The Gold Cup Final at Soldier Field meant that even though the Fire were in Houston on Saturday, Chicago would not be deprived of live soccer this weekend. Thank goodness. From a Fire point of view, it’s pretty special that Sean Johnson and alum DaMarcus Beasley overlapped on this USMNT squad.
The game itself wasn’t as exciting as you could have hoped from the two best Gold Cup teams. Panama’s tight defense kept the U.S. side from running at them the way they ran at Honduras and El Salvador and they never looked like they would put up the crooked numbers that defined their tournament.
There were even a few times when the game looked like a cagey MLS match, with a challenger in town to try to steal the day, staying taut, and not making mistakes. But the USMNT wore down Panama, took their best (and really only clear cut) chance, held on against a barrage of balls floated into the box in the final minutes and were crowned deserved champions.
How nice would it be to see the Fire handle games like that? On Saturday, we saw the Fire come back from behind yet again. We saw them nearly nick all three points and then nearly lose them all. We saw flashes of dangerous counterattacks and Paolo Tornaghi making some big saves. Most of all, we saw despite obvious improvements over the last trip to Houston, the team is still missing one little bit of finality in both halves.
Back in April, the 2013 Fire v1.0 went to Houston with the goal of slowing the game down, playing calmly and controlling the match. The greenhouse (orange-house?) that is BBVA Compass Stadium dictated that, and we saw players run themselves dead on that afternoon, which also included a vintage Brad Davis garbage goal, Wells Thompson, and a last minute Jeff Larentowicz hit off the crossbar (HIGHLIGHTS from April 14).
On Saturday, the 2013 Fire v2.0 went to Houston with a different mindset. They went to play, to take some initiative. You could see it at the beginning of the game and at the beginning of the second half when Lindpere and Nyarko were pushed way up the field on the outside.
HIGHLIGHTS: Fire earn tough 1-1 draw in Houston
Alas, the result wasn’t much different. Houston, one of the hardest teams to beat away in the history of MLS, controlled the game. The Fire looked absolutely spent at the end of the game, much of which they spent chasing the orange midfielders around and trying to clear their persistent crosses into the box.
But the difference this time around was the way in which the Fire actually looked dangerous at times, stealing into Houston’s half on counter attacks and nearly grabbing the lead on a late Chris Rolfe chance.
In April, we looked at the difficulty of balancing the mindset to calm the game down without sacrificing the risk-taking attitude needed to be offensive, to attack. Now, with Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee (and the Alex/Larentowicz partnership), it seems like 2013 Fire v2.0 are poised to find that balance.
As another new striker and the All-Star break arrive, maybe the Fire will find that teeny bit of difference. If so, next time we play Houston at Toyota Park in September, they’ll be the ones wilting, exhausted after falling to 2013 Fire v3.0
Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.
The Fire start sluggishly and give up an early goal thanks to some sloppiness. The first half runs its course with a series of dreary long balls, and very little else worth mentioning. The second half begins, the Fire come out a totally different team. They move the ball quicker. They even the game. They continue pressing. They take the lead. The second half develops into a series of counter attacks on one end and dramatic blocks, saves, and misses on the other. The game ends, the Fire players celebrate.
Sound familiar? After almost carbon copy games against Colorado and in Columbus last week (not to mention similar feeling games against Portland and RSL), the Fire games are becoming something like the works of one of those airport authors - the characters change and the setting is different, but the arc remains the same.
Not that we’re lacking any drama. These comebacks are scintillating, and we deserve it after those early games that were, frankly, difficult to watch. Now Fire games are chaotic, fun spectacles.
I was pining for a hockey-like empty netter on Saturday when all possible counterattacks flamed out and, yet again, we never got the insurance goal that would let us relax and enjoy the last few minutes of the game. Just like Wednesday against Colorado, the Fire survived Columbus thanks to some great work by Sean Johnson in goal, some miscues, and a few fortunate bounces.
Of course, every comeback is different, and this time there was no Klopas Gambit. There weren’t major changes in shape or personnel. What was different was who stepped up to change the game.
Last week we talked about Jeff Larentowicz really driving the Fire upwards, and literally the first play of the second half, the play that set the tone for the ensuing comeback, was of Larentowicz tackling Oduro hard at midfield.
But all of a sudden it looks like the Fire have depth all over the place. Players that struggled to make an impact at the beginning of the season are proving their worth. Joel Lindpere had two beautiful assists, Dilly Duka was arguably player of the game Saturday against his old team, and with Magee about as hot as a player can get, it’s no surprise the Fire are charging up the table.
The attitude in the locker room has to be refreshing. After the game on Saturday, Magee said, “We know we can battle and we fight for each other, that’s the hardest thing in soccer.” Despite the slow starts and the stressful endings, the Fire are building something.
Let’s enjoy it with another look at Duka skinning and megging Chad Barson.
Though he didn’t have all that much to do in the U.S. Men’s National Team’s 0-0 friendly draw vs. Canada last week, it seems clear the Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson remains in Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans after being one of three goalkeepers called in for Wednesday’s CONCACAF Final Round World Cup qualifier at Honduras (LIVE 3pm CT on beIN Sport).
The summons means Johnson will miss most of the team’s second phase of preseason camp in Ventura, Calif. but nearly a month of training with the national team won’t leave him out of shape.
Consistently called up since last August’s 1-0 friendly win at Mexico, the 90 minutes the fourth-year Fire ‘keeper earned in Wednesday’s draw seems to indicate Johnson is stating a strong case for the U.S. Men’s third goalkeeper shirt behind English Premier League veterans Tim Howard and backup Brad Guzan.
Should his form hold up and the U.S. Men navigate another difficult CONCACAF qualifying test, Johnson could find his way to Brazil next year.
There are still too many variables to allow anyone to get that far ahead and strong competition will remain from the likes of veteran Nick Rimando (injured for January camp), as well as Johnson’s friendly rival Bill Hamid.
While the trio wouldn't be expected to appear in this year's qualifying matches, with the U.S. expected to send a B-team to the this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup, the tournament will likely serve as the next indication as to who Klinsmann favors for the presumable third spot.
Even if he’s not always playing in matches, the 23-year-old's continued inclusion in camps, working with the best ‘keepers American soccer has offer, can only help with his chances and his form for the Fire.
It should be an interesting year for Sean and the U.S...
Remember the last time the U.S. went to Honduras?
Trailing 1-0 just after the break, the U.S. used a brace from Conor Casey and a Landon Donovan free kick to eventually win the match 3-2 and qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Check out highlights below:
...defender Carlos Bocanegra brings to end his four-year stay with the Chicago Fire by signing with English Premier club Fulham FC on this day in 2004.
Arguably the best defender in Chicago Fire history, Bocanegra was a two-time MLS Defender of the Year and League Best XI selection (2002, 2003) as well as being the first Fire player to claim MLS Rookie of the year in 2000 and helped the club to three domestic titles (2000, 2003 U.S. Open Cup, 2003 Supporters Shield) as well as an additional two finals appearances (2000, 2003 MLS Cup).
Bocanegra was one of just three defenders named to last year's #Fire15 player's list along with former teammats C.J. Brown and Lubos Kubik.
At the time of his Fire departure, Bocanegra had only just begun to break into Bruce Arena’s U.S. Men’s National Team squad, with the future captain scoring four goals in his first full campaign for the Stars and Stripes in 2003.
With the UCLA product proving his worth for both club and country, Fulham signed Bocanegra on a free transfer (in the same window that future Fire forward Brian McBride arrived at Craven Cottage) and the two formed the basis for a long-term American occupancy of the West London club.
He would parlay his form at Fulham into making the 2006 U.S. World Cup team and while his time there would come to an end, Bocanegra was eventually named as new U.S. captain when former Fire coach Bob Bradley took the national team reins in 2007.
Moving to a less traditional American soccer destination with French clubs Stade Rennes (2008-10), Bocanegra led the U.S. to the Round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa before moving to St. Etienne following the tournament.
A move to Scottish giants Glasgow Rangers would follow but after the side went into administration this past summer, whispers of the former Fire defender’s MLS return could be heard league-wide before he eventually went on loan to Spanish Segunda side Racing Santander.
Having now a decade of national team experience under his belt, the 33-year-old center back sits tied with Paul Caligiuri for sixth all-time on the national appeance list at 110 and is has scored more international goals (14) than any defender in U.S. history.
With his time for the national team and career winding down, a return to MLS could still be in his future. Remember, returning to Chicago for a U.S. friendly vs. Poland in October 2010, Bocanegra was quoted as saying this…
“This is my first choice. You never know how it works with (Major League Soccer) and allocations, but I love this city. For me, it would be cool to play for one team my whole career in MLS. I would like to come back to Chicago."
WATCH: Bocanegra Named to #Fire15
Ahead of the opening of the 2013 Combine on Friday, the SuperDraft “Big Boards” have begun to make their appearances.
MLSsoccer.com’s Simon Borg, Matt Doyle and Jason Saghini ran through their initial thoughts on the first 19 selections for Thursday’s SuperDraft.
Simon and Matt both agreed on the Fire’s choice at 11th overall, saying they thought Frank Klopas and Co. would select Generation adidas signing, Gambian forward Kekuta Manneh, while Saghini differed with his pick of midfielder Erik Hurtado from Santa Clara.
Having just turned 18, Manneh seems to be a wild card in this draft. During the 2010-11 U.S. Soccer Development Academy campaign, the 5-9 forward tallied 35 goals for the Texas Rush.
The closest teammate to him goals scored was Marco Molina at seven.
Manneh didn’t play in the Academy league this past year but the then 17-year-old did suit up for the USL Premier Development League’s Austin Aztex, tying for the team lead in goals with 10 in 12 games before adding three more in two playoff matches.
Hurtado is a bit more of a known quantity. The Beaverton, Ore. product was a four-year stand-out at Santa Clara where he was actually teammates with current Fire defender Jalil Anibaba in 2009.
The attacking midfielder led the Broncos in goals all four seasons, tallying 33 to go along with 20 assists over 76 matches.
The last two summers, he’s suited up for the Portland Timbers U-23 PDL side, tallying an impressive 14 goals in 18 matches.
Elsewhere over at TopDrawerSoccer.com, J.R. Eskilson and Travis Clark projected the Fire to select Maryland midfielder John Stertzer 11th overall.
A product of Oakton, Va., Stertzer tallied 25 goals and 14 assists over 79 matches between 2009-12.
Stertzer came into his own offensively over the last two seasons, bagging 21 goals and 11 assists and helped the Terrapins in their return to the NCAA College Cup this past December but is expected to take on more of a holding role in MLS.
What do you think of the three projected players? Certainly with two offseason additions in attack, none of the three may stick out to Fire fans on paper and all would seem to be sort of project players. Of course these are just initial lists and the Combine has a lot to do with the reshuffling of the draft order.
We’ll be sure to keep up with the combine this weekend and the newest Mock Drafts to come out from it…
59 Days until Opening Night at Toyota Park
54 Days until First Kick in Los Angeles
12 Days until the First Team departs for training camp in Ave Maria, Fla.
These are important beginning of the year days but none are as close as the 2013 MLS SuperDraft in Indianapolis which is now literally right around the corner next Thursday, January 17.
With the event being so close to our fair city, Section 8 Chicago is running a bus to and from the SuperDraft for just $10 (departing Toyota Park at 7AM and returning at 9pm).
Admission to the actual draft is FREE and signups are beginning to go quickly.
So...get on the bus and you’ll be the first fans able to greet (and indoctrinate) the newest member of the Fire like these folks did with the future MLS Rookie of the Year last year in Kansas City…
Convinced yet? Sign up here and see you in Indy!
First, a warm welcome to the newest member of the Chicago Fire, midfielder Joel Lindpere.
The move to acquire the Estonian international was met with pretty high praise from yours truly, considering all that was exchanged was an international roster spot. Also consider that the guy has scored a few goals against the Fire since coming to MLS (three to be exact and four if you count a preseason goal he scored back in 2011).
That aside, here are five other reasons I can really appreciate the move for the club's latest addition...
- He’s the very definition of an iron man – In a total of 98 MLS regular season matches he’s been eligible for over the last three seasons, Lindpere has appeared in exactly 97 games, the most of any MLS player in that time span. That also includes goalkeepers.
Players on the current Fire roster with comparable MLS appearances over the last three MLS seasons: Dominic Oduro (93 with Chicago/Houston), Patrick Nyarko (91, Chicago), Logan Pause (87, Chicago) and Wells Thompson (79, Colorado/Chicago).
- There’s a certain swagger he has… He looks intimidating and the Estonian international has a certain bite that backs up the way he carries himself. His aggression and ability in the attack reminds me a bit of Dema Kovalenko, though with a few less yellow cards.…
- He has a pretty powerful left foot – Watch the video below. He’s a threat in crossing the ball but can also unleash a pretty powerful shot. Combine this acquisition with that of Maicon Santos and the power in attack has been greatly upgraded.
- Competition (and rest) in the midfield – The biggest knock against the Fire in 2012 was the perceived lack of enough squad rotation. By season’s end, the team looked a little bit tired and perhaps slightly predictable. With the likes of Nyarko, Alvaro Fernandez, Alex and the potential return of Corben Bone, the attacking midfield options available to Klopas in times of heavy fixture congestion have been upgraded as well.
- Good Results from transactions with Red Bull – Back in 2007 when Fire owner Andrew Hauptman filed tampering charges with New York relating to the Juan Carlos Osorio affair, the team received the Red Bulls’ first round selection in the 2008 MLS SuperDraft which the team used to select the-ever dangerous Patrick Nyarko.
Just about a year ago, the Fire traded the rights of defender Wilman Conde to Red Bull in exchanged for an undisclosed, but rumored to be high amount of allocation money that presumably went towards the acquisitions of defender Arne Friedrich and forward Chris Rolfe.
Not a bad track record…
WATCH: Joel Lindpere Highlights
In this edition of Burning Questions, we sat down with Fire left back Gonzalo Segares. A native of San Jose, Costa Rica, Gonzalo has been capped 19 times for Los Ticos. The club's Defender of the Year in 2007, Gonzalo returns in 2013 for his ninth season with the Men in Red. The newlywed took the time to answer our Burning Questions about wedding themed movies, his infamous sweet tooth and the worst actor in Hollywood.
Always on the Inside: You got married this past December. What is the best movie that features a wedding: “Wedding Crashers”, “The Wedding Singer”, “The Hangover” or “Bridesmaids”?
Gonzalo Segares: Definitely the first “Hangover”.
AOTI: It’s pretty well documented that you’re a fan of baked goods. If you could only choose to have one pastry for the rest of your life, what would you pick?
GS: Can it be chocolate? Chocolate bars. Like Crunch, Kit Kat or Snickers. I like chocolate with stuff in it, especially almonds or any kind of nut, except for peanuts.
AOTI: What do you miss most about Costa Rica?
GS: The weather. I love it here in Chicago during the summer but in the winter, I just hate the cold weather. Back home we only have two seasons, which is summer and winter, and the winter is only rainy. The temperature doesn’t change that much. The average is usually in the 70s or 80s.
AOTI: How often do you use the phrase “pura vida?”
GS: I use it a lot if I’m talking to Costa Ricans when I’m home. I don’t use it that often in Chicago because when the guys speak Spanish, it’s not part of their slang.
AOTI: You attended Virginia Commonwealth University with current Fire teammate Dominic Oduro. What’s one thing that people don’t know about Dom?
GS: He was very, very, very shy. And now all of a sudden, he’s not shy.
AOTI: Do you have any phobias?
GS: When it starts shaking on the plane, I definitely get nervous.
AOTI: Who is the worst actor in Hollywood?
GS: There are a lot of them. I would say maybe the guy that’s in movies with Will Ferrell. He usually has a mustache. He’s in the cartoon movie where he doesn’t want to be a bad guy anymore, “Wreck it Ralph”. In “Talladega Nights” he’s the friend and he’s also in “Step Brothers” with Will Ferrell. I think he’s very, very bad.
Editors Note: As Gonzalo provides very good clues, we have deducted that he is referring to John C. Reilly.
AOTI: You can invite any three people to dinner. Who receives an exclusive invitation?
GS: I would definitely invite Messi. And also Michael Jordan and President Obama.
The beginning of MLS scheduling season came and went today with the announcement of all team’s First Kick and Home Opening matches for the 2013 campaign.
Praise to the heavens, for the first time in four years, the Fire won’t be charged with opening up a new stadium but that’s likely only because no new MLS grounds are set to open until 2014. See you then, San Jose.
In case you missed it, the Fire open up at two-time defending MLS Cup champions on Sunday, March 3 before returning home to host the New England Revolution for Opening Day at Toyota Park on Saturday, March 9.
Because Sporting KC opens up their first two matches on the road, we also found out that the Fire will be their opponent when they open their third season at LiveStrong Sporting Park on March 16.
Some interesting things you should know about the team’s first three games and opponents…
· If you felt a slight frost come over you with today’s announcement, it’s because both the March 3 First Kick match and March 9 Opening Day game will be the earliest competitive matches in club history.
· The earliest game in Fire history came in a CONCACAF Champions Cup match on March 16, 2002 at Guatemalan side CSD Municipal as the Men in Red used a 55th minute goal from Dema Kovalenko to take the first leg 1-0.
· The earliest home game in Fire history also came in the return leg four days later when Ante Razov and Carlos Bocanegra scored to give the Fire a 3-0 aggregate win and push them to the next round of the tournament.
· The Fire have actually played four of the team’s previous 15 home openers against New England, going 3-0-1 against the Revolution (2003: 1-1 draw, 2006: 3-3 draw, 2007: 1-0 win, 2008: 4-0 win)
· The Fire have faced at least one of their three opening opponents in 2013 in their first three matches 10 times out of 15 seasons.
· Much like the team opened up at home three years in a row against New England, they also had a spell between 1998-2000 that saw them face Kansas City in one of their first three matches of the year. In total, they’ve played Kansas City six times (1998, '99, '00, '03, '04, '11) inside their first three games of the season, going 3-2-1 in those instances.
· The First Kick match on March 3 marks the first time the Fire will open up a season against the LA Galaxy. It also marks the first time in club history the Fire will kickoff against the previous season’s MLS Cup champion.
· Overall, the Fire are a combined 5-3-4 when facing the three sides in their first three regular season matches of a campaign.
So what do you think of the first three matchups? What date are you picking in the “Full Schedule Release” pool?
While the MLS offseason continues to grow shorter and shorter, at times it can be slightly boring compared to the fast-paced nature of what comes from January to October (and hopefully November).
With #cf97withdrawals inhabiting my brain as I await the very big schedule announcement that will allow me to figure out what away cities I’d like to visit, I did have one thought and request from Major League Soccer…
WATCH: Nyarko's Blast from Distance (10/27/2012)
Over the last three seasons, MLS has found a way to schedule a match between the Fire and D.C. United in October and whether deserved or not, to their credit those games have always been memorable…
In 2010, the Fire’s last home game came against United, with perhaps the 0-0 draw being overshadowed by American soccer legend Brian McBride taking his final bow in his hometown of Chicago.
In 2011, who could forget the Fire’s incredible, “Capitol Comeback” which saw the team score two stoppage time goals to win the match after just conceding a Dwayne DeRosario penalty kick at RFK?
The 1-1 draw between the teams this past October was less memorable because of the result but still provided some excellent moments. Among them, Patrick Nyarko’s stunning goal from distance in the first half as well as the Fire’s late barrage on United goalkeeper Bill Hamid with playoff positioning on the line.
Maybe it’s just dumb luck or the MLS scheduling computer has psychic powers but each instance has provided moments that fans of at least one team won’t forget.
With that in mind, my request to the MLS league office as well as United:
Keep things going for 2013 and have the Fire host D.C. on Friday, October 25 to mark the 15 year anniversary of MLS Cup 1998. Why not package it as one of NBC Sports Network’s Friday night broadcasts?
With both teams showing reinvigorated form this past season, coupled with the famous Austin Berry/Nick DeLeon Rookie of the Year battle, perhaps the flames of rivalry that waned over recent years have been fanned once again.
Even better, Frank Klopas and Ben Olsen both played against each other in the match as did Josh Wolff who now serves as an assistant in D.C.
The storylines going in would be as good as any and if there’s as much to play for as when the two sides met this past October, it would have all the makings of being another memorable game, one that the Fire would hopefully win 2-0.
The openers are set to be announced any day now but there's plenty of time to make something like this happen before the full schedule release.
Hopefully we can see it happen.
WATCH: The Run to MLS Cup '98