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Fire15

09 October 10:04 am

It’s not every day you can bump into Ante Razov, Hristo Stoitchkov, Zach Thornton, Lubos Kubik, Peter Nowak and Frank Klopas all within the matter of about five minutes, but that’s exactly what happened to me at Monday’s 15th Fire Anniversary Celebration.

In all, the alumni in attendance along with the current players in the room combined for 3,569 competitive games and 64 championships for the club.

The names above were just a smattering of the nearly 20 Fire alumni that returned for the special occasion. Rubbing elbows with all the dignitaries in the room gave way to perhaps the most important part of the night where Fire a number of the guests in attendance spoke to the Tradition, Honor and Passion of the club and worked to inspire the current roster for greater things to come.

Rousing numbers were given by Jesse Marsch, Hristo Stoitchkov (with great translation from Denis Hamlett), Peter Wilt, Brian McBride, Diego Gutierrez, Peter Nowak, Julian Posada, Frank Klopas and Chris Armas.

It was the last two who perhaps had the most touching moments.

A hometown guy, Klopas pointed to the teams and people that laid the groundwork for soccer in the city of Chicago ahead of the Fire before drawing attention back to the special accomplishments of the inaugural 1998 double-winning team that he was a part of, saying “This group of guys was special and I see many similarities between them and the guys we have right now. We aspire to great things and that means bringing another championship back to this city.”

Finishing up the proceedings, Armas looked to the alumni to his right then pointed to the current roster and simply said, “All of us assembled here are behind you. Go and win a championship.”

What a night indeed.

Kudos to Section 8 Chicago and specifically the 15th Anniversary Committee for pulling together a night no one in the Fire family will soon forget. Check out select photos below...

04 October 4:37 pm

On Tuesday, the final three players of the #Fire15 list presented by TrueCar were unveiled. Like any list that involves a bit of democracy, there was a bit of good debate who or who shouldn’t have been included among the players deemed the top 15 in club history. Having voted multiple times myself this past summer, I don’t think I ever came back with the same 15 players…

With that in mind, I thought it appropriate to take a look at seven guys that you could make a strong case to be in the 15.

Hristo Stoitchkov – One of two players on my Fire15 list back in July that didn’t make the final tally, Stoitchkov was perhaps the most high profile player ever to wear the Fire badge when he was in Chicago from 2000-02. The “Mad Bulgarian” known for his exploits with his country at the 1994 World Cup and Barcelona would go on to record 24 goals and 22 assists in 71 matches, starting only 40.

The legendary attacker scored a number of highlight reel goals but his most important would come when he tallied the first goal in the team’s 2-1 win over Miami to clinch its second U.S. Open Cup title in 2000.

Jim Curtin – If there ever was an unsung hero with the Fire, it was probably Jim Curtin.

The tall defender with the curly, blonde locks didn’t at first look a player that would go on to appear in an understated 186 competitive matches for the club from 2001-07.

Equipped with an infectious personality, the Fire fan favorite would go on to win two U.S. Open Cups and a Supporter’s Shield and was named the 2004 Fire Defender of the Year.

Diego Gutierrez – Though might not have known much about it at the time, Gutierrez was the scorer of one of the biggest goals in Chicago Fire history, with his 45th minute redirection of Peter Nowak’s strike in MLS Cup ’98.

Having done two stints with the Fire from 1998-01 and 2006-08, Gutierrez was often a constant in the Fire midfield, amassing 197 games, 10 goals and 34 assists (good enough for fifth all-time) while being part of four of the club’s six domestic titles.

Just as important though were Gutierrez’s off-the field contributions. The seven-year Fire veteran was named the club’s Humanitarian of the Year three seasons in a row from 2006-08 as well as winning the league-wide award in 2007 for his work with the Nothing But Nets anti-malaria campaign. 

Damani Ralph – There are few rookies that have been as successful as Damani Ralph was in 2003 when he tallied 14 goals across all competitions and helped the club to the 2003 MLS Supporters Shield, U.S. Open Cup (where he scored the winning goal in the Final) and an appearance in MLS Cup.

The following season the Jamaican international joined his strike partner Ante Razov as the only other player in club history to tally double digit goals twice, recording 14 more to lead the team in 2004.

Following two successful seasons in Chicago, Ralph moved to Russian club Rubin Kazan always leaving Fire fans to wonder would could have been had he stayed with the Men in Red just a bit longer…

Gonzalo Segares – The Costa Rican international was the other player on my list that didn’t make the cut. One of the top defenders in club history, Segares just recently appeared in his 200th game and has owned the left back position since joining the club in 2005.

Also one of the most attack-minded defenders all-time in MLS, Segares sits behind only Lubos Kubik in offense created by Fire back liners, tallying 12 goals and 16 assists across all competitions.

Josh Wolff - Another one I wrangled back and forth with, Wolff is the club’s third all-time leading goal scorer with 39 and adds to that 19 assists over just 106 games.

The last remaining active player from the 1998 double-winning team, Wolff and Razov formed one of the most dangerous striker partnerships in the league from 1999 to 2002.

Having won an MLS Cup and two U.S. Open Cups, Wolff also holds the distinction of being the only player in Fire history to tally four goals in a match, doing so in a 5-1 U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal victory over Dallas in 2000.

02 October 12:43 pm

Over the summer, we presented 15 Memorable Games and Goals from the club’s first 15 seasons. We also asked you the fans who the top 15 players in club history were.
 
To be clear, you won’t see numbers ranking the players. That’s because this isn’t a countdown but rather a series to honor 15 great players in Fire history.
 
In the previous four episodes of the #Fire15 presented by TrueCar, we’ve honored Chris Armas, DaMarcus Beasley, Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Carlos Bocanegra, Lubos Kubik, Jesse Marsch, Brian McBride, Logan Pause, Marco Pappa, Ante Razov, Chris Rolfe and Zach Thornton.

Today, three Ring of Fire inductees round out the list… The final three players are Frank Klopas, C.J. Brown and Peter Nowak.

 

 
Frank Klopas –  Mr. Chicago. With eight goals and five assists across 50 games, it wasn’t stats but rather the heart and commitment Frank showed that got him on this list. Maybe that winner in the ’98 Open Cup final helped a bit too.
 
As Len Ziehm says in the video, the Fire needed someone local to help the new franchise make a connection to the city. Fans that remembered “Kid Klopas” from Chicago Sting in the 1980’s were reinvigorated by the reappearance of the city’s iconic soccer son in the club’s inaugural 1998 season.
 
More than that, there’s no player that has ever bled Chicago the way Klopas did in his two seasons playing for the Fire. Returning to the club as Technical Director in 2008 and now as head coach, Frank has served to remind the current crop of what it means every time they put on the shirt.
 
C.J. Brown – There are few players quite as deserving of being honored on such a list as C.J. Brown. The club’s all-time appearance leader at 372, Brown is one of only three Fire players to be part of all six domestic titles and was the last connection in the locker room to the 1998 double-winning team.
 
Learning from the likes of Peter Nowak, Lubos Kubik and Chris Armas, the 1998 season helped guide the rest of his 13-year career, carrying on and passing down the same characteristics of hard work, competitiveness and integrity to young Fire players through the years.
 
As I say in the video, the former Fire captain was never flashy. He played hard, he picked up cards but he was the constant rock at the back. His legacy is still carried on in the Fire locker room today.
 
Peter Nowak – Often mentioned as the best player to ever wear the badge, Peter Nowak set the bar as high as it could go during his five seasons with the Fire.
 
Nowak joined Kubik, and fellow veteran Poles Jerzy Podbrozny and Roman Kosecki as a large core of the original Fire team, captaining the side to the 1998 double and winning MLS Cup MVP honors in the process.
 
Having played 147 competitive matches, the first signing in Chicago Fire history tallied 29 goals and retains the Fire record for assists across all competitions (60) and in MLS play (48).

At least 11 of the #Fire15 will be present at either Wednesday night’s 15th Anniversary Match vs. Philadelphia or the October 8th Anniversary Party  at the Chicago History Museum.
 
Also! Get your 15th Anniversary Merchandise by clicking here.

01 October 9:05 am

Last week, I wrote about the backstory to why a seemingly random date in early October – the 8th – is of such importance to the city of Chicago and of even more significance for Fire fans. It is, in brief, the date the Great Chicago Fire engulfed the city in 1871 and the date the Chicago Fire Soccer Club was founded 126 years later in 1997. This week, I wanted to explain exactly what is going on this October 8th with the Fire Anniversary events celebrating the Club’s 15th birthday.

Thanks in part to the urging of effervescent head coach Frank Klopas, Fire fans, former players and other distinguished guests gather together every year on October 8th to honor the Club’s history. In recent years, Section 8 Chicago has organized a big tailgate, parties in the stadium club and welcomed several past and present players join with us on October 8th.

Everybody (Everybody! Everybody!) have been welcome at those events – the Anniversary celebration is not only for the lively young things in Section 8 with their flags and crazy chants, but for the entire Club to come together and honor the founding of the badge we cherish.

Unlike so many other teams in MLS whose insignia has changed (hi, Kansas City) or who seem to have no connection to the city they play in (hi, Chivas USA), the Fire’s identity is embedded into the epic story of Chicago’s emergence from the ashes of the 1871 Great Chicago Fire. We should all cherish and celebrate this together, and remember the team’s achievements that set it apart from others (hi, New York) along with the rebuilding of a city so many others in the Midwest can only look at with envy (hi, Columbus). So what better date to do that than October 8th itself?

For the Club’s 15th Anniversary, celebrations will be kicked off when Peter Nowak, Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Chris Armas are honored at the Fire-Union game this Wednesday, October 3rd at Toyota Park (TICKETS).

Peter and Chris – along with many of their former teammates - will then be in Chicago five days later on the Anniversary date itself, at a very special celebration on October 8th at a beautiful space in the Chicago History Museum, perched just west of Lincoln Park. This event has been organized and funded through a volunteer committee of fans who have been dedicating a lot of spare (and not-so-spare) time to create a fitting celebration for the 15th year.

The most daunting task for the committee has been tracking down and contacting former players and inviting them to join us for this reunion. While it was difficult for a fan-run committee to find everyone, those we have contacted have all been delighted to hear from Fire fans and a remarkable roster of names (see below) are currently packing their bags as word spread this was an event to be at in order to reminisce about past times, meet up with long lost buddies, and gather with fans to celebrate the Fire’s past, present and future.

So what exactly is happening at the Museum? The main event kicks off at 7pm in the Museum’s gorgeous Georgian Chicago Room. An expansive appetizer buffet from acclaimed caterer Blue Plate and a four hour open bar will be a (delightful) sideshow to the array of Fire legends and current players attending the cocktail reception. This won’t be a stilted seated affair, but instead is being arranged to encourage fans and players to mingle, swap stories and raise a glass together.

In addition, a silent auction with some one-of-a-kind items (such as a gameworn, signed Brian McBride Fire jersey) will be held to benefit the Chicago Fire Foundation and the Museum’s Chicago exhibition itself – including its extensive interactive display about the 1871 Great Fire – will also be open for the first 90 minutes of the event.

Reminders of Club history will be all around, from trophies to jerseys to supporter scarves and memorabilia – to most importantly, the players who brought home six titles to Chicago. Speeches will be made, music will be played, and the cf97 passion this unique gathering will have is likely to be savored for a long time to come.

How can you get a ticket? You can purchase yours online at www.fireanniversary.com (Move fast: they will only be available until Friday, October 5th at 2pm). The ticket costs $97: I’m aware this isn’t a cheap date night – I certainly broke open my piggy bank for this one – but the value of an unprecedented gathering at this fantastic location certainly made it worth spending the cash for me.

I personally cannot wait to honor Fire legends this October 8th as Piotr Nowak, Chris Armas, Lubos Kubik, Frank Klopas, Peter Wilt, Diego Gutierrez, Kelly Gray, Evan Whitfield, Dasan Robinson, Brian McBride, Jesse Marsch, Ante Razov and many others will be celebrating fifteen years of Fire in Chicago with fans – I hope you will be there too.

Where: Chicago History Museum
When: 7-11pm, October 8th 2012
Who: All Fire fans
Tickets: www.fireanniversary.com/tickets
PS: There’s even a swanky after-party at the stunning Filini Bar & Restaurant (221 N. Columbus Drive)
PPS: There might also be a chance for you to play a game with a few of the legends mentioned above from the ’98 team. Stay tuned to the Fire Anniversary website, Twitter and Facebook page for details.

Tom Dunmore is a former Chair of Section 8 Chicago and is currently an editor of XI Quarterly. Follow him on Twitter @tomdunmore

27 September 4:03 pm

Over the summer, we presented 15 Memorable Games and Goals from the club’s first 15 seasons. We also asked you the fans who the top 15 players in club history were.

As we come closer to our 15th Anniversary on October 8th, we also get closer to completing the the #Fire15 players list presented by TrueCar as voted on by our loyal supporters. To be clear, you won’t see numbers ranking the players. That’s because this isn’t a countdown but rather a series to honor 15 great players in Fire history.

In the third installment of the series on Tuesday, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride and Zach Thornton joined DaMarcus Beasley, Ante Razov, Chris Armas, Jesse Marsch, Logan Pause and Chris Rolfe on the list.

Today Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Marco Pappa and Lubos Kubik bring the total to 12...

Cuauhtemoc Blanco – Widely considered by many as the best Designated Player in MLS history, Blanco brought a different type of flair to the Chicago Fire when he joined mid-way through the 2007 season. Upon his arrival, the iconic Mexican international proved many a doubter wrong who thought he’d come to Chicago to earn one final pay check ahead of his retirement.

Instead, the veteran attacker teamed with the likes of Chris Rolfe, Brian McBride and Patrick Nyarko to form one of the most dynamic attacks in the league. Blanco would tally 19 goals and 28 assists in 77 competitive matches, helping the Fire to three-straight Eastern Conference finals as well as the 2009 SuperLiga final, coming up just short in each.

Brought to Chicago to appeal to the city’s Mexican population, despite never winning a championship with the Men in Red, Blanco became an iconic figure in Fire history through his skill, desire to compete and win at all costs mentality.

Marco Pappa – If there ever was a player that matured and came into his own with the Men in Red, it was the recently departed Marco Pappa. As I say in the video, there’s no better word to describe the ability of Marco’s production than “spectacular”.

Coming to the Fire as a 19-year-old in 2008, Pappa somewhat quietly climbed his way up the club’s goal scoring charts, moving all the way to seventh all-time with 26 career goals and fourth all-time in MLS. One of just 21 players all-time to appear in 100+ competitive matches for the Men in Red, Pappa, like Blanco never won a title but became a mainstay in the Guatemalan national team during his time with the Fire before launching off to a career abroad  last month with Dutch side Heerenveen.

Lubos Kubik – The rock at the back in the early years, Lubos Kubik is likely one of the most skilled Fire players to ever wear the badge. The third inductee to the club’s Ring of Fire, Kubik was a key cog in the 1998-double winning team and helped to solidif the Fire defense, partnering with the likes of C.J. Brown, Francis Okaroh, Tom Soehn and a young Carlos Bocanegra.

The former Czechoslovak international had the additional ability to add to the attack, leading Fire defenders all-time in tallying 19 goals and 28 assists in 88 competitive matches for the Men in Red.

Aside from his play, perhaps one of the best reasons to include Kubik on the list is for something he did in another uniform.

Kubik returned to Soldier Field as a member of the Dallas Burn on July 21, 2001. Starting the game as a substitute, Kubik was warming up and looked ready to soon come on to help Dallas protect a 1-0 lead when referee whistled Burn goalkeeper Matt Jordan for a penalty kick by referee Richard Heron.

Standing behind the goal, Kubik jumped over the boards and onto the field to confront the referee who then issued a red card to Kubik for illegally entering the field. Walking away from Heron, the former Fire defender then turned and confronted him again, this time pulling the whistle out of his mouth.

As they say, this all came “allegedly” as Kubik did not want to face the Fire at Soldier Field. Of course, he did suit up and play 86 minutes against the Fire on the final day of the regular season, but who wants facts to get in the way of a legendary story?

True or not? Ask Lubos yourself at the 15th Fire Anniversary party on October 8. Get your tickets to that event by visiting www.fireanniversary.com and be sure you’re at Toyota Park for Wednesday’s Anniversary match against the Philadelphia Union. 

Stay tuned to Chicago-Fire.com next week for the installment of the #Fire15 Players presented by TrueCar.

25 September 5:05 pm

Over the summer, we presented 15 Memorable Games and Goals from the club’s first 15 seasons. We also asked you the fans who the top 15 players in club history were.

As we come closer to our 15th Anniversary on October 8th, we also get closer to completing the the #Fire15 players list presented by TrueCar as voted on by our loyal supporters. To be clear, you won’t see numbers ranking the players. That’s because this isn’t a countdown but rather a series to honor 15 great players in Fire history.

In the second installment of the series last week DaMarcus Beasley, Ante Razov and Chris Armas joined Jesse Marsch, Logan Pause and Chris Rolfe on the list.

Today, Carlos Bocanegra, Brian McBride and Zach Thornton bring the total to nine...

Carlos Bocanegra – There was always something special about Carlos Bocanegra and from the moment he came into the league in 2000, it didn’t take long for the future U.S. Men’s National Team captain to make his mark.

Appearing in 39 competitive matches while tallying a goal and an assist, Bocanegra would go on to win MLS Rookie of the Year that season and was part of the defense that helped the Fire to its second MLS Cup final in three seasons as well as second U.S. Open Cup title in the same time span.

In 2002 and 2003, Bocanegra would show his dominance defense around the league, becoming the first player to win the league’s Defender of the Year award in back-to-back seasons, before ending his time in MLS with a Supporters Shield, another U.S. Open Cup title and a trip back to the MLS Cup.

Having recorded seven goals and nine assists across 122 competitive matches, it’s safe to say the time in Chicago laid the groundwork for one of the best American defenders of all-time. Bocanegra’s legacy around the Fire is still felt, with fans often clamoring for an eventual return to the Windy City.

Brian McBride – Ironically enough, McBride was a longtime teammate of Bocanegra both with the U.S. Men’s National team and during their time at English Premier League side Fulham FC.

Brian’s return to MLS with the Fire in 2008 was one that he’d long made known he’d like to make in order to finish out his career in his hometown. Having tallied 21 goals and seven assists across 72 competitive matches, McBride’s contributions at the Fire, like those with the national team and abroad weren’t always measurable purely by stats.

Rather, talking to guys about what McBride provided during his time with the Fire, they mention what American fans had long come to know: a strong, hard-working presence up top. There’s something else that’s more strike what still may pay dividends down the road…

QUOTABLE: “He brought a great level of education to the younger guys. I know personally he had a huge impact on my game. I got to spend a lot of time with Brian. He had the highest level of professionalism  that has been exhibited by a player. He came in every session and worked hard every day to the point that you didn’t realize how old he was at the time. Us young kids benefitted because he’s always coaching through the game. He never criticized anyone but just offered his view. He knew the game inside and out and you could see the impact it brought to this team.” – Patrick Nyarko

Better yet, McBride today was announced as another of many special guests at the October 8th Anniversary Party at the Chicago History Museum,,,

Zach Thornton – What can you say about Big Z? I think it might be best to draw the comparison to another of the Fire15 in Ante Razov. Much like Ante with LA, Zach had played sparingly in New York through the first two seasons of MLS before joining the Fire via the 1997 Expansion Draft.

That season he had to contend for playing time with the much higher profile Jorge Campos who was in and out of the team due to commitments with the Mexican national side as well as splitting time with Pumas UNAM. Thornton would finally make the job his and be in goal to back stop the side to the 1998 MLS and U.S. Open Cup double, winning MLS Goalkeeper of the Year and being named to the Best XI in the process.

The goalkeeper would go on to be one of three players (along with Chris Armas and C.J. Brown) to be part of the all six of the club’s domestic titles, holds nearly all of the club’s goalkeeping records and sits third all-time behind only Brown (372) and Logan Pause (298) for most competitive appearances with the Fire at 276.  

Stay tuned on Thursday as we name three more members of the #Fire15 and be sure to get your tickets to the October 3rd 15th Anniversary match vs. the Philadelphia Union as well as the 15th Anniversary Party to be held October 8 at the Chicago History Museum. Fire legends will be in attendance at both events.

24 September 8:10 am

It was good to see DaMarcus Beasley back in Chicago for Saturday night's 2-1 win over Columbus.

With the five-year Fire veteran still an active player and unable to get away from Mexican side Puebla for next month's 15th Anniversary celebrations, he took advantage of a little schedule gap after playing 90 minutes for the side in a 1-1 draw with Leon Friday night. 

Named earlier this week as one of the #Fire15 players, Beasley was welcomed to roaring applause at halftime of Saturday night's game but what was most interesting was what he said to our camera before the match.

When asked where he would want to play if he return to Major League Soccer, Beasley replied, "There's no other team I would want to play for. No other team I'd want to be a part of."

Given the swirling rumors recently about a Carlos Bocanegra return to the Fire, this response inevitably leads us to a fun poll question...

21 September 9:37 am


(Photo Credit: Conrad Akier)

We are chewing down on some quite delicious pizza at Piece restaurant in Wicker Park, and a certain silver-haired Greek-American is practically bouncing off the walls.

When Frank Klopas is animated about something, everyone in his vicinity has little choice to not only be very much aware of it, but to embrace it: I’ve never seen one of his half-time team talks, but I can only imagine that there isn’t anywhere to hide, that Frank’s 45 minutes of side-line pacing builds into an unavoidably exuberant “talk.” Maybe I’m wrong, but that’s what I like to think goes on in the locker-room when Frank’s in charge.

What I do know for sure is that on this particular evening in the summer of 2009 – when, of course, he was not the Fire’s coach but instead its technical director – Frank had a real bee in his bonnet. The Ring of Fire member and Chicagoan wanted to know why we didn’t do more to celebrate the Club’s birthday on October 8th. It was a tie that could bind the Fire community’s past and present together, Frank said, and one that uniquely linked the Club to the City (OK, I’m paraphrasing; Frank’s enthusiasm is such that I’d need more words than you want to read to actually piece together the whole conversation).

You’re right, Frank, we said. Let’s do something on October 8th. We only have a few weeks (it was late August, if I recall correctly), but if there’s one thing those of us in Section 8 can do, it’s scratch together an event on short notice by drawing on the collective willingness of slightly unhinged fanatics to volunteer and pull together when the inspiration strikes.

And strike it did. Why wouldn’t we celebrate every October 8th? After all, whatever the ups-and-downs of the Club, the one thing anyone who says they are “Fire til I die” with a straight face ought to be keen to honor is the date of the club’s founding, the name of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club announced on a Fall day at Navy Pier back in 1997 on October 8th.

The date, you probably know, was not chosen by accident. It was 126 years earlier, October 8th 1871, that Chicago was set ablaze not for the first or last time, but for the defining time: a conflagration that tore a city asunder, only for its survivors to respond by building a city greater than anyone could ever have imagined possible.

“Flames! Flames! Terrible flames! What a fearful destruction they bring. What suf'fring and want in their train follow fast, As forth on the streets homeless thousands are cast. But courage! Courage! From the mid'st of the furnace we sing.”

Those words written by George S. Root come from the Chicago History Museum’s “Web of Memory,” a remarkable collection of contemporary accounts of the Great Chicago Fire. And sing Chicagoans did, of the tragedy and of survival and of reconstruction. A popular song soon emerged, one you may now hear in the Harlem End of Toyota Park, and it goes like this:

Late one night, when we were all in bed, Mrs. O'Leary lit a lantern in the shed. Her cow kicked it over, Then winked her eye and said, "There'll be a hot time in the old town tonight!"

With this kind of folklore building, Chicagoans had determined that, however it really started somewhere around 12th and Halsted Streets , the Great Fire that destroyed nearly 20,000 homes, left 90,000 homeless and killed 300 people would not be forgotten – and nor would the monumental rebuilding effort soon undertaken to remake the city. Within a week, 6,000 temporary structures housed the homeless, as the Tribune declared CHICAGO SHALL RISE AGAIN.

Every year, as the city continued to expand in the late nineteenth century, Chicagoans gathered on the Great Fire’s anniversary to show this city had not been cowed. As G.W. Steevens put it: “Therefore the men of Chicago resolved that the twenty-fifth anniversary of her destruction by fire should not pass without such a demonstration as should convince the world that she is very much more alive than ever.”

The annual celebration in October became known as Chicago Day, and editorials in the Chicago Tribune were accompanied by gleaming illustrations, beams of light shining from the resurrected city. Great monuments were proposed: one never built was designed by William LeBaroney Jenney (a key developer of the skyscraper), a tall tower crowned by a female figure clutching a flaming torch to symbolize – as the Tribune put it – “the triumph of energy and enterprise” in the wake of disaster.

In some ways, it is difficult now to grasp just how monumental Chicago’s survival and growth in the wake of the Great Fire seemed in the late nineteenth century. But for city boosters – especially as Chicago’s business sector dramatically expanded – elegiac heights of almost absurd proportions were reached to describe the rebuilding effort. A poem by Edmund S. Holbrook on the tenth anniversary of the Fire illustrates this well. Chicago is reborn not by providence but by man’s Herculean effort, becoming a symbol of Civic beauty in the New World – the Garden City:

       The massive stones are laid below, the walls arise above.

       In strength that neither flame, nor storm, nor time itself shall move.

       Nor Use alone, but Beauty comes, and with deft hand adorns:

       See parks, and boulevards, and groves--see lakelets, flowers, and lawns.

       The Garden City, twice herself, sits as a Queen again--

       Not by Amphion with his lyre, but Man, stout-hearted MAN.

Enduring symbols of Chicago continued to be shaped by the Great Fire. It imbued the spirit of the 1893 World’s Fair: the “I Will” maiden’s bust was topped by a phoenix that, naturally, arose from the ashes. Indeed, the entire Fair – commemorating the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas – was planned by the city’s elite to showcase Chicago’s remarkable transformation into a great metropolis following the Fire. Twenty-seven million visitors duly passed a number of statues that referenced the Fire in the White City, such as Karl Bitter’s “Fire Controlled.”            

Chicago Day’s commemoration of the Great Fire at the Fair saw the presentation of a “monster concert,” a “grand chorus,” “the most gorgeous display of fireworks ever seen in America,” all forming “the Most Significant and Grandest Spectacle in Modern Times.” Actually held on October 9th (rather than the 8th), over 750,000 citizens crammed in to the gleaming White City to celebrate the city’s emergence from the Great Fire’s disastrous wake, almost triple the Fair’s record attendance.

(In a terrible irony, White City itself was left to be destroyed by fire in the coming years.)

The Great Fire would not be forgotten as the decades rolled on. In 1921, the Great Fire’s 50th anniversary was commemorated in the city as all high school soccer and football games played on October 8th were made part of the “Semi-Centennial Games.” Songs were created, pageants were held, and a play called The Seven Fires: A Masque of Chicago was held in Humboldt Park. When Chicago held its next World’s Fair in 1933, the “I Will” maiden was still adorned on top by a phoenix rising from the flames, and Chicago Day was held again in October (though not with the fanfare of its predecessor in 1893).

By 1946, at the 75th anniversary, the Fire Department itself was involved in a week long “Fire Show” held from October 4-11, with “thrilling exhibits and demonstrations marking the 75th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire.” In the local press, the spirit of the city’s rebuilding from the Fire was brought up as civic leaders were urged to tackle the post-war issue of homelessness with the same dedication that homes had been built with after the 1871 disaster.

The 100th anniversary in 1971 was topped by a gala dinner: the menu included “Mrs O’Leary’s Baked Beans,” and in 1996, a “FireBall” was held to mark the 125th anniversary in October. But it would be the next year that a new, lasting monument to the Great Fire would be announced:  the Chicago Fire Soccer Club.

The news that Chicago’s new Major League Soccer club would be known as the Fire was kept a secret until it was unveiled on Navy Pier that October 8th in 1997: the club’s General Manager Peter Wilt fooled the media by feeding rumors that the team was to be called the Blues, sending invitations out to media for the event featuring a pen drawing of the Blues Brothers.

Fortunately, the club’s name also didn’t end up being the Rhythm either, as Nike – who shaped the identity of numerous late ‘90s MLS teams whose names have now been changed or disappeared into the history books – had wanted. It took a high-level intervention to ensure that the Chicago Rhythm was never born, as Peter Wilt explains:

“To the joy and relief of many, we avoided a lifetime of misspelled team references, bad Catholic birth control method jokes and just plain poor branding when at my urging Phil Anschutz intervened at the highest levels to Nike and told his counterpart Phil Knight that it was his team and he was going to name it whatever he wanted, but it sure as sheep sh*t wasn’t going to be “Rhythm”.  OK, he probably didn’t say “sheep sh*t”, but he wasn’t happy.”

And so we in Chicago have been able to embrace a Club called the Fire that speaks to the City’s greatest achievement, its restless, pounding energy, its desire to do – just the kind of spark I saw in Frank Klopas that night three years ago at a pizza restaurant, one that inspired us to hold a celebration every October 8th since.

On October 8th this year, we mark 15 years of the Chicago Fire and in the tradition of grand Chicago Day events, you are invited to a major celebration to commemorate the founding of the Club on a date unparalleled in significance for Chicago.

A Committee of volunteers, fans from around the stadium from the first Barn Burner Don Crafts to current ISA Chair Joel Piktel and numerous other old-timers, has been working round the clock to ensure the celebration is a fitting one. The choice of venue was key to this: it was on October 8, 1871 that the Chicago Historical Society’s building was burned to the ground. Their collection was lost.

Like Chicago generally, that building was not just replaced, but reborn grander, and is now the marvelous Chicago History Museum at North and Clark adjacent to Lincoln Park. Inside there is the Museum’s major exhibition to the Great Chicago Fire, one that will be open to attendees as we gather at the Museum and honor Club heroes scheduled to attend including Piotr Nowak, Lubos Kubik, Ante Razov, Peter Wilt, Frank Klopas and many, many more.

Please join us there and celebrate fifteen years of Chicago Fire and 141 years since the city we love rose unbowed and restless from the ashes.

Click here to order your tickets to the Chicago Fire Soccer Club 15th Anniversary Celebration on October 8th 2012 at the Chicago History Museum or head to FireAnniversary.com to learn more about the celebration.

Tom Dunmore is a former Chair of Section 8 Chicago and is currently an editor of XI Quarterly. Follow him on Twitter @tomdunmore.

20 September 4:10 pm

Over the summer, we presented 15 memorable games and goals from the club’s first 15 seasons. We also asked you the fans who the top 15 players in club history were.

To be clear, you won’t see numbers ranking the players. That’s because this isn’t a countdown but rather a series to honor 15 great players in Fire history.

In the first installment of the series last week, we named Jesse Marsch, Logan Pause and Chris Rolfe to the #Fire15. Today,

Today, DaMarcus Beasley, Ante Razov and Chris Armas join them...

DaMarcus Beasley - The youngest player to ever appear for the Fire, DaMarcus Beasley began his very promising career as a 17-year-old in Chicago during the 2000 season.

The future U.S. international would go on to appear in 134 competitive matches, tallying 18 goals and 28 assists as he dazzled fans with his speedy and ability on the dribble.

Beasley would use his early time with the Fire to make appearances on the first of three U.S. World Cup teams in 2002 before springing to Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven midway through the 2004 season.

Ante Razov – There is no doubt and little argument about forward Ante Razov’s inclusion on the #Fire15 list. One of the all-time leading goal scorers in MLS, Razov holds the distinction by a country mile for the Fire, tallying 95 across 196 competitive games from 1998-2004. Razov’s strike rate is more impressive when you consider the next player on the list is Chris Rolfe who has 49 goals at the moment.

Razov led the team in scoring in five of his seven seasons (playing only half a season in 2001) and tallied his career high of 25 competitive goals in 2000.

QUOTABLE: “I took pride in my craft. I wasn’t the fastest guy, I wasn’t the best dribbler but I knew how to shoot and get myself in position and do the best with what your talents are. I worked at that constantly and I was never harder on anyone than myself. We had such a good group [in those early years] that everyone demanded the best from everyone.” – Ante Razov on the All-In Podcast (September 10, 2012)

Chris Armas – Much like Razov, Armas is a necessity on this list. The second captain in club history, Armas is also one of the longest tenured Fire players of all-time, playing from 1998-2007. The former U.S. international joins C.J. Brown and Zach Thornton as the only three players in club history to be part of all six domestic titles.

 The Ring of Fire honoree is one of a number of American players including Razov, Thornton and Jesse Marsch that built the core and found their career stride with the club’s early successes.

An honest, hard-working player, Armas racked up 13 goals in 272 competitive appearances. Perhaps most surprisingly, the Fire captain sits second all-time in assists with 53, behind only Peter Nowak at 60.

QUOTABLE: “I believed the little things added up to big things. I knew that on game day, I wasn’t going to be pushing magic buttons, I wasn’t that type of player.  It sounds cliché but literally, working at technique, technique and technique. Being able to execute that in games and being able to work at the craft every day. That meant coming early and staying afterwards. I felt like I had some ability but it was followed up by hard work and the mentality, staying grounded.– Chris Armas Blast from the Past Q&A (September 11, 2012)

Stay tuned to Chicago-Fire.com as we name the rest of the #Fire15 players in the month leading up to the club's Anniversary match on Wednesday, October 3 vs. Philadelphia (TICKETS) and 15th Anniversary Party to be held Monday, October 8 at the Chicago History Museum. (TICKETS).

Re-watch Episode 1 featuring Jesse Marsch, Logan Pause and Chris Rolfe

 

11 September 4:54 pm

Over the summer, we presented 15 memorable games and goals from the club’s first 15 seasons. We also asked you the fans who the top 15 players in club history were.

The tallies are in and with October 8 looming now less than a month away, we’re set to begin unveiling the “#Fire15” in a new five-segment video series presented by TrueCar.

To be clear, you won’t see numbers ranking the players. That’s because this isn’t a countdown but rather a series to honor 15 great players in Fire history.

Our first three honorees are Jesse Marsch, Logan Pause and Chris Rolfe.

Jesse Marsch – While never flashy, Marsch was a near constant cleaning up messes in the Fire midfield from 1998-2005. Coming to the club after spending his first two MLS seasons with reigning champions D.C. United, Marsch would go on to appear in 259 competitive matches (fifth all-time) while tallying 23 goals and 32 assists in his eight seasons with the Fire.

As Tom Soehn points out in the video, Jesse’s lasting legacy with the Men in Red stem from the five domestic titles he won during his time in Chicago.

Logan Pause – Now into his 10th season as a member of the Chicago Fire, Logan Pause has long credited the likes of Marsch and Chris Armas as players he modeled his game after. The current Fire captain is the second longest tenured member of the club behind C.J. Brown and with 295 career appearances sits behind only the 13-year veteran (372) in games played for the club.

Not that he needed to prove he belonged on such a list but the captain’s ability to play through two broken ribs and a collapsed lungs at Philadelphia on August 12 was heroic. It was only bested by the fact that he returned to the field to help the Fire win 3-1 over Houston exactly three weeks later.

No more explanation necessary here…

Chris Rolfe – Perhaps the closest thing the Fire have had as an answer to Ante Razov, Chris Rolfe stands behind the former U.S. international at second on the club’s all-time scoring list with 45 goals across all competitions.

Rolfe would definitely have more in a Fire shirt if not for often being played on the wing during his first tenure in Chicago. There was also the two and a half years he spent away in Denmark that have his goal tally a bit lower than you would think.

However, Rolfe’s return to the club back in April was one of the most welcome acquisitions the club has made in recent years and now a few years older, the striker will look to continue to chip away at Razov’s goal record.

Stay tuned to Chicago-Fire.com as we name the rest of the #Fire15 players in the month leading up to the club's Anniversary match on Wednesday, October 3 vs. Philadelphia (TICKETS) and 15th Anniversary Party to be held Monday, October 8 at the Chicago History Museum. (TICKETS).