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27 July 9:58 am

The Fire play the Supporters Shield leaders San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday night at Buck Shaw Stadium. Here are a few things to look out for from a tactical standpoint…

Outside Backs: San Jose’s Biggest Threat?

 

COACH'S TAKE: Matko on Quakes

 

When people think of the ‘Quakes, everyone’s mind wanders straight to 17-goal striker Chris Wondolowski. Unfortunately for the Fire, San Jose is far from a one-trick pony. Saturday night the team has another date with a league-leading side in the Golden State but they’ll head north of Carson to take on the high-flying San Jose Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium.
 
Two of the Earthquakes biggest threats come in the form of their wingbacks, Steven Beitashour and Justin Morrow. Beitashour, who has six assists this year, is suspended for Saturday’s match but this will not stop the ‘Quakes from pushing their full backs forward at every opportunity. They look to get in 2v1 situations which allow them space to cross into the middle for the ever-dangerous trifecta of Wondowski Steven Leinhart and Alan Gordon.  
 
Last week, Vancouver allowed Morrow and Beitashour to get behind on too many occasions with Morrow in particular causing problems down the left wing. Marco Pappa’s suspension means we will likely see Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko playing in the wide positions for the Fire. Both Rolfe andNyarko are very good at tracking back and helping out the wide defenders – something that will be essential in thwarting San Jose on Saturday.
 
Outside Backs: San Jose’s Biggest Weakness?

With six more goals scored than any other team in the league this season and two in-form strikers, San Jose just can’t stop scoring. That being said, the team’s 44 goals eclipse the fact that they have given up 27. Of the teams currently in playoff positions, only New York and the Galaxy have given up more. 

Last week’s loss to Vancouver exposed one of San Jose’s biggest weaknesses which also happens to be one of Fire’s greatest strengths: speed. Though Morrow had a good game on the attacking side, he was punished time after time by Dane Richards whose goal came directly from a Morrow error.

On the right hand side, San Jose will be without Beitashour for the first time all season which could pay dividends for the Men in Red. The pace of the Fire’s Ghanaian duo of Nyarko and Oduro could cause San Jose some major problems on the outside. Because the outside backs push up so much, there is plenty of room behind them for Oduro to run into. When he does go wide however, it requires the other attack-minded players Rolfe, Alex and Nyarko to get into the box in support.

Wondo and Gordon: Stay Tight

A major reason San Jose is sitting at the top of MLS this season are the goals from Wondolowski (17), Gordon (9) and Lenhart (6). The Quakes don’t  set up their strikes the traditional way, with one on the shoulder off the last defender looking for flick-ons from the target man. Wondolowski and Gordon/Lenhart are constantly switching positions; dropping back into midfield and drifting wide. The interchanging of positions causes major problems for defenders and is one reason why you see Wondolowski score so many simple goals (think Fire vs. San Jose last season) - even though he is the obvious danger man, his movement makes him so difficult to pick up.

The other reason is that San Jose attack in such great numbers that it allows Wondo to go undetected. It sounds simple to say “stay with your man” or “keep your eye on the man and not the ball” but that’s exactly what the Fire need to do. 

Using last week’s game as an example again, Jay DeMerit didn't let him out of his sight for almost the entire match to great effect. The Fire's defensive performances have been stellar this season we and should expect nothing less from Austin Berry and co on Saturday night.
 
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.

 

26 July 4:03 pm

Soccer and fashion have long been intertwined. 

It’s the application of creative expression – a darting run through three defenders on the way to goal or a bespoken three-piece suit and snappy pair of socks. 
 
The list of sartorialists has ranged from the free-wheeling, large collars of George Best, the measured dapperness of David Beckham and Pep Guardiola’s mastery of the sweater, skinny tie combo. 
 
Perhaps the intersection of soccer and style can be attributed to the fact that soccer jerseys can be worn out and about and not just on the field of play. The effervescence of canary yellow against the background of caipirinhas and drum circles, the stark white simplicity of the Three Lions in the corner of a dingy pub or the brightness of the Oranje walking along a path of the Vondelpark in Amsterdam.  (Note: I’ve tried to rock my 1995 purple Damon Stoudamire Toronto Raptors jersey in public – not a good look). 
 
In what other sport are Cristiano Ronaldo’s short shorts so widely revered (see www.kickette.com) and detested? Who but Gigi Buffon, an Italian goalkeeper, could make a snood (fancy word for neck scarf) a fashion statement? 
 
In this edition of Touchline TV, we tag along with Fire midfielders Corben Bone and Daniel Paladini to Chicago’s Trunk Club (www.trunkclub.com) to see how style takes shape and pick up a few helpful hints on how to match our shirts and trousers. 
 
Hopefully this helps us at Always on the Inside become cool (er, cooler?).

TOUCHLINE TV: Daniel and Corben's Summer Style
 
 
 
 
 
26 July 10:24 am

Happy birthday to Fire midfielder Pavel Pardo who's still going strong in the middle of the park for the Chicago Fire. Today also happens to be the one-year anniversary of el Presidente joining the club.

Coming off the heels of the succesful canoli for Paolo Tornaghi's birthday last month, we at the Fire presented Pavel with a piñata before training this morning.

Always the professional, the longtime Mexican international looked at the gift, smiled and said, "I'll take it home for the kids."

Win-win for everyone!

¡Feliz cumpleaños Pavel!

 

23 July 10:17 am

 

In our third installment of the #Fire15 Memorable Matches countdown, we look back to the 2009 Eastern Conference semifinal vs. New England, the 2003 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final at the MetroStars and the 2001 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal at LA Galaxy. 

#9 - Chicago Fire 2, New England Revolution 0 - November 7, 2009  -  Eastern Conference Semifinals, Second Leg  -  Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL

 In the first leg of the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Revolution defeated the Fire 2-1 at Gillette Stadium. In the 35th minute, Marco Pappa received the ball in the box, feinted past one defender, then laid the ball off to John Thorrington, who shot it low into the New England goal. The superb crowd of 21,528 roared in response to the aggregate equalizer. In the 82nd minute, Patrick Nyarko beat his marker near the corner flag and rushed parallel to the goal line toward the box. After drawing out the keeper, Nyarko nutmegged another defender and passed short to Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Blanco took a short step forward and lifted the ball up to the top right corner to push the Fire to the Eastern Conference Final.

 

#8 - Chicago Fire 1, MetroStars 0 - October 15, 2003  -  US Open Cup Final  -  Giants Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ

The 2003 US Open Cup Final took place at Giants Stadium, where the field was lined with football markings. In the 68th minute, Evan Whitfield broke in from the right sideline through the end zone, centering the ball to Damani Ralph. The Jamaican forward needed only one touch to slide the ball around MetroStars goalkeeper Jonny Walker. The Fire would only need one goal to be rewarded with the US Open Cup for the third time.

#7 - Chicago Fire 2, LA Galaxy 1 (aet) - August 23, 2000  -  US Open Cup Semifinal  -  Titan Stadium, Fullerton, California

This physical match resulted in a total of 12 yellow cards between both sides. Fire defender Carlos Bocanegra earned a red card in the 51st minute, putting the Fire down a man. LA Galaxy icon Cobi Jones would score the opening goal in the 79th minute. Down to ten men and trailing by a goal, it surely seemed that the Fire’s run in this US Open Cup was extinguished. However, the Men in Red rallied through Fire legend Ante Razov, scoring in the 85th minute. With the score level, the match went into added time and in the extra frame the Fire would lose captain Peter Nowak after Luis Hernandez purposely stepped on his face but referee Sergio Vega only produced a yellow card. Still without Nowak the Fire strung together 10 passes before Josh Wolff buried a rebound to send the side to its second U.S. Open Cup final in three seasons.

 

20 July 10:11 am

Sometime shortly before kick-off when the Fire host Aston Villa this Saturday evening, the captains from the two sides will meet at midfield, shake hands, and exchange small pennants with each other. It's a routine we've seen countless times before when two teams from different nations meet in competition. But does anyone actually know what happens to the banners after their two seconds of fame?
 
Charlie Raycroft does.
 
Raycroft, the team's equipment manager since 2003, is also the Fire's unofficial keeper of the pennants. In his office (which doubles as the team's equipment room) hang dozens of club banners, ranging from England's Manchester United (from last year's friendly) to Mexico's Tigres UANL (2009 Superliga).
 
“Any international match we play, we usually do a captain’s banner for it,” said Raycroft, who also created the design for the Fire's banner. He added that it is similar for domestic Cup matches like the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and the exchange has been appearing more often even in regular season MLS matches, as more teams adopt the tradition.
 
However, Raycroft admitted that more work typically goes into the international ones, to “mark the occasion, have a little bit of history [and] make them more special.”
 

"It’s basically the same design for each match," he said. "[But] for matches like the Aston Villa match, or the Manchester United match, or the Open Cup we try to put the date, the location, the opponent. For MLS matches we have just a generic one with no date on it."
 
Another interesting note is that it's not always just one banner -- often times, teams will create duplicates for the same match. So in addition to those hanging in the equipment room, Raycroft said there are extras that are displayed around the club, or given to the team president or owner if they request one.
 
"[But if there are no duplicates] and if they come in and want any of these, I guess they can take them," he added with a laugh.
 
There is just one more part of the banner's story that is undisclosed: how does it get from the the captain to the equipment room? Surely it must be an epic journey, right?
 
Alas, Raycroft says it's pretty simple in reality.
 
“He just walks over, and I try to meet him part of the way, get it and just put it in the bag until they come inside.”

17 July 10:52 am

A midday, midweek match in mid-July Jersey humidity doesn’t seem like the greatest idea in the world but, that’s what will occur Wednesday afternoon as the Fire visit the New York Red Bulls in Harrison, New Jersey.

While the kickoff time gives the game a bit of a Chicago Cubs at Wrigley feel, I did a non-scientific survey of Fire players Monday to see if they’d ever played a game of significance in the middle of a week day.

Cory Gibbs: “No.”
Corben Bone: “No.”
Austin Berry: “No.”
Jalil Anibaba: “No.”

Though the topics couldn’t be more different, the responses put together began to sound like a certain Amy Winehouse song.

Fire captain Logan Pause came to the rescue with this answer, “Midweek, midday? Maybe in youth soccer. I don’t think in college we even played midweek games in the middle of the day so I'm sure Wednesday will be a first for most of the guys.”

Part of that is likely because playing in the middle of the day in summer heat doesn’t necessarily make for good soccer. For those wondering why the kickoff is set for 12pm CT (1pm local time), the Red Bulls are going back to experiment with a “Camp Day” looking to attract summer camps to Red Bull Arena Wednesday afternoon.

As this article from BigAppleSoccer.com’s Michael Lewis points out, it’s something the team’s precursor, the MetroStars, did in a match against Kansas City back in 2003. The result for the Wizards Jimmy Conrad and the Metros Edgar Bartholomeu weren’t great

Luckily for both sides Red Bull Arena’s grass field is not the Giant’s Stadium turf, which should make things a little bit cooler in a match that is absolutely considered a “swing game” with the Fire sitting just one point behind New York in the Eastern Conference standings.

“Wednesday is obviously an important game despite the weird time and whatever heat we have to deal with,” said Pause. “Either way, the way our schedule goes through the summer – midweek, weekend -- I honestly lose track of the days.”

PREVIEW: Fire vs. Red Bulls

14 July 9:52 am

Happy 17th anniversary American soccer fans!

No the Fire haven’t been around that long but 17 years ago today, the United States pulled off one of the biggest upsets in team history, downing Argentina 3-0 at Copa America ’95 in Paysandu, Uruguay. The upset propelled the U.S. to the top of Group C on the final day of pool play, en route to an unprecedented fourth place finish at the tournament.

What does it have to do with the Fire? Current head coach Frank Klopas scored the first (and eventually game winning) goal, pouncing on a loose ball at the top of the box in the 20th minute.  (See video below).

Asked if he knew what today was the anniversary of Klopas laughed, “I just watched the DVD a couple days ago but I didn’t realize it was right around that time.”
 
“You never forget the first goal you ever score so my first one with the Sting was special. The first goal with the national team, with AEK, my first goal at Soldier Field with the Fire and then the goal in the Open Cup final. The goal [vs. Argentina] was part of such a big upset at the time – it’s definitely one of those moments that means more as time goes on.”
 
Names like Eric Wynalda, Alexi Lalas, Cobi Jones, Earnie Stewart and Tony Meola contributed in the win and Klopas said the group often remembers it when they come back together.
 
“There are times for sure when we talk about 1995 and Copa America and the success we had. I think that was really one of my last great moments that I shared with that group of players that I’d played with for many years.  It’s a very special memory for me.”
 
As for Frank’s hair for that match, he chalks it up to encouragement from a teammate…
 
“That was when I’d come back from AEK in Greece. Everybody weird hairstyles but [Tony] Meola told me I had to leave my hair long. I started to grow it out – it wasn’t the best look and my wife Sophia made me cut it. I thought it looked good but the more I look at it now, it was a disaster and she was right.”
 
Catch Frank's hair as well as all the highlights from the match, called by longtime American soccer announcer Phil Schoen and his counterpart Renato Capobianco below.
 
COPA AMERICA '95: USA 3, Argentina 0

 

13 July 9:17 am

The #PickPat for #MLSAllStar campaign got a huge boost Thursday night as CSN Chicago’s Dave Kaplan joined the #PickPat caucus during his interview with Austin Berry on Chicago Tribune Live (WATCH HERE).

You might remember when we started the campaign Monday, I pointed to Kaplan’s endorsement of the White Sox #TakeJake campaign as a point of jealousy. Thanks to Dave Kaplan for coming through for us last night.

#PickPat made its way into Jack McCarthy's column for the Tribune as well as in RedEye while MLSsoccer.com's Anthony Zilis, Hot Time in Old Town's Tweed Thornton and Fire Confidential's Guillermo Rivera have helped us spread the word!

As a recap, I received confirmation Wednesday that All-Star Head Coach Ben Olsen did indeed read my open letter appealing for Patrick Nyarko to be named to the squad. We’re also hoping that former Fire forward and All-Star assistant coach Josh Wolff will put in a word with Ben for Pat before Sunday’s announcement.

On the Commissioner front, we haven’t heard whether or not he’s seen the letter but hoping this blog, our player’s and Dave Kaplan’s endorsement will force the issue.

Continue to do your part to make sure Patrick Nyarko is part of the #MLSAllStar squad by tweeting #PickPat to @TheSoccerDon and @DCUnited before the announcement at halftime of Sunday’s match between the New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders on ESPN!

11 July 10:07 am

Yesterday I wrote an open letter to MLS All-Star head coach Ben Olsen asking him to consider selecting Patrick Nyarko for the 2012 MLS All-Star Game. I was told this morning Ben had indeed read the letter which is the most I could hope for in the matter. Thanks for your consideration Ben!

Now into the third day of the #PickPat campaign, this morning I took the deep plunge in writing another open letter, this time to MLS Commissioner Don Garber to ask for his consideration of Patrick as one of the two "Commissioner's Picks" for this month's match vs. Chelsea FC.

Here's what I said...

Dear Commissioner Garber,

Though there’s no way you remember, I had the pleasure of meeting you at the Chicago Fire Season Kickoff Luncheon in 2011. Fire owner Andrew Hauptman graciously pulled me over and introduced me as “the man who knows all things about our club”. Surely he might have been exaggerating a bit but I do pride myself on my ability to name our Top 15 goal scorers by total, in reverse order, without skipping a beat.

It’s in that spirit that I come to you with a request: select Patrick Nyarko as one of your two “Commissioner’s picks” for this month’s MLS All-Star Game against Chelsea FC.

As Commissioner you’ve accomplished a lot -- modern day statisticians and soccer purists hold you in high regard for abolishing the hockey-style shootout while the businessmen and marketers of the league praise your name for the push of soccer-specific stadia and Designated Players.

Pat’s not a DP and he’s not even the biggest name in the Chicago Fire locker room so perhaps it wasn’t all that surprising for him to not be included in the team’s six nominees for this year’s MLS All-Star fan voting. Anyone that has watched the team and Pat’s play over the past three seasons will tell you he’s likely been the club’s most consistent performer, shredding defenses with his speed, ability on the ball and excellent work rate.

With that in mind, it was considered quite a coup for the club to re-sign Patrick earlier this year as he would have easily been a target of European sides once his contract expired at season’s end. 

While I made the statistical and playing case to MLS All-Star head coach Ben Olsen Tuesday, today I point to Patrick’s dedication to the club and the league as a reason you should consider him for one of your Commissioner’s picks for the All-Star game.

The DP’s of the league will certainly help sell tickets, merchandise and TV rights but players of Pat’s ability and ethic are the ones the league has always built its back on. His story alone is a great one but his ability to come in and improve every day and be a positive force on and off the field is a great advertisement for our club as well as Major League Soccer.

In the past your choices for the All-Star game have sometimes been about making sure a certain name is present but you’ve also selected players deserving players that have been overlooked.

I can think of no one better that Patrick that falls in to the second category of recognition and ask you to strongly consider to #PickPat on Sunday for this year’s MLS All-Star Game.

Yours in Soccer, 

 
Jeff Crandall
Chicago Fire Team Writer

Keep up the #PickPat campaign. Tweet the #PickPat hashtag to @TheSoccerDon with your best reasons to #PickPat for the 2012 #MLSAllStar Game!

10 July 1:05 pm

Last week we began our #Fire15 countdown with Memorable Matches 13-15. This week we continue with Games 10-12 as we work our way towards the club's 15th Anniversary match to be held Wednesday, October 3 against the Philadelphia Union at Toyota Park.

#12  -  "CHI-TOWN BEATDOWN" - Chicago Fire 3, New England Revolution - November 6, 2008  -  MLS Eastern Conference Semifinals, Second Leg  -  Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL

Prior to this match, the Fire had tied New England 0-0 at Gillette Stadium in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Playing at home for the second leg, the Fire found their way to driver’s seat just before the half  when, Cuauhtemoc Blanco's shot from the edge of the box forced New England goalkeeper Matt Reis cough up a rebound. Chris Rolfe put himself in the right place and casually knocked the ball into goal to give the Fire the lead.

Four minutes later, Justin Mapp's perfectly placed  free kick toward goal found the head of Wilman Conde who pounced on the chance with the header to take things to 2-0.

The Fire would put the match out of reach when Chris Rolfe's cutting low cross was calmly finished by Gonzalo Segares, giving the Toyota Park crowd 16 minutes to sing about going to the team's seventh Conference Final appearance in 11 seasons. 

#11  - "THE FOURTH OF JULY MASSACRE" - Chicago Fire 7, Kansas City Wizards 0 - July 4, 2001  -  MLS Regular Season -  Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO

With a sour taste in their mouths from the 2000 MLS Cup defeat to the Wizards less than a year before, there were truly fireworks on this Fourth of July matchup at Arrowhead Stadium. The Fire didn't take long to take off in the first minute with a goal from Jamar Beasley.
 
The feasting on KC continued when Sergi Daniv (7’) made it 2-0 inside 10 minutes before U.S. international Eric Wynalda's 44th minute goal took the team into the half at 3-0.
 
After an early first half lull,the Men in Red sprung back into action, as both Peter Nowak (72' and 81') and second half substitute Hristo Stoitchkov (83' and 88') tallied two goals each inside the final 20 minutes to make this match one to forget for all in Kansas City. 
 
#10  - "THE CAPITAL COMEBACK" Chicago Fire 2, D.C. United 1  October 15, 2011  -  MLS Regular Season -  RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.
 
The Fire dominated the majority of this regular season match, with eight shots on goal to D.C.’s one. Still, the Men in Red were continually thwarted by United goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
 
With a scoreless deadlock and both teams' playoff hopes hanging in the balance, referee Jorge Gonzalez whistled Fire defender Gonzalo Segares for a foul in the box on Santino Quaranta in the 88th minute. Lethal MLS attacker Dwayne De Rosario stepped up and sent Sean Johnson the wrong way on the spot kick, giving the home side a late lead.
 
Despite the foul, Segares kept his head up and laid off a pass for Sebastian Grazzini to equalize in the 92nd minute.
 
Just as it looked like both sides would settle for a draw, Segares would chase down Orr Barouch's hopeful endline ball, and center his effort past a flailing Hamid, leaving Diego Chaves an empty net to finish in and giving the Fire an incredible 2-1 "Capital Comeback" victory.
 
Stay tuned next week for Games #7-10 in our #Fire15 Memorable Matches countdown!