA: I think it’s a tribute to how amazing our season was. Obviously we didn’t finish like we would have hoped but there’s definitely a silver lining to be found within our season. Austin is definitely a part of that – he had an amazing season as a rookie and we’re all very happy for him. It’s very deserving because he stepped in and contributed at a time where we needed him and never let go of his spot.
As far as Logan is concerned, winning the Fair Play award epitomizes him as a person and as a class player and captain. I feel like he does a lot of dirty work and it doesn’t always get noticed. His approach to the game is tremendous and I’m very pleased that he was acknowledged for it.
JC: You’re going to be in Madrid until December 2 and then preseason begins again in mid-January… Are you feeling like you need a little rest?
JA: I feel great. My body feels great and I’m just trying to push myself and become a better professional every day.
JC: What are you doing once you get back stateside?
JA: I’m going to stop off in Chicago for a little bit and then head back home to California to see the family. As far as training is concerned, I’ll speak with Tony [Jouaux] about exactly the best way to go about staying fit but also getting some rest.
JC: Thanks for your time Jalil! We’ll check back in with you next week!
JA: Sounds good! Happy Thanksgiving to you and everyone!
In the latest edition of Quaker Journeys, we sat down with Chicago Fire defender Austin Berry to his development from an all-sport athlete in Cincinnati, to a focus on the beautiful game at the University of Louisville to becoming the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year with the Chicago Fire.
Matt Steichen works as a Firestarter to pump up the crowd before and during halftime of Fire home games games. When he's not showing his Fire pride at Toyota Park, the St. Charles, Ill. native has been working on an amibitious project with his father Craig to visit all 32 NFL stadiums in 17 weeks.
The ultimate fan boy's dream right?
Not so fast, the father and son team provided another twist to the project, electing to take members of the Wounded Warriors to each NFL stadium they visit.
Check out the video below from Rick Reilly's Tour of Duty on ESPN and then give Matth and Craig a little applause...
When Austin Berry was officially declared the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year, the Cincinnati, Ohio native became the third player in Fire history to win the award. Previously won by Carlos Bocanegra in 2000 and Damani Ralph in 2003, the Fire now hold the most Rookie of the Year honors in MLS history.
Here's a look at the Fire’s three Rookie of the Year winners.
Carlos Bocanegra - 2000
The Fire selected Carlos Bocanegra with the fourth pick in the 2000 MLS SuperDraft after a stellar collegiate career at UCLA. In his rookie season, Bocanegra started all 27 regular season matches in which he appeared, scoring one goal and adding one assist as the Fire reached MLS Cup, where they fell 1-0 to the Kansas City Wizards. A week later, the Fire defeated the Miami Fusion 2-1, winning the club's second Open Cup trophy in just two seasons, though Bocanegra was unable to play after seeing red in the semifinal.
Following his rookie season, Bocanegra was named the 2002 and 2003 MLS Defender of the Year while also making the MLS Best XI both years. He was twice named the club’s Defender of the Year in 2000 and 2003.
After four seasons in which he appeared in 87 regular season matches, Bocanegra made the move overseas and signed with English Premier League Side Fulham FC prior to the 2004 season.
Bocanegra spent four years with the Cottagers, appearing in over 100 matches and scoring eight goals. He then went on to play in France's Ligue 1 with Rennes and Saint-Étienne before moving to storied Scottish side Rangers FC.
Bocanegra earned his first cap for the U.S. Men's National Team on Dec. 9, 2001 and has since made 109 appearances for the Yanks. A two-time FIFA World Cup veteran, Alta Loma, Calif. native captained the 2010 U.S. squad that won their group for the first time since 1930. Though he picked up a hamstring injury in the recent friendly in Russia, Bocanegra is expected to return in time to lead the U.S. into the final round of 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifying on Feb. 6.
Now plying his trade with Spanish Segunda División side Racing Santander, Bocanegra recently started a multi-sport training center in southern California called CB3, which this year held its first MLS pre-combine training program that focused on soccer-specific speed and agility training. All four players that trained at CB3 prior to the MLS Combine were selected in the SuperDraft, including this year’s Rookie of the Year honoree, Austin Berry.
Damani Ralph - 2003
In 2003 the Fire selected MAC Hermann trophy finalist Damani Ralph out of the University of Connecticut with the 18th pick (second round) of the MLS SuperDraft.
In his first season with the Men in Red, the Jamaican international set the MLS Rookie record for goals in a season with 11 and tallied six assists while also picking up MLS Goal of the Year honors. The Fire would go on to win the 2003 Supporters' Shield and reach the MLS Cup Final, where the Men in Red fell 4-2 to the San Jose Earthquakes.
His sophomore season proved that it wasn’t beginner’s luck, as he posted similarly impressive stats, again scoring 11 goals and adding three assists in 26 matches.
After two seasons with the Fire, Ralph transferred to Russian Premier League Side FC Rubin Kazan, where he went on to appear in 25 games, scoring two goals in three seasons.
Ralph made his international debut for Jamaica in 2002, earning 18 caps and scoring one goal for the Reggae Boyz.
Unfortunately his career was prematurely ended by a series of knee injuries. Ralph returned to school where he finished his degree in Economics from the University of Connecticut. The 2003 MLS Rookie of the Year is now working as a sports agent, where he is able to stay connected to the game while utilizing his experiences as a player to bridge the gap between young Jamaican players who are looking to make the jump to MLS.
Austin Berry - 2012
Selected in the first round (ninth overall) of the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, the former Fire PDL player joined the Men in Red after a standout collegiate career. After overcoming a broken leg in 2009, Berry led the University of Louisville to the 2010 NCAA Men’s College Cup championship match and was named 2010 BIG EAST Defensive Player of the Year.
Berry made his first game-day lineup March 24 and made his professional debut May 4 when he started against Chivas USA. Minutes after giving up a penalty kick, Berry maintained his composure and got on the end of a ball from Sebastian Grazzini, becoming just the third rookie in Fire history and the first since 1998 to score in a debut MLS appearance.
Since his debut, Berry played every minute of his 28 consecutive MLS Regular Season appearances, breaking the record of consecutive starts by a Fire rookie, previously held by Bocanegra. Berry anchored the Fire defense that held opponents to just 41 goals as the Men in Red went 17-11-6, qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
A hard-nosed, blue collared player, Berry is sure to catch Jurgen Klinsmann’s eye and figure into the U.S. Men’s National Team picture in the coming years.
As was widely expected, Fire defender Austin Berry was named as a finalist for 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year Thursday along with former Louisville teammate and D.C. United midfielder Nick DeLeon and Vancouver Whitecaps forward Darren Mattocks.
Austin becomes the first Fire player since Chris Rolfe in 2005 to be a finalist for the award and sixth for the club all-time. Here’s a breakdown of the rookie seasons the others had…
Josh Wolff (1998) – As a member of Nike Project 40 (the precursor to Generation adidas), Wolff (right)played only part-time with the Fire appearing starting just four of his 14 appearances. It didn’t keep him from tying for the then rookie goal scoring record with Jeff Cunningham, tallying eight goals and three assists en route to helping the team to the 1998 MLS Cup double.
In a strange twist of fate, Wolff was a finalist with future Chicago Fire player Andy Williams (Columbus) and his future boss Ben Olsen (D.C. United). Olsen would go on to win the award and ironically enough Wolff serves as a player/assistant coach under him at the moment…
Carlos Bocanegra (2000) – Left on the bench as the team went 1-3-0 through their first four matches, Bocanegra was used in 27 of the team’s remaining 28 matches, helping the team to the Central Division title and a tie for the most points in MLS that season. Boca would also help the Fire to the MLS Cup final where they dropped a 1-0 result to Kansas City but would have to miss playing in that year’s U.S. Open Cup final win after being sent off in the semi-final against LA.
In the only all-defensive Rookie of the Year finalist class in MLS’ 17 year history, Bocanegra went up against former UCLA teammate Danny Califf (LA Galaxy) and Kansas City’s Nick Garcia. Though he tallied just a goal and two assists on the campaign, Bocanegra’s play outshined the others as he became the first Fire player to win the Rookie of the Year award.
Kelly Gray (2002) – The fifth overall pick for the Fire in the 2002 MLS SuperDraft, Kelly Gray played mostly as a winger during his first season in Chicago. The University of Portland product would go on to tally two goals and five assists across 27 of the team’s 28 matches to cap a strong rookie season.
Gray would go up against other finalists in midfielders Kyle Martino (Columbus) and Brad Davis (MetroStars) and though he and Martino shared the exact same number of goals and assists, the Crew midfielder likely won because he achieved his numbers in less matches played (22 to 27)…
Damani Ralph (2003) – Though he wasn’t even the first forward the Fire would select in 2003, future Jamaican international Damani Ralph set the highest bar for MLS rookies by tallying 11 goals and six assists en route to helping the Fire to the club’s first and only Supporter’s Shield as well as a trip back to MLS Cup and scoring the game-winner to clinch that year’s U.S. Open Cup.
Teaming with Ante Razov after the departure of Josh Wolff in the offseason, the pair didn’t skip a beat, combining for 25 of the team’s 53 goals and contributing 12 assists.
Ralph went up against New England attacker Pat Noonan and MetroStars holding midfielder Ricardo Clark for the award. Though Noonan had near identical stats to Ralph (10 goals, 7 assists), the Fire forward made bigger contributions in helping his side to the regular season title and deservedly earned the award.
Chris Rolfe (2005) – One of the lowest drafted Rookie of the Year finalists in league history, Rolfe picked up the load left in the wake of Damani Ralph and Ante Razov’s exit and surprised many by leading the team in goals with eight, adding five assists in the process.
The club’s future second all-time leading goal scorer’s competition would be Kansas City forward Scott Sealy (nine goals, two assists) and New England defender Michael Parkhurst. Though he didn’t have the stats, Parkhurst appeared in all of the Revolution’s 32 regular season matches and was long the consensus favorite to win the award.
Austin Berry (2012) – Since making his first Fire appearance back on May 4, defender Austin Berry would go on to play in 28 consecutive regular season matches, tallying three goals in the process. It was in that 2-1 win over Chivas where Berry showed his resolve, conceding a penalty early on only to score minutes later. With that goal, he became just the eighth player in club history to tally in his first Fire appearance.
On the defensive end, Austin formed a solid partnership in the middle of defense with Arne Friedrich, helping the Fire tie for the second best defensive record in the league.
Berry is the only defender among the finalists, joining D.C. United’s Nick DeLeon and Vancouver’s Darren Mattocks. DeLeon tallied six goals and four assists in a season where his form certainly dipped midway while some of Mattocks’ seven were highlight reel strikes but the Jamaican international disappeared in the second half of the season.
Based on play throughout the 2012 regular season, Berry should be the winner but the voters are fickle… We’ll find out on Monday.
In this edition of Burning Questions we caught up with Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson. In his third season with the Men in Red, Johnson posted career-high numbers. In 31 regular season games, Sean went 16-10-5, had five shutouts and recorded a career-low 1.24 goals against average. The Lilburn, Ga. native made 108 saves in 2012, including a career-high ten saves against the Earthquakes July 28.
Sean’s play caught the eye of U.S. Men’s National Team head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, who recently called the Fire ‘keeper in for a friendly against Russia on Wednesday, Nov. 14 at 9:00 a.m. CT (ESPN2/ESPN3/Univision Deportes). Before heading east, Sean took the time to answer our burning questions about his prowess on the dance floor, his favorite Thanksgiving dish and which teammates he’d pick for a MLS basketball tournament.
Always on the Inside: There’s another elite athlete with the same name as you, Olympic gymnast Shawn Johnson, who was a “Dancing With the Stars” champion. Are you a good dancer and how do you think you’d do on the show?
Sean Johnson: I’d be fantastic. My dance moves are nice. I’m pretty sure I’ve been compared to Chris Brown.
AOTI: What’s your favorite Thanksgiving food or tradition?
SJ: My mom makes a green bean casserole that is unbelievable.
AOTI: You lettered in basketball for three years at Brookwood High School. Can you still ball? Which of your current teammates would you choose if there is a MLS pickup basketball tournament?
SJ: Call me the Black Mamba. My starting five would be point guard, Corben [Bone]. Two guard, [Dan] Gargan. Three guard, we’ll go Jalil [Anibaba]. I’d play the fourth spot, and maybe Austin [Berry] could play the five. Cory [Gibbs] can be the sixth man off the bench and [Soccer Operations Coordinator] Alex Boler could be the coach.
AOTI: If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
SJ: I’d be able to fly.
AOTI: You’re one of the best table tennis and FIFA players on the Fire roster. What’s one random thing youwant to work on so that you can best your teammates?
Jalil Anibaba: He’s No. 1 at everything.
SJ: I am THE best FIFA player on the team. In life my goal is to be No. 1 at everything I do.
AOTI: Main difference between Georgians and Chicagoans?
SJ: The pace of which they move. Chicago is so fast-paced that I feel like I’m being rushed by people in the city.
AOTI: Who plays you in the Sean Johnson movie?
SJ: Denzel Washington.
AOTI: What was the last movie you watched in theaters? And if you’re in a crowded theater, which armrests are yours?
SJ: The last movie I watched was “Argo.” And both armrests are mine.