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).
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*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).
While most of MLS kicks off today, we in Fire country have to wait more sleep before we watch the Men in Red take on two-time defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy Sunday at 4pm on UniMas.
Whet the appetite with this video where MLSsoccer.com's Dan Haiek and Matt Doyle talk one of the most intriguing matches of Opening Weekend...
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.
The team's match at San Jose last year was quite a memorable game. Chris Rolfe had put the team ahead with a long-distance toe-poke just before halftime and Sean Johnson literally stood his head.
So good was the Fire goalkeeper in the match that he made a career high 10 saves, many of them spectacular in the 1-1 draw against the eventual Supporters Shield winners...
10 days out from Opening Night vs. New England (TICKETS HERE), we look back on Johnson's outstanding performance last year at San Jose:
Just 14 days until Opening Night at Toyota Park and today we feature the Fire's #14 Patrick Nyarko.
One of the most underrated players in Major League Soccer, Nyarko has been a terror for full backs throughout MLS since coming into the league in 2008. Even when it seems like a play is lost, his the Ghanaian attacker's quick feet aid in keeping things alive for the Fire.
Nyarko has led the team in assists each of the past three seasons, tallying 26 since 2010, while his goal-scoring prowess also improved last season, with a career high four goals from out wide.
With 130 regular season appearances to his name, Nyarko broke into the club's top 15 list last season and having made 64 appearances the last two seasons, seems a good bet to go as high as eighth by the end of 2013.
Get tickets to see Pat begin his sixth season in Chicago when the Fire welcome the New England Revolution to Toyota Park on Saturday, March 9 at 6:30pm.
WATCH: Patrick Nyarko Highlights
Last August I wrote about Reid Strain, a forward out of the Fire U18 Youth Academy team who earned the chance of a lifetime when he was called up for the Puerto Rican senior team in their 2-1 friendly loss to World and European champions Spain.
Though he didn't play in that match, Strain appears to be a budding star in the Puerto Rican setup and tallied another goal for the nation's U-20 side this week during CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in Puebla, Mexico.
Trailing 1-0 to Jamaica on Tuesday, Strain tallied the 22nd minute equalizer below before the Reggae Boyz hit back with three second half goals to win 4-1.
WATCH: Reid Strain tallies for Puerto Rico U-20s
Now just 16 days away from Opening Night vs. the New England Revolution at Toyota Park, today we look at #16 Marco Pappa's first goal in a Fire shirt which came on Opening Day 2009.
Pappa of course joined the Fire on loan from Gutemalan side Muncipal in July 2008 but didn't make much of an impact as he adjusted to MLS in his first season.
With a new season ahead of him on this rainy and cold day at Toyota Park, Pappa warmed up Fire fans by taking advantage of Luke Sassano's misplayed header to first-time his volley off both posts before being ruled a goal in a 1-0 victory over New York.
Little did we know that the first goal of his Fire career would be a sign of things to come with his next 25...
Watch below and make sure to get your tickets to Opening Night on March 9 when the Chicago Fire welcome the New England Revolution to Toyota Park.
WATCH: Marco Pappa's Debut Goal for the Fire
...the Chicago Fire acquire Czech World Cup veteran Lubos Kubik via MLS player allocation.
Having already begun to build the basis of the 1998 double-winning squad by securing the likes of Zach Thornton, Francis Okaroh, Diego Gutierrez (1997 Expansion Draft), Peter Nowak (player allocation), Jesse Marsch (trade with D.C.), Chris Armas (trade with LA) and C.J. Brown (Supplemental Draft), the Fire made another big splash by signing the former Czech international.
Widely considered one of the best all-time defenders in MLS, Kubik would go on to be the lynchpin in the back for the early Fire squads, being named MLS Defender of the Year in 1998 and becoming a two-time choice to the league’s First XI (1998-99). He also proved vital in helping to win the club's first three domestic titles (1998 MLS Cup, 1998, 2000 U.S. Open Cups)
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Sixteen years on from his signing, Kubik remains the most offensive defender in Fire history, tallying 19 goals and 25 assists in 88 competitive matches from 1998-2002 (current Fire player Gonzalo Segares is second with 12 goals and 16 assists in 206 competitive games). He was especially instrumental in the team’s run to the double in 1998, scoring a combined four goals and one assist in nine U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup playoff matches.
In 2005, Kubik was selected as the third member of the Ring of Fire, joining Peter Nowak and Frank Klopas in the club’s Hall of Fame. As we celebrated our 15th anniversary last year, he was also an overwhelming selection to the list of the Top 15 players in Fire history, the #Fire15.
Na zdravi, Lubos!
WATCH: Lubos Kubik in the #Fire15
As they have the previous two years, the Chicago Fire ventured to the Three Lions Pub inside Blackbaud Stadium for the 2013 Carolina Challenge Cup kickoff luncheon Friday afternoon. The Fire were joined by hosts the Charleston Battery and the Vancouver Whitecaps at the luncheon while Saturday's opponents Houston were set to arrive into the Palmetto State later on Friday.
As I walked around admiring the wall-to-wall memorabilia inside the pub, I realized there were more than a few reunions occuring in the room...
First off was Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich catching up with defender Jay DeMerit. Matkovich led the Fire PDL side when DeMerit played for it in 2001 and even appeared in "Rise & Shine: The Jay DeMerit Story" to talk about his memories of Jay...
A little further down the way, I spotted a Tottenham reunion as Fire trialist Pascal Chimbonda met up with Whitecaps defender Young-Pyo Lee. The two often manned the defensive flanks together for Spurs while at White Hart Lane from 2006-2008.
Finally, just as I turned around, I spotted Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini talking to his former manager and current Whitecaps head coach Martin Rennie. The Scotsman was the one that brough Paladini to the second division Carolina RailHawks from Chivas USA in 2009 where the pair would spend two seasons together.
To finish the pleasantries Rennie, Fire head coach Frank Klopas and Battery manager Mike Anhaeuser did the annual trophy photo-op.
On to Saturday's first doubleheader featuring the Chicago Fire taking on the Houston Dynamo (if they show) at 4pm CT on Chicago-Fire.com. The Battery will host the Whitecaps in the second game at 6:15pm CT.