A stroll through my Google Alerts this morning leads me to wish a big congrats to former Fire captain Chris Armas on his induction with the inaugural class into the Long Island Soccer Hall of Fame this past Saturday.
The second captain in club history, the Brentwood, N.Y. product racked up 273 competitve appearances (4th all-time) along with 12 goals and 50 assists (2nd all-time) in his 10 seasons in Chicago. He joins C.J. Brown and Zach Thornton as the only three players in club history to be part of all six domestic championships and is one of seven men enshrined in the Ring of Fire.
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I did some further digging and found out that although he was unable to be in attendance at Saturday's ceremony, Fire owner and Long Island native Andrew Hautpman helped support the event by purchasing a table at the dinner and had this letter read to honor Armas' career achievements and contributions to the Chicago Fire Soccer Club:
Greetings Fellow Long Islanders –
I wanted to extend heartfelt congratulations to Shep Messing, Paul LeSueur, Kim Wyant and Chris Armas for your induction into the Long Island Soccer Player Hall of Fame. Your contributions to the sport of soccer and to Long Island have helped shape the game and our community in positive and powerful ways.
I apologize for not being able to attend tonight’s event (ironically, it's the home opener for my beloved Chicago Fire!). Speaking of which, I would especially like to acknowledge and thank the 'one and only' Chris Armas for his efforts with the Chicago Fire Soccer Club. Chris is the type of individual who has always done things the right way. His industriousness, talent, attention to detail and spirit has always separated him from his competitors on-and-off-the-field.
Having also grown up playing soccer on Long Island (in Smithtown where my mother designed all of the patches for the Smithtown Traveling Soccer Club), I immediately bonded and felt a closeness with Chris, not to mention having also admired his approach to the game. Chris is as hard working a player you will ever encounter and is perhaps the best holding midfielder of his generation. Despite winning five domestic trophies, being a five-time Best XI midfielder and earning 66 appearances with the U.S. Men’s National Team, Chris remains humble and true to his Long Island roots.
Before owning the Fire, I always looked at Chris as someone who exemplified all of the characteristics I valued in a soccer player. Once I was leading the club, I realized that Chris exemplifies all of the characteristics I value in a person. Chris is a trusting and caring individual who treats everyone with the utmost respect and tries to do the right thing...always. Above all, he is a committed family man and a wonderful human being.
Chris, thanks for your spectacular contributions to the game of soccer, to Long Island and to the Chicago Fire Soccer Club. I’m am truly honored to have gotten to know you and consider you a trusted colleague and a friend.
Again, congratulations to all of those being honored tonight -- I look forward to seeing the Hall of Fame grow from strength to strength.
Hopefully Saturday's recognition for Chris isn't the only Hall of Fame he enters in 2013. Armas, who made 66 appearances and scored two goals for the U.S. Men's National team, was once again on the ballot for the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame this year.
The announcement on the 2013 class is set to come later this month...
Fire Homegrown forward Kellen Gulley has headed to Georgia to begin training with the NASL’s Atlanta Silverbacks this week.
Fire head coach Frank Klopas mentioned throughout preseason that the team was looking to send the 18-year-old forward out on loan this year and it appears that the club is working towards an agreement with the second division side.
Signed from the Mississippi Fire Juniors in August 2011, Gulley has yet to make his competitive debut for the club. The potential move should serve him well in gaining playing time as he continues to develop.
Coached by former FC Dallas head coach Brian Haynes, the Silverbacks open their 2013 NASL Spring campaign vs. Fort Lauderdale Strikers on April 13 at Silverbacks Park.
The Chicago Fire Ticket Sales staff is pulling double duty today to make sure all areas of Toyota Park are safe and clear of snow ahead of Saturday night's home opener vs. New England.
In this edition of Jeff Thoughts, I capture Esteban Canales, Dave Berchem and Raul Luna having some fun at my expense...
Kudos to the Sales Staff for going the extra mile for Saturday's game:
The Fire suffered a heavy defeat last weekend in Los Angles and are looking to rebound in the best possible way in the team’s home opener against New England on Saturday evening. The Revs have yet to play a game and will hope to shake off the rust and try and spoil the Fire’s first game at home in 2013. Here are some tactical things to look out for:
Handling Bengtson – how will the Fire’s defense contain the target striker?
In last weekend’s loss to LA, the Fire’s defense couldn’t contain Robbie Keane whose movement led to all sorts of problems for the team. Against New England, the defense will face a much different type of striker in Jerry Bengtson, a giant target forward who will likely play up front on his own.
New England have a host of attacking midfielders/wingers that will be looking for layoffs and knockdowns from Bengtson and the Fire’s defense will need to try and stop the Honduran from linking with his teammates.
LA were able to stop Maicon Santos and Shejill MacDonald from holding the ball up at the Home Depot Center last week and if the Fire’s defense can mimic LA’s, the Rev’s could be in a for a long night.
Who plays behind Bengtson? A wealth of attacking options for the Revs
Because New England did not play last week, the Fire will have less of an idea about who will be playing in the attacking positions behind Bengtson on Saturday night.
Though the Rev’s have lost Benny Feilhaber, they still have many options for the second striker/wide midfield roles. Any combination of Chad Barrett, Andy Dorman, Juan Toja, Ryan Guy and Lee Nguyen could play against the Fire and all five offer something different.
The defense as a unit will be looking for a much improved performance and with Logan Pause and Arne Friedrich’s return unlikely, Saturday gives the back four a chance to redeem themselves against New England.
On the outside, Gonzalo Segares and Jalil Anibaba were caught out a few times with balls in behind them last Sunday and must be aware of players like Nguyen and Toja who look to do that on a regular basis.
Dilly Duka and Patrick Nyarko did a good job tracking back and helping the outside defenders but the emphasis will be on Sega and Anibaba to get forward and put in crosses as every opportunity.
Creating more chances – possession and set pieces
The Fire showed some rust last Sunday, giving the ball away on numerous occasions and completing over 100 less passes than LA with the Men in Red’s pass accuracy at only 74%. Large improvements in that department are certainly needed but the team will also be looking to get more set pieces in the attacking third.
The Fire’s first (of only two) corner kicks didn’t occur until the 60th minute in LA and it almost resulted in a goal for Anibaba after a brilliant cross by Lindpere.
As I mentioned last week, Lindpere’s excellent deliveries from corners and free kicks will create many changes for the team this season. Last week LA started a new goalkeeper and this week, New England may start a new acquisition in the defense Jose Goncalves. The Portuguese newcomer is an experienced defender but as we saw last week, putting balls into a place where it forces the goalkeeper and defender to communicate and make a decision can lead to a mistake and a Fire opportunity.
The Fire only had one shot on target last week but also had some other excellent chances to score, most notably Rolfe’s scuffed shot after the Cudicini mistake and Maicon’s header just wide of the post. Klopas and co. will be looking for the Fire attackers to test Matt Reis as much as possible.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire with goals from MacDonald and Lindpere
Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.
A little over a year since the Fire/Quaker Oats partnership began and just days before the Chicago Fire challenge the New England Revolution on Opening Night at Toyota Park (Saturday, March 9 at 6:30 p.m. CT live on NBC Sports Network), we stopped by the Quaker Oats headquarters to check-in and see how the club’s iconic jersey partner was preparing for the 2013 season.
From the looks of things, the partnership is really starting to make an impact...
As we continue to countdown to kickoff, some facts and figures on the Chicago Fire’s 2013 First Kick Roster…
* The current roster features 26 players with an average age of 24 years, 9 months.
* 19 players return from the Fire team that finished the 2012 season.
* 7 new Fire players have joined the side over the offseason.
* 5 of those players were acquired by in-league movements: Maicon Santos (Re-Entry from D.C.), Joel Lindpere (trade with New York), Jeff Larentowicz (trade with Colorado), Dilly Duka (trade with Columbus), Quincy Amarikwa (trade with Toronto FC).
GAMEDAY Q&A: 8 Questions with Frank Klopas
*1 of the other players, midfielder Yazid Atouba was the Fire’s lone selection in the 2013 SuperDraft.
* 9 countries are represented: USA, Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Estonia, Germany, Ghana, Italy and The Netherlands.
* 8 players have made senior international appearances for their country: Chris Rolfe (10), Logan Pause (6), Larentowicz (4), Sean Johnson (3; USA), Arne Friedrich (82; Germany), Gonzalo Segares (19; Costa Rica), Patrick Nyarko (1; Ghana), Lindpere (84; Estonia).
* 5 players are alumni of the club’s player development setup: Rolfe and Austin Berry, (PDL), Brendan King (Super-20s), Victor Pineda, Kellen Gulley (Fire Juniors, Academy).
* Captain Logan Pause returns for his 11th consecutive season in Chicago – one of the longest consecutive tenures with one team all-time in MLS. Pause sits second on the club’s all competitions appearance list with 304 games played since 2003.
* Entering the 2013 season, Fire players have a combined 86 seasons of MLS experience. Leading the way are Logan Pause (10), Jeff Larentowicz and Gonzalo Segares (8), Chris Rolfe (6) and Wells Thompson (6).
* 3 players on the Fire roster have won MLS Cup. Larentowicz, Thompson and Amarikwa were all part of the Colorado Rapids side that won the 2010 title.
* 7 players on the Fire roster have won a combined 11 domestic titles: Pause (2 U.S. Open Cups, 1 Supporters Shield), Larentowicz and Thompson (1 MLS Cup, 1 U.S. Open Cup each), Segares and Rolfe (1 U.S. Open Cup), Amarikwa (1 MLS Cup), Maicon Santos (1 Canadian Championship).
* This season marks the first time since 2009 that the Fire have had two goalkeepers return. Sean Johnson is back for his fourth season while Paolo Tornaghi backs him up for the second year.
* The current roster has scored 158 goals in regular season play, led by 2012 Fire MVP and Golden Boot winner Chris Rolfe who has 44 career strikes. Three of the Fire’s offseason acquisitions boast double-digit career goal scoring figures: Jeff Larentowicz (23 goals), Joel Lindpere (15 goals) and Maicon Santos (21 goals).
* Frank Klopas returns for his second full season as head coach and third since taking over from Carlos de los Cobos in May 2011.
* Klopas is 25-16-16 all-time in MLS play and is 28-19-16 in competitive matches since 2011.
* Klopas' full coaching staff of Mike Matkovich and Leo Percovich (assistants), Aron Hyde(goalkeeping) and Tony Jouaux (fitness) return for 2013.
* All five coaches were born in different countries: Klopas (Greece), Matkovich (USA), Percovich (Uruguay), Hyde (England), Jouaux (France).
It’s always interesting when things come full circle in MLS… Follow me if you will…
Take a ride back to last September when the Fire acquired midfielder Wells Thompson from Colorado in exchange for a conditional MLS SuperDraft selection.
The condition stated that if Thompson appeared in four of the team’s remaining regular season matches, the Fire would surrender their second round selection at the 2013 SuperDraft to the Rapids. He did and the Fire bid farewell to the pick.
Not so fast…
Then consider the news out of the Denver Post today where Rapids President Tim Hinchey said Larentowicz was nearly traded to the Columbus Crew instead of the Fire.
Flash forward to the night before the MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis when the teams did another deal, this time with the Fire acquiring central midfielder Jeff Larentowicz as well as the same second round pick they’d surrendered to the Rapids (30th overall) in exchange for their first round selection (11th overall), an international roster spot and allocation money.
Apparently the Rapids had turned down “better offers” from other teams in order to grant Larentowicz his wish of coming to Chicago rather than Columbus.
One of the main pieces at play in that potential deal was the MLS rights to midfielder Robbie Rogers, which the Fire also ended up acquiring in the trade that brought Dilly Duka to Chicago.
Not the Fire or Rapids could have predicted Rogers would retire but beyond that, you almost wonder if the other part of the potential Crew/Rapids deal could have been Duka?
But I’m getting off topic here…
Things officially came full circle today when Yazid Atouba, the player selected with the 30th pick that went back and forth between the Rapids and Fire, officially signed with the Men in Red. Slightly unheralded at the SuperDraft, Atouba gained confidence in every preseason match and dazzled Fire fans towards the end.
Certainly a pleasant surprise at #30 overall...
Take it all in and let me leave you with a few parting shots…
* Let me point out that this type of juicy “after-the-fact” trade possibility is something we just don’t hear about enough in MLS.
* It says something about the culture created internally when an MLS veteran like Jeff Larentowicz chooses to come to your club.
* Kudos to the Rapids for doing well by the player.
* Who knows who the Fire would have selected with the 11th overall pick but my safe money is on the fact that Yazid Atouba wouldn’t have been it.
* No offense whatsoever meant to Wells Thompson, but who’d have thought this all would have come from his slightly under the radar trade last fall?
Before settling in for the first day of MLS action on Saturday, head out to FireFest at the Illinois Youth Soccer Association's annual Expo from 9am-4pm at the Schaumburg Sports Center (1141 W. Irving Park).
The full schedule of events can be found by clicking here.
About this time last year, a young Italian goalkeeper named Paolo Tornaghi was making his final moves through a trial with the Chicago Fire.
With Fire number one Sean Johnson set to miss the first few matches of the 2012 season due to Olympic qualifying, the team had already brought in veteran MLS 'keeper Jay Nolly over the offseason to fill-in.
Surprising to some though, the Inter Milan product Tornaghi usurped Nolly as the presumed number two goalkeeper and made his Fire debut in front of nearly 60,000 fans at Montreal's Olympic Stadium.
With Johnson likely to be away for World Cup qualifying and the CONCACAF Gold Cup this year, Fire fans should feel confident in the fact that Tornaghi has returned to the side for his second season and will continue to push Sean for the number one spot.
With all that said, Drew Farmer of the Forza Italia podcast rang up Paolo last week in Charleston to discuss his upbringing with Italian giants Inter Milan, admiration of star 'keepers Walter Zenga and Francesco Toldo, his decision to join MLS and how he likes living in Chicago.