2007 In Review

The Chicago Fire entered its tenth season of MLS play with high expectations after taking home the 2006 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in the previous campaign. With 19 players returning from the 2006 roster and

the addition of MLS SuperDraft first round pick Bakary Soumare (pictured right), the Fire boasted a mix of strong veteran and rookie players. For the fifth-straight season, Chris Armas would don the captain’s armband and was joined on the field by the remaining "Fire Originals”- defender C.J. Brown and Diego Gutierrez. With the benefit of a decent schedule at TOYOTA PARK and the possibility of signing a high-profile Designated Player for the first time, 2007 represented renewed optimism for success both on-and-off the pitch.

The Fire opened the season with a victory, defeating the New England Revolution 1-0 on Logan Pause’s fourth minute goal in the first-ever season opener at TOYOTA PARK. A member of the squad since 2003, the strike was the first in Pause’s Fire career, having played 96 previous matches without tallying a goal.

April produced the best start in team history with a 3-0-1 mark, but the “Men in Red” hit a five-game winless streak in May, and continued with a June slump as the team collected just one win in eight league games. After a 3-1 loss to D.C. United at RFK Stadium on June 16th, the Fire relieved head coach Dave Sarachan of his duties and appointed assistant coach Denis Hamlett interim head coach. Assistant coach Craig Reynolds also resigned shortly thereafter.

On July 9th, the Fire introduced Juan Carlos Osorio (pictured left) as its new head coach, as the Colombian became the third head coach in club history. Osorio stepped in after a successful stint from 2006-07 as manager for Club Deportivo Millonarios and five years (2001-06) with Manchester City of the English Premier League. Osorio was no stranger to MLS, spending two seasons (2000-01) as assistant coach/conditioning coach for the MetroStars.

In mid-July, the Chicago Fire Soccer Club announced the formation of the Chicago Fire Soccer Academy, an elite player development initiative designed to identify and develop the best young talent within the Chicagoland area.  The Academy is directly tied to the Major League Soccer (MLS) Home Grown Talent initiative that allows players involved in the Chicago Fire Academy to be signed directly by the Fire without entering the MLS SuperDraft or Supplemental Draft.

The Fire team also benefited from the arrival of Mexican international Cuauhtémoc Blanco (pictured below, right) in late July.  Although Blanco officially signed with the club in April, the 34-year old finished out the Clausura campaign with Club América of the Primera Division in Mexico. The 2007 signing placed Blanco alongside David Beckham as one of the first high-profile “designated players” in Major League Soccer. Through June and July, Blanco represented the Mexican National team, helping the Tricolores to the finals of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, held at Soldier Field in Chicago, and then traveled to Venezuela for Copa America.

Blanco marked his arrival at TOYOTA PARK with a bang, notching a goal during his first match in a Fire jersey, while helping the “Men in Red” to a 1-1 friendly draw against Celtic FC.  “Temo” continued to contribute, adding four goals and seven assists throughout the regular season, and added an assist in the postseason. For his efforts, Blanco was awarded the 2007 Fire/Honda MVP award and took home the 2007 Sierra Mist MLS Goal of the Year honor for his strike at Real Salt Lake in week 20.

Another landmark event that occurred during the 2007 season was a change in ownership as Andell Holdings acquired the Chicago Fire Soccer Club from the club’s original owners, Anschutz Entertainment Group on September 6th. Andrew Hauptman, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Andell Holdings acquired AEG’s interests in the Fire and became the 12th-ever Major League Soccer operator-investor.

Chicago eventually battled back from the point deficit felt early in the season, climbing out of the Eastern Conference basement and back into playoff contention. Following a late July jumpstart led by Blanco, the team posted a 12-game unbeaten streak through September and October in league and postseason play. After taking a crucial 2-1 win over New England in October, the Fire played Cruz Azul to a 0-1 loss in the club's third friendly of the season. Following with a 0-0 draw at D.C. United on October 13th, a match that helped Matt Pickens tie the Fire single season shutout record with nine, the Fire then faced its regular season finale against the Los Angeles Galaxy at TOYOTA PARK on October 21st.

The Fire officially clinched its playoff spot with a 1-0 win over the Galaxy in front of 21,374 fans, as midfielder John Thorrington chipped a ball over Galaxy goalkeeper Joe Cannon in stoppage time to secure three crucial points. With the victory, the Fire was seeded fourth in the Eastern Conference playoff picture, a position that pitted them against the number one seed, D.C. United, in the semifinal series just four days later.

D.C. had never beaten the Fire in a playoff competition nor scored a single goal against the “Men in Red” in the playoffs.  The Fire had previously outscored United 10-0 going into the first leg of the two game aggregate goal series – a winning tradition that the Fire continued thanks to a 14th minute goal from Chris Rolfe and a clean sheet from Matt Pickens for a 1-0 win in game one of the Eastern Conference semifinal series.

Game two of the series saw Chicago go up by two goals, courtesy of Chad Barrett (pictured below, right) (31’) and Rolfe (33’) in the first half at RFK Stadium, but United made a comeback in the second half, with goals provided from Clyde Simms (69’) and Christian Gomez (74’). At the final whistle, a 2-2 draw was good enough for the 3-2 aggregate win that advanced the Fire to the Eastern Conference Championship to face familiar playoff foe, the New England Revolution.

Chicago saw its 2007 campaign come to an end in the Eastern Conference Championship with a 1-0 loss to New England at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Revolution forward Taylor Twellman put the home side ahead in the 38th minute with an acrobatic scissor-kick, giving New England the lone goal it needed to seal the win.  The Fire ended its season with a regular season record of 10-10-10 and a postseason record of 1-1-1.

The Fire played in front of a club-record seven sell-out (20,000 or more fans) crowds at TOYOTA PARK in 2007, starting on June 9th vs. Chivas USA (20,407). The "Men in Red" also played in front of a packed house on July 12th vs. Houston Dynamo (20,034) and August 4th versus Columbus Crew (20,358). Chicago played in a record four-straight consecutive sell-outs in league play on September 15th vs. New York Red Bulls (20,586), September 23rd vs. D.C. United (20,079), October 6th vs. New England (20,014), and October 21th vs. Los Angeles (21,374).

"Fire Original" Chris Armas officially announced his retirement on November 12th at a news conference at TOYOTA PARK.  The five-year Fire captain and "MLS Original" finished his career tied eighth overall in league games played (264), sixth in games started (260), and sixth in minutes played (23,027). He also represented the United States with 66 appearances, scoring two goals during his national team career (1998-2005).

The Fire lost midfielder Ivan Guerrero, the 2005 Fire/Honda MVP and a 2005 Sierra Mist MLS All-Star Game pick, to the San Jose Earthquakes as the Honduran international was selected in the 2007 Major League Soccer Expansion Draft on November 21st.

The 2007 season welcomed a new member to the storied Ring of Fire: former Fire head coach Bob Bradley (pictured left). From the inaugural 1998 season to the 2002 season, Bradley posted an impressive 82-54-15 record in the club’s first five years. The former Fire boss also led the “Men in Red” to three championship victories in that time: the 1998 MLS Cup and the 1998 and 2000 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cups.  With Bradley at the helm, Chicago also finished atop the Central Division in the 2000 and 2001 campaigns. While with the Fire, Bradley’s 82 victories made him the winningest coach in MLS history, with 124 total wins over his stints with the MetroStars (2003-2005) and Chivas USA (2006), Bradley sits second all-time behind only Sigi Schmid. The current United States Men’s National Team coach was inducted into the Ring of Fire on August 4th at TOYOTA PARK.

Team departures and individual awards marked the start of the off-season for the club. Goalkeeper Matt Pickens (pictured below) was named Major League Soccer’s Player of the Month for his dominant performances through October and set a new club record for single regular season shutouts with 10. Veteran midfielder Diego Gutierrez was presented the U.S. Soccer Foundation-MLS W.O.R.K.S Humanitarian of the Year Award for his active role in the fight against malaria, serving as a national spokesperson for the Nothing But Nets campaign.

On December 10th, Juan Carlos Osorio resigned as the head coach of the Chicago Fire. The search for his successor carried into the following year. The 2007 campaign will be remembered for being one of the most exciting seasons in team history, as significant departures and arrivals, record attendances, and growth as an overall club gave fans of the "Men in Red" something to talk about heading into 2008.