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.”
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
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.
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!
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,
Chicago Fire Team Writer
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
The #PickPat for #MLSAllStar Campaign got off to a successful start on Monday with a lot of great tweets appealing to Ben Olsen and Don Garber to select Patrick Nyarko to the squad that will face Chelsea FC on Wednesday, July 25 in Philadelphia.
Chicago Fire Team Writer
Full disclosure here: I saw the Twitter campaign the Chicago White Sox did to get Jake Peavy onto the American League All-Star team for tomorrow’s game. #TakeJake made its way into the Fourth of July Parade and with Dave Kaplan on Chicago Tribune Live and I have to admit, I became a little envious.
THE INVERTED WINGER: Patrick Nyarko
One-named players in the game of soccer are almost exclusively Brazilian. Going by a single name is almost a rite of passage for anyone that learned to play “joga bonito” growing up and its no different for new Fire arrival Alex who didn’t take long to put the Brazilian flare on display in last Friday’s 1-0 victory at Sporting KC.
While Alex shows promise, I thought it a smart exercise to detail the other Major League Soccer’s other one-named players that Alex should look to as an example.
Welton (New England, 1996; LA Galaxy, 1997-99; Miami 1999-00) - One of my sentimental favorites, Welton (pictured right) never really won a title in MLS and but #OldSchoolMLSFans will remember him as one of the most successful one-namers in league history (as well as a constant on my early MLS Fantasy team).
A traveling man of sorts, the Rio native would tally 43 goals and 34 assists over 144 career matches for New England, LA and Miami. He twice hit for double-digit goals in a season, scoring 11 goals in 1997 and 17 goals in 1998 for the Galaxy.
Fire fans will probably remember him best for ruining Zach Thornton’s shutout bid in the 2000 U.S. Open Cup Final with his 90th minute strike, which was the last goal he would score for an MLS side.
Camilo (Vancouver, 2011-present) – The midfielder led the Whitecaps with 12 goals and three assists over 32 matches in the club’s inaugural MLS campaign last season. His scoring pace is slightly slower this season with only three goals and two assists but he’s aided Vancouver to third place in the West at the half way point.
Preki (Kansas City 1996-2000, 2002-05; Miami 2001) – The best one-namer in league history isn’t even Brazilian. Preki’s (right) story is well known… a Yugoslavian indoor star who made his way back to Europe to play for Everton and Portsmouth before returning stateside to carve out one of the top careers in MLS history.
Spending all but one of his 10 MLS seasons in Kansas City, Preki amassed 79 goals and 112 assists in 242 games from 1996-2005, winning one MLS Cup (2000), two Supporters Shields (2000 KC; 2001 Miami) and one U.S. Open Cup (2004). He was twice named MLS Most Valuable Player in 1997 and 2003 and had four seasons in which he hit double-digit goals (scoring 18 in 1996).
Oh he also scored the United States’ only game-winning goal against Brazil.
Preki was good, that’s all.
Juninho (LA Galaxy, 2010-present) – There have been more than a few Juninho’s before the Galaxy’s Juninho Paulista came onto the MLS scene but the central midfielder has proven to be one of the best one-namers ever in MLS. Since coming to the Galaxy on loan from Sao Paulo in 2010, Juninho has appeared in 72 matches, tallying seven goals and five assists while helping the Gals to a Supporters Shield and the team’s third MLS Cup last season.
Thiago (Chicago Fire, 2005-2007) – No Fire list of one-name players could ever be complete without Alex’s precursor at the club, Thiago (photo right). After impressing on a trial in 2004, the Porto Alegre product joined the Fire in 2005 and would go on to tally six goals and seven assists during his first season in Chicago.
The following year, he would bag just three goals and two assists in the league but wrote his name into Fire lore for his late-game, close-range tap-in to send Toyota Park into pandemonium as the Fire clinched their MLS-record fourth U.S. Open Cup title with a 3-1 victory over the LA Galaxy on September 23, 2006.
With diminished playing time in 2007, Thiago was released by the Fire that September. Now 30, he’s bounced around Brazil’s lower leagues, winning the Campeanato Gaucho Segunda Divisao with hometown club Porto Alegre in 2009 and currently plays for Sao Luiz de Ijui.
Happy Tuesday Matchday! The Chicago Fire travel to Houston for their first-ever match at BBVA Compass Stadium tonight at 7:30pm CT LIVE on NBC 5.2 (Channel Finder) and 97.5FM ESPN Deportes Radio.
Here are five things to know heading into tonight’s Fourth of July-eve match…
PREVIEW: Fire at Dynamo