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17 June 6:40 am

If it seems like it’s been ages since one of these, that’s because it’s been 15 days since the last time the Fire played. A 2-0 loss in New England combined with a two-week break from action left the team as well as yours truly antsy. Lucky for us, the Fire are back this afternoon as they welcome the New York Red Bulls to Toyota Park at 4pm CT (LIVE on NBC Sports Network).

With that, five things to know about today’s match vs. Energy Drink FC.

1) LACKING IN THE STARS… Excitement at having the Fire back is one thing but if you were hoping to see the stars come out of the woodwork for Red Bull this afternoon, you’ll be sorely disappointed as both Thierry Henry and Rafa Marquez didn’t make the trip due to injury.

On the Fire side, the long-term projection was to have Arne Friedrich back from a hamstring injury that’s kept him out of the team’s past four league matches. It appears the decision on whether or not he'll play will be of the gametime variety. 

2) NO HENRY, FORMATION SHAKEUP… The strike partnership of Henry and forward Kenny Cooper has been deadly for Red Bull this season with the two combining for 20 goals in 22 joint appearances so far. When Henry has been out, Red Bull has moved to a 4-5-1 with Cooper alone up top and the likes of Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards providing support.

Still, it will be Cooper that is the focal point of Red Bull’s attack Sunday. The former FC Dallas striker is tied with San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski in the MLS Golden Boot Race at 11 and has tallied in each of the team’s last four matches.

3) COOPER, LINDPERE: GOAL SCORING HISTORY… Both players have histories of scoring against the Fire, with Cooper tallying six goals (all with Dallas) in nine career matches against the Men in Red while Lindpere has bagged three goals in four appearances since joining Red Bull in 2010.

Conversely, Fire forward Chris Rolfe, who looks set to make his first appearance at Toyota Park since re-joining the club in April has tallied six of his 36 career MLS goals against Red Bull.

4) LAST TIME PAPPA RETURNED  IN SUMMER… Fire midfielder Marco Pappa returned to the team on Thursday after being away with the Guatemalan national side for friendlies and two FIFA World Cup qualifiers, culminating in his 82nd minute free kick to earn a 1-1 draw with the United States on Tuesday.

It reminded me of last year when Pappa returned from competitive June matches with Guatemala at the CONCACAF Gold Cup…In his first game back, he hit a bouncing 58th minute effort to draw a Sunday afternoon affair level at 1-1. The day, June 26, 2011. The opponent, Red Bull New York.

5) A RUBBER MATCH… Since a 2-0 win in the the Grand Opening match at Toyota Park on June 25, 2006, the Fire have never lost to Red Bull at the team’s soccer-specific stadium, going 5-0-3 in eight regular season matches.

On the flip, Red Bull comes into the game riding a six match unbeaten run, going 5-0-1 since dropping a 4-1 defeat at Eastern Conference leaders D.C. United on April 22…

6) HAPPY FATHER'S (and Mother's) DAY... Both my parents are awesome. I didn't have a Five Things to write on Mother's Day last month so I'll use this opportunity to wish my Dad Happy Father's Day and my Mom a Happy belated online Mother's Day wish. Both of my parents didn't always understand the obsession I had with soccer but they were always supportive and have been there for me throughout. Thank you both, sorry I can't be home today!

PREVIEW: Fire vs. Red Bulls

14 June 12:25 pm

I've sat in a cold tub with Dan Gargan. Stood in a wall with Kheli Dube, Kwame Watson-Siriboe and Tony Walls. Check out my latest attempt to be "Always on the Inside"... 

13 June 9:23 am

"Win at home, draw on the road.", "World Cup Qualifying can often be ugly and is rarely easy."

These are the old adages that U.S. Men's National Team fans hate hearing but time and again they remain true. While Tuesday night's 1-1 draw will leave a conflicted, sour taste in a Fire and USMNT fan’s mouth, the sky isn't close to falling.

Newish fans of the U.S. will look at a nation like Guatemala and ask why the U.S. couldn’t win there. It’s a fair question, though understanding historical context is important -- the U.S.is now 1-0-4 all-time at Guatemala in World Cup Qualifying with the only victory coming with an ugly 1-0 win there in 2008.

In his first true, competitive test as U.S. Men’s National Team coach, Jurgen Klinsmann had his side well prepared going in as the Guatemalans pushed the U.S. to a furious pace for much of the first half. The team moved the ball well and as we’ve seen in the past few matches, did well to create chances, though conversion still remains an issue.

Despite that, Clint Dempsey’s goal five minutes from the half was a perfect blow to the home side who looked ready to go into the locker room. Though after the break, Marco Pappa’s insertion into the game seemed to spark Guatemala and while the U.S. still created, los Chapines put Klinsmann’s side under threat via counter attack throughout the second half.

U.S. fans may look to referee Joel Aguilar’s failure to allow play to continue after a foul on Dempsey just outside of the box in the 79th minute as a source of frustration. Feeling the pressure from Pappa and Guatemala, it would be a fair point to say the play shouldn’t have been blown dead, this is qualifying in CONCACAF…this is sometimes how it is.

And as you go back to the final 10 minutes of the match – seeing Fabian Johnson whistled for a foul about five yards outside the U.S. box – you were likely on the edge of your seat. As a Fire and U.S. fan, you might have cringed when you saw Pappa stand over the ball with Carlos Ruiz. As he struck it, you sort of knew it was going in – 1-1.

It’s alright to feel conflicted this morning. Marco’s goal came at a time when his country was facing having zero points from two matches. Like he has a few times this year, he struck late to help his team and he did it with the skill that all Fire fans know he has in him.

In the end, the U.S. scrambled to defend and earn the point and that’s fine. It may not “progress” on paper but there is something to be said for the fact that the team is playing much more attractively than previous years.

Having admitted that, attractive soccer isn’t always going to get results and those all that matter in World Cup Qualifying. Klinsmann still hasn’t been on the job a year and has had some good ones. The team is still in a bit of transition and the biggest issue from the past three U.S. matches shows a team that can attack but hasn’t yet figured out how to play a complete 90 minutes.

Looking at the big picture, that’s sort of okay.

Earning a point in Guatemala is still nothing to shake a stick at, with most considering the match the most difficult of the six semifinal games.

By virtue of Jamaica and Antigua drawing 0-0 Tuesday, the U.S. sits alone atop the group and in the driver’s seat heading into their September home and home series with the Reggae Boyz – one that could potentially see the U.S. into the next round inside four games. Even sticking with the win at home, draw on the road mantra, the U.S. would still have eight points and need just a win from their final two games to go through.

In the end, playing beautifully is great as long as you’re getting the results. In CONCACAF, drawing on the road in a place like Guatemala City is a result…not what you want, not necessarily what could have happened but also not a disaster.
 

11 June 12:03 pm

Poland 1-1 Greece • June 8, 2012

The first match of the 2012 Euros featured Greece taking on hosts Poland in Warsaw. Polish Borussia Dortmund star Robert Lewandowski wasted no time getting the first goal of the tournament hammering down a cross from Jakub Błaszczykowski with his head. Although it would be difficult to top the bizarre opening ceremony, the referee did his best to become the focal point in the match due to several controversial calls, which were later described by some Greek supporters as “ridiculopoulous.”

Greek Sokratis Papastathopoulos received a debatable red card for a push and the Greeks headed into halftime down a man and down a goal. At this point, I like to imagine that Greek captain Gorgios Karagounis gave a rousing locker-room speech reminding his men of Spartan King Leonidas from the film 300; “No retreat, no surrender!”

With this call to arms, his men responded though a goal from Dimitris Salpingidis to even the battle. Later, the match reached its apex following Polish goalkeeper Wojciech Szczęsny’s foul to give a penalty to Greece. Replacement goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń made a diving save to keep the score tied at 1-1 with ten men on each side.

Ultimately, the result of this exciting inaugural match felt fair as both sides headed home with a point.
 

Russia 4-1 Czech Republic • June 8, 2012

Russia got on the board quickly with a goal from Alan Dzagoev in the 14th minute. Soon after, play was stopped due to a flare thrown on the field, used as a sort of makeshift firework celebration. On Sunday, the Russian Football Federation warned its fans to “Respect yourself, your home, and your team.” Despite the interruption, Russia would continue to score fairly consistently throughout the match with later goals from Roman Shirokov, Dzagoev, and Roman Pavlyuchenko.

The Czech Republic was not silent though, with a lone goal from Vaclav Pilar. The high-scoring affair ended a superb first day of action in a group that was predicted to be lackluster.

As analyst Alexi Lalas has pointed out, the fascination of Group A comes from the idea that each team in the group truly has the belief that they can advance.
 

Netherlands 0-1 Denmark • June 9, 2012

Group B’s first goal came from Denmark with a nutmeg from Michael Krohn-Dehli in the 24th minute.  Krohn-Dehli has been marked in the media as a possible star of the tournament and could have transfer offers to leave his current side, Brøndby IF.

In the 88th minute, Denmark’s Lars Jacobsen contacted the ball twice with his arm in the box, but the referee controversially let play continue. The Netherlands would end the match with 28 shots to Denmark’s eight. Ultimately, the Oranje suffered the first upset of the tournament due to failure to finish chances.
 

Germany 1-0 Portugal • June 9, 2012

The second match on Friday featured the first meeting of giants, with Die Mannschaft facing off against Os Navegadores. Portugal set themselves up to absorb pressure for the majority of the match, in a Chelsea-esque manner.

In the 72nd minute, German Mario Gómez leapt into the air, heading down a cross from Khedira into goal. It should be noted that the cross actually deflected off of the back of a Portuguese player before making its way into the box.

Nonetheless, Germany capitalized on a created chance. In the end, it was all that they would need to assert early dominance in the tournament.
 

Spain 1-1 Italy • June 10, 2012

Saturday’s matches in the “Group of Debt” began with Spain and Italy, the last two World Cup champions. The feared Chelsea goal scorer Fernando Torres began this match starting in his natural position, on the bench. Meanwhile, much of the commentator’s attention throughout the game was directed at the holy terror Mario Balotelli. The Manchester City villain highlighted his performance on a breakaway where he choked by simply failing to kick the ball. Personally, I believe that he was trying to think of a fancy way to get by the goalkeeper and was unable to choose which trick on FIFA 12 he was going to try.

Luckily for the Italians, Balotelli’s ineptitude was negated by Andrea Pirlo’s class performance. His searing passes and assist on Antonio Di Natale’s 61st minute goal were truly enjoyable to take in. Spain would not be outdone, however, responding three minutes later with a typical passing display that led to a slotted goal by Cesc Fábregas.

After the match, Spanish players complained to the media that the conditions of the playing surface made their usual, quick passing impossible.

According to Xavi, “It was super dry and that makes passing the ball difficult.” Talk about first-world problems.
 

Republic of Ireland 1-3 Croatia • June 10, 2012

Saturday’s battles between failing economies continued as the Boys in Green tried to hold their own against the Vatreni (that’s “The Blazers,” for any non-Croats out there). I’ll forego the generic witty headline about the “bad luck of the Irish” and instead remember the tried and true virtue...you create your own luck in life.

The Irish failed to defend well, allowing goals that were softer than my new kitten. At some points it was difficult to differentiate whether Ireland was bad or if Croatia was good. Croatia’s goals came courtesy of Mario Mandzukic (3’, 48’) and Nikica Jelavic (43’).

Ireland did get a goal from Sean St. Ledger in the 19th minute, but certainly fell to a stronger side. That being said, some of my Irish friends insist that their side was just using this match to lull Italy and Spain into a false sense of security.

07 June 10:44 am

We're all soccerphyles in this office so the kickoff of Euro 2012 tomorrow has a lot of people excited. Having said that, most of us don't have a first-generation tie to any of the 16 teams that will play over the next month in Poland and Ukraine. 

The Solution? Do a European Championships office pool! Earlier this week, our own curtain raiser for Euro 2012 was held in the break room at Toyota Park where 16 members of staff drew at random the team they'll be pulling for beginning tomorrow.

Some of the draw results and reactions in photo form...

Chicago Fire Juniors Manager Brian Roberts, the Portuguese Leprechaun...

Marketing intern Mario Gonzalez offends Germans everywhere...

 

Communications Coordinator Eunice Kim smiles with her choice of Holland...

Director of First Team Operations Ron Stern pulls Poland...

Communications Director Brendan Hannan shouts, "ALLEZ LES BLEUS!"

Operations Specialist Erin Kwiatkowski doesn't seem pleased about her choice of Russia

Erin seems happy for Season Ticket Services Rep Neil Desmond's choice of Croatia

Director of Player Personnel Mike Jeffries pulls Greece... Frank Klopas rejoices!
 

With the last pick out of the hat, I drew co-hosting nation UKRAINE! Lets just say I'm hopeful the hosts can pull a Denmark '92 or Greece 2004.

The complete draw whipped up by our Creative Services Manager, Kayser dos Reis... Enjoy the Euros everyone!

07 June 9:56 am

Tonight is every Fire and Soccer nerd's dream in Chicago. On the eve of Euro 2012 and the U.S. opening up CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, your's truly will be co-hosting Fire Team Trivia Night at Halsted Harp (2138 N. Halsted) at 7:30pm. 

Since joining the Fire almost two and a half years ago, I've written a lot of trivia for social media, in-stadium and other types of assets but as a longtime bar trivia enthusiast, I've always wanted to do a live trivia game for the club's die-hards and other soccer-loving folks in our fair city. This dream became a reality when Chicago Fire Season Ticket Account Executive Drew Eiden (better known as @ChiFireDrew) approached me with the idea.

The questions will range from easy to difficult. Fire to European Championships and some other world soccer mixed in.  Top 3 teams win great prizes!

Click here for more information on tonight's event.

06 June 1:40 pm

Marco Pappa has a new team but don't pull out your "Jump to Conclusions" mat just yet...

Before prepping for Guatemala's upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Jamaica and the United States, Marco joined up with world soccer stars Lionel Messi, Didier Drogba, Sergio Aguero and Fernando Torres just to name a few in this new Pepsi commercial, "Donde hay Pepsi, hay fútbol" (Where there's Pepsi, there's futbol").

 

06 June 8:44 am

Not to get all bookish on you when you’re trying to get your blog on, but the definition of art (when you Google it, we couldn’t find a dictionary lying around) is stated as – the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination. Or, works produced by such skill and imagination. 

When evaluating the above definition it is easy to find the same beauty in a darting off-ball run to the near post as Boticelli’s Birth of Venus. Skill and imagination (and teamwork) are ever-present in a Diego Rivera mural as they are in a series of combination passes that lead to a goal. A well-struck, perfectly placed goal can evoke a similar reaction to seeing van Gogh’s Starry Night for the first time.   
 
For the second consecutive year, the Chicago Fire teamed with Arte y Vida to put together an event combining art and soccer with the proceeds benefiting the Chicago Fire Foundation. Fire defenders Dan Gargan and Gonzalo Segares and 20 others displayed original works proving that soccer permeates all aspects of our city, encompassing varied views and opposing opinions. 
 
Touchline TV caught up with Gargan, Segares and Chicagoland artists to get an (Always on the) inside look at the art, the inspiration and Bob Ross.  
 

05 June 3:16 pm

In recent days Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini has been putting in some decent work to grow this handlebar mustache.... 

What's the motivation behind this new look?

"A lot of it has to go through my dad," Paladini explained "I saw a picture of him a couple weeks ago with my uncle that passed away – they used to rock the handlebar mustache so I decided I was going to try it out." While the sentimental motivation is there, the veteran also explains his more covert intentions with the team taking a few days off beginning Thursday.

"It works well because there’s a little festival we’ll be going to on this upcoming break – Bonnaroo 2012. I think I’ll fit in well there with the hippies."

Paladini will head to the music festival in Tennessee this weekend with teammates Corben Bone and Chris Rolfe  and is most looking forward to seeing the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

As for tips for survival at Bonaroo, our resident "Always on the Inside" cameo man Orr Barouch, tells his teammate to stay away from the Sonic Forest... (props to anyone that gets that reference).

02 June 9:07 am

I've been lucky enough to travel to Boston (lets be honest, we're in Foxbrough, Mass.) for tonight's match away to New England. Be sure to catch the pre-game with Dan Kelly and Evan Whitfield at 6pm CT with continuing coverage at 6:30pm on Comcast SportsNet Chicago or listen along with Oscar Guzman and Ysaac Alvarez on 97.5FM ESPN Deportes Radio.

With that, Five Things You Should Know About Tonight's Match at New England...

1) IT'S RAINY HERE (see above)... Working on the Mexico/Bosnia Herzegovina friendly Thursday night at Soldier Field made me feel a sense of relief that soccer stats have always been in my blood. That's mainly because it meant I wouldn't have to be outside in the miserable downpour on display that night. It seems we couldn't get enough of the rain as we headed east yesterday to make sure we got to experience it again. There's no doubt there will be rain tonight which will make the ball skip a lot on the Gillette Stadium turf.

2) IN CASE YOU WERE LIVING UNDER A ROCK yesterday, Fire head coach Frank Klopas told reporters that Chris Rolfe is available for selection for tonight's game against the Revs. Last week he traveled to Columbus and Detroit but wasn't part of the 18. Tonight he is, though given the turf and the rainy conditions, it'll be interesting to see if he's used. No one goes into the gameday 18 if they can't be called upon, so tonight could be Chris Rolfe's re-debut and whenever that occurs, he'll be making his 150th competitive appearance for the Chicago Fire.

3) ONE PLAYER THE FIRE are without tonight is Marco Pappa. The midfielder joined up with the Guatemalan national team last Sunday for a pair of preparation friendlies vs. Costa Rica this week ahead of next week's World Cup qualifying matches at Jamaica (June 8) and against the United States (June 12). 

4) DEVASTATING DEFEATS... While the Fire were devastated to lose 3-2 in overtime Tuesday to the Michigan Bucks in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the Revolution had their own troubles that night.  Playing 90 minutes of scoreless soccer vs. USL-Pro's Harrisburg City Islanders, the Revs ran out to a 3-0 lead in the first 15 minutes of extra time with goals coming from Kelyn Rowe (95'), Lee Nguyen (101') and Benny Feilhaber (103'). Most surprisingly, the host side responded just before the extra time break when ironically former Bucks player Brian Ombiji made it 3-1 in the 111th minute. Their backs against the wall, Harrisburg grabbed two more goals in the second frame from Sainey Touray (117') and a 120th minute equalizer from J.T. Noone to send the match to penalties.

From there, New England saw two of their goal scorers in the match (Rowe and Feilhaber) fail to convert their kicks with former Fire goalkeeper Nick Noble making the winning save on the latter's take to send the City Islanders through to the next round with surely one of the most dramatic wins in Open Cup history.

Are there levels to devastation? Sure, but in the cases of both the Fire and Revs tonight, it will be interesting to see how much losses at midweek to lower-level sides effect psyche. 

5) UNBEATEN SINCE 2007... The Fire and Revs had played a lot over the years... MLS Regular Season, MLS Cup Playoffs, U.S. Open Cup, even the ill-fated SuperLiga have led the Fire to play the Revs more than any other MLS team. Tonight will be the two team's 60th competitive meeting. Through those matches a real rivalry, not one manufactured by a team's front office, has been built. While the dislike for each other mainly comes from heated playoff matches, the Fire have sort of a regular season hex over the Revs, holding a 10-match unbeaten run (7-0-3) since last losing to New England 3-1 on May 6, 2007.

The lone goal scorer for the Fire that day? Chris Rolfe.

PREVIEW: Oduro, Pause, Segares Preview Saturday's game at New England