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16 September 3:23 pm

Some of the best tweets from Saturday's 3-2 victory over New England are below... Have the chance to see your tweets in a future gallery, by hashtagging #cf97!

14 September 8:48 am

The Fire are proud to be a sponsor of the Great Chicago Fire Hydrants, a public art exhibition celebrating the heroism of Chicago’s firefighters.  The city-wide program launched on September 11, but the Fire wanted to give our fans a first glimpse of our hydrant at tonight’s game before it goes on display for two months at the Hancock Plaza downtown.

In addition to the Fire and our creative team, scores of other local artists have decorated 5-foot tall fiberglass fire hydrants sponsored by Chicagoland businesses.  The first hydrants were installed in various locations around the city last week on September 11.  Following the public exhibition the hydrants will be auctioned on December 4, 2013 to benefit the 100 Club of Chicago, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the families of fallen police and firefighters.

Two special touches to the hydrant appear on its rings. The top honors the seven members of the club’s Ring of Fire: Peter Nowak, Frank Klopas, Lubos Kubik, Peter Wilt, Bob Bradley, Chris Armas and C.J. Brown. While the club’s three tenets -- Tradition. Honor. Passion. – appear on the base ring (check out the photo gallery below).

Get your photo with the Fire’s hydrant located behind Section 8 during the game up until half time and in the Stadium Club post-game.  Don’t worry –  if you miss your opportunity to get a photo, stop by the Hancock Plaza (just steps from The Chicago Water Tower) beginning next week to see the hydrant on display through November.

Be sure to tag photos with #cf97 and http://www.facebook.com/greatchicagofirehydrants or on Twitter.

For more information, including all the artist biographies, display locations and hydrant photos visit: www.GreatChicagoFireHydrants.com.

Chicago Fire's Entry in Great Chicago Fire Hydrant Project

05 September 3:23 pm

The final installment in our series of #cf97ThirdKit interviews sees me speak to Option 5 designer Jordan Parks.

Check out the previous interviews with Mike Sever (Option 1)Danny Carlino (Option 2)Freddie Christiano (Option 3) and Eric Puente (Option 4) regarding the inspiration behind their designs. One more Q&A coming later Thursday!

What was the inspiration behind your design?

The inspiration for my third kit design came from Chicago’s rich industrial history, the beautiful city skyline, and the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. These three elements helped fuel my concept and display the true honor, passion, and tradition of this club and this great city.

The blue to white gradient in my design begins with the rich navy blue of the club, incorporates the light blue of the famous Chicago flag, and fades to a bright white to show the eliteness of this powerful city.

VOTE: #cf97ThirdKit Top 5

The subtle abstract view of the skyline represents the flames that ravaged the city in 1871 and the building blocks which made this city bounce back from devastation to become one of the most economically powerful in America.

What do you feel is unique about your design?

After looking at past kits worn by the Fire and researching other clubs past and present designs, I decided to simplify mine and keep the base color white; paying tribute to past away kits worn by the Fire.

While the Chicago flag is a well known and recognizable symbol of Chicago, I tried to stay away from blatantly using the flag as the base for my design as it has been done before and many Fire supporters want this as a permanent kit option rather than a third kit.

READ: #cf97ThirdKit Rules

I believe my design is unique because of its elegance and simplicity while showing physical and historical attributes of the great city we call home.

What would it mean for your design to be chosen as the club's third kit?

As a young designer, seeing my design being worn by my club would be absolutely exhilarating. I have been a Fire supporter for many years and having this opportunity with the club has already been rewarding in itself.

The reality of having my concept turned into a final solution is what I stand for as a designer. I work to succeed and push to exceed. Seeing the mighty Fire wearing my kit design in victory would be the best reward I could ask for. I believe with a fresh third kit option, the Chicago Fire can bring home another MLS Cup in style. Go Fire!

05 September 8:18 am

The third in our series of #cf97ThirdKit interviews sees me speak to Option 3 designer Freddie Christiano.

On Wednesday I spoke with Mike Sever (Option 1) and Danny Carlino (Option 2) about the inspiration behind their designs. More Q&A's coming later Thursday.

What was the inspiration behind your design?

I was hoping I would get a chance to answer a question like this during the competition. The design looks simple, but there were a lot of different things that inspired the design. It is obvious from all the designs presented that we as fans wanted some representation of the Chicago flag back on the jersey. I did not want the jersey to be a remake of the old Puma design so I thought about how I could place the flag somewhere on the kit where it had meaning. I wanted to have meaning not only to a fan, but anyone who will wear the jersey.

In my full submission to the Chicago Fire I included the words “#WearYourHeartOnYourSleeve”. This became the overall inspiration for the jersey and why I placed the flag on the sleeve. We are really passionate about sports here in Chicago and we aren't afraid to let anyone know how we feel. I think we can convey that passion to the players on the field playing for our team as well. By placing the Chicago flag on the sleeve, it is a reminder to the players their emotion, pride, and heart on the field is matched by that of those in the stands and through out the city.

VOTE: #cf97ThirdKit Top 5

I didn't want to distract from the sleeve element, so I based the rest of the design on something I learned from playing soccer, which was to “keep it simple”. I wanted a color to help make the sleeve stand out, but it also needed to have significance.

I have seen some comments regarding my choice of black and it not being related to Chicago and compared to other cities kits. I actually found that color inspiration from our skyline. Any way you view the Chicago skyline, you are seeing two of the most iconic buildings of our city: The Willis Tower and  John Hancock Building. These two buildings do not stand out only because of their size but also because of their color.  This was also the perfect color to make the sleeve stand out and maintain integrity for the main color of the kit. The vertical strip was a simple way to bring more of flag inspiration into the design and tie it up to the Fire crest, linking the two together. When the stripe wraps to the back of the jersey it fades to the silhouette of the Willis Tower.

The Fire crest needed to be as unique as the overall design. I was inspired when looking at the crest on my 1999 Chicago Fire kit. Although, it is not clear from the image posted the entire crest in my design would be of this metallic threading.

What do you feel is unique about your design?

Besides the choice of color, every design element of this kit has significant meaning. This is more than a kit that I have designed, it is about interconnecting players, fans, and a city. It establishes bonds of tradition, honor, and passion felt by all when carrying the flag on their sleeve.

READ: #cf97ThirdKit Rules

Giving the flag significant placement and a motto, “Wear Your Heart On Your Sleeve”, helps establish these bonds and makes everyone aware what it means to be from Chicago and play for our club. The motto will also give supporter groups new chants to create when players take the field in an intimidating black kit!

What would it mean for your design to be chosen as the club's third kit?

If chosen, I would feel happiest knowing the majority of fans feel as passionate about this kit and its meaning as I do. They understood it can be as powerful as connecting players to fans on another level.

The Fire is a team I grew up supporting and would love to be part of the club from an opportunity like this. Having your kit made forever links you to the team and Its history. That would be something special.

04 September 12:55 pm

Over the next few days we'll be rolling out interviews with each of the five #cf97ThirdKit finalists asking for the inspiration and unique qualities of their entries.

First up, Mike Sever and Option #1...

What was the inspiration behind your design?

My inspiration was the history of both the team and the history of the City of Chicago. While the sky blue and white color is obviously a nod to the Fire's popular "Flag Jersey" from 2005, there are other references that longtime fans may recognize. First, the jersey returns the club's traditional white stripe to the front across the chest, but with a subtle twist. The two navy stripes inside the white chest stripe not only allude to the two blue stripes in a white field on the Chicago city flag, but are also a throwback to the navy and white stripes on the Fire's home and away uniforms during their trophy-winning heyday of the club’s early years.

VOTE: #cf97ThirdKit Top 5

I decided to put the Chicago flag on the back after being unable to find a way to put it on the front without the jersey looking too crowded. I added the year 1871, the year of the Great Chicago Fire, which despite its destructive power, also gave Chicago a unique opportunity to start fresh and rebuild itself into the city it is today.  I decided to use 1871 instead of 1997 (the year of the club's founding) because I've always felt the Chicago Fire Soccer Club was named in remembrance of the historical event of the 1871 Fire (and the subsequent resilience to rebuild Chicago even bigger than before), rather than merely naming the team after the phenomenon of light and heat. Besides, doesn't "The Great Chicago Fire" have a nice ring to it?

What do you feel is unique about your design?

All five final designs have some degree of sky blue and white in them, which is not surprising as Fire supporters have been clamoring for a Chicago-flag-themed jersey since its last appearance in 2005. However, Design #1 is the only one that blends the team's history with its present. No other jersey design uses the Chicago flag, the Fire's traditional white chest stripe, AND a nod to the early teams whose success in adverse conditions at Soldier Field and Cardinal Stadium helped pave the way for the team we see today. 

READ: #cf97ThirdKit Rules

While a third jersey often gives teams an opportunity to mix up their look with different colors and patterns, I still want people to be able to see this jersey on the street or on TV and instantly recognize it as the Chicago Fire. One of the great things about the sport of soccer is how even though teams change their jerseys seemingly every year, the looks remain the same, with very few exceptions. Real Madrid is always going to be all white. Celtic is always going to be green and white hoops. Liverpool will always be red and Chelsea will always be blue. In that vein, no other team in MLS has ever worn a single stripe across the chest, and no other team in MLS plays in the colors of the Chicago flag. This jersey is something new, but it is familiar, and unmistakably Chicago.

What would it mean for your design to be chosen as the club’s new third kit?

I'm not even thinking about that yet. I'm not anything close to a professional designer, so it's already an honor for my design to be included with the four other finalists, and it's beyond my imagination to have the club I've been following since I was a kid wear a shirt I designed. I mean, I remember trying to draw the old "Fire truck" logo in the margins of my 8th grade notebooks after the team was announced in 1997, and I still have the ticket stub from my first-ever Fire game 15 years ago.  I didn't even think my design would make it this far in the contest. It's crazy for me to even think about winning, but I'd like to encourage everyone to vote for Design #1!

06 August 9:28 am

At Toyota Park in May, Philly sat back, let the Fire run circles around them like some mean, old dog, then got a seemingly innocuous free kick and suddenly Jack McInerney, in on goal, kicked the team straight in the gut. That game felt like a one-act play, where the characters on stage build to an obvious conclusion, some grotesque act that you know is coming but still shocks and hurts when you see it live.

This Saturday, the Fire went to Philly to continue their climb back into the playoff picture and battled in a Three Act work of considerable drama. Each was punctuated by a goal. Here’s the liner notes, starring Philly and Chicago, two mysterious characters.

Act One, The Set-Up (0-45’)

Kick off. Philly comes out first, Chicago wakes up slowly, stretches arms to the sky, makes coffee, realizes it’s in the middle of a game, and immediately pops into action. Philly, who tried to come out with high and tight pressure, find themselves being passed around in sequences of quick one-twos and flicks, like those that lead to a beautiful first goal, with not even 10 minutes gone.

Philly broadcasters (the chorus), clamor for more “intensity” from the home team. The Fire look comfortable but ominously cannot extend their lead. They start to slow down a bit and Philly enjoy a few minutes of confidence-boosting possession at the end of the half, including a couple of dangerous free kicks. The plot thickens.

Halftime.

Act Two, The Montage (45’-54’)

This short intervening act provides the backbone of the drama. A little character development. Fresh off their orange slices, Philly and Chicago come out ready to party again.

Like Act One, Philly threaten first (Conor Casey flashes a shot just wide of goal two minutes in), but Chicago recovers and takes the upper hand. How predictable is this? Chicago finds space everywhere and kick off a few minutes of possession in the opponent’s half like we haven’t seen all season.

Cue montage and “Danger Zone.” A few not particularly interesting forays forward foreshadow something for Philly, but Chicago cruises.

What can go wrong?

Act Three, The Climax (54-90)

The Montage ends. The motorcycle crashes. Le Toux gets in on Chicago’s right and Sean Johnson makes a kick save. Chicago attacks and Rolfe finds enough space to squeeze a shot off - but Zac MacMath tips it over the bar. Go time. Philly go forward and get their goal with 30 minutes left - so much time for both to fight out the end.

Suddenly Philly is everywhere. Sean Johnson makes an impossible save off a corner. Another is cleared off the line. Chicago is wavering badly, Philly is matching Chicago’s dominance from Act Two.

There is no music. Chicago fights with their inner identity battle between the disappointments early in the year and their confidence to close games. (Mike Magee said after the game, “I think there was a point in the 65th minute where we had been getting pummeled the whole half and we all kind of looked at each other and said this game is there for us to win.”)

Two subs come on in the 67th, as Klopas tries to overturn Philly’s momentum.

And then it happens, the climax. Chicago confronts Philly. They continue pressing. The spirit of fight and persistence embodied in Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko combine with harrowing pressure. Nyarko fights the ball loose from a Philly midfielder and plays in Magee. Magee finishes calmly.

Your girlfriend is crying, but there’s still twenty minutes time! The drama carries over but the game is rarely in doubt. A penalty shout scares the audience, so nobody leaves their seats. Then the violin music. A stoppage time kiss at the sunset. Chicago steals the points.

Curtain.

24 July 12:56 pm

I’ve always thought it odd that sports falls into the category of entertainment business. Sure people pay to watch it, same as all entertainment, and there are “actors”, agents, venues and all that. But when you’re emotionally attached, soccer feels like more than merely entertainment. “Entertainment” feels a little shallow, I think of county fair tents, while sports can feel like everything in the world.

Take the idea of “Sport”: Roman, high, physically extreme, competition; and the idea of “Entertainment”: Amusement, fun, pleasure.

But it’s not fair to separate the two quite so fast. I did a Twitter search for “R Kelly tears” after his highly lauded Pitchfork set on Sunday night and remembered that in music, too, people live for what happens on stage. You get caught up with performers and players, you put your expectations on them, you live through them, and when they stand up and return everything in performance, the exaltation is real and thorough and spiritual.

The word performance is interesting. We say players “perform” well (or not) the same way we do about musicians and actors. I suppose the main difference between performing and just, well, doing something, is that performances require an audience. And it’s the audience that makes the show, right? Nobody believes in your work unless you do it in front of a crowd, and the Pope in the woods isn’t selling tickets.

Something about those moments in a performance, when players and audience are one, when expectations are met and then exceeded, time speeds up and slows down, the moment stretches out into something like a feeling, and everything is right again. Whether it’s a band onstage or a team on a field, those encores, those goals, they make us bigger.

Performances are entertainment, and injecting competition into performances only makes them more so. A friend once told me that she had no problem going to youth swim meets; she found them entertaining because she just liked to watch races.

So among all the clamor this weekend about fancy players in town for Pitchfork and the Fire readying to bring in a new Designated Player, the team hosted a D.C. side Saturday night that is absolutely reeling. And the Fire handled business. The most “entertaining” factor in it all, though, was seeing Chris Rolfe grab a couple goals. 

 
 
 

I mean, your sister loves Chris Rolfe, we all love Chris Rolfe (you saw his cute reaction to Section 8’s song for him after his first goal, right?), and he was in desperate need for some goals because, let’s face it, you can’t make a career playing up top and not scoring in this league. And it’s not like he wasn’t trying, he leads the team in shots, we see his work rate game after game, but now it looks like Rolfe is finally starting to get in that rhythm where the goal looks all big and goalies are just annoying impediments. His finishes have that quick, confident feel about them again.

It was cathartic to see the elation after his first goal, right in front of Section 8. Rolfe’s been at it for a while, he’s been on more than a few tours, and we all want him to succeed and meet the expectations we put on him. It’s the life of a performer, I guess, to have to deal with not only the usual pressure one puts on oneself, or that a coach puts on, but to face the crowd’s expectations too. Like R. Kelly did on Sunday, and like all great performers, Rolfe stepped up in the moment and made it something bigger, something that we could all share in, and that’s entertainment at its best.

 

 

09 July 12:35 pm

A mistake is just a mistake, an error, a blip - the definition implies that it’s somehow against what’s expected, it’s notable specifically because it’s not in rhythm with everything else going on. Repeated mistakes, predictable mistakes, they’re no longer mistakes. They’re problems.
 
After yet another game marked by early concessions (and, at last, without the gritty comebacks that defined the Fire’s breathtaking unbeaten streak) The Fire find themselves approaching halfway through the season with an opportunity to define their year.
 
Are all these frustrating early goals, the slow starts, the brief moments of futility - are they mistakes, errors, blips? Are they exceptions to the true Fire? Or will they define the Fire as a problem, and we’ll look back sometime in the fall at a team that cost itself a playoff spot?
 
Pour some out for the exhilarating and dramatic nine-game unbeaten run. After Wednesday’s game against San Jose, everything looked hunky dory. The Fire let in some goals, but they controlled the game, scored wonderfully, and showed just how much of a new team we were seeing compared to the disappointments of the spring. Now, the Fire will have to show whether Magic Mike Magee’s impact is just makeup, MLS cover-all.
 
The best part of soccer seasons is that, eventually, your strengths and weaknesses are laid bare. There are deserved and deserved results, sure, but there’s no such thing as a lucky season because there are enough games to balance out unlucky bounces, bad call, injuries, and so on. The points at the end of the season tell a complete story.
 
So, yes, Sunday was hot and humid. KC is stacked, with maybe the best back line in MLS. The Fire played on short rest. It was, in other words, the worst scenario to let in early goals.
 
But it also exposed the Fire’s tendency to let in these goals that just feel wrong. The only word I can think of to describe the kinds of goals we’ve seen against the Fire is icky. They’re icky. They’re kind of gross. They feel wrong. They’re not well worked, they don’t really break the Fire down or come from great passing or individual brilliance. I’m thinking about Lindpere’s own goal and Gordon’s ridiculous crossbar assist to himself on Wednesday; Feilhaber’s volley off the post and Zusi’s wind-assisted Shross on Sunday. Going back, there are the Austin Berry gifts to Deshorn Brown of Colorado and Dominic Oduro of Columbus. You have to go all the way back to June 8th against Portland to see a really nice goal scored against the Fire in MLS.

That’s a good sign, I think. I think it means that, once the Fire stop letting in these icky goals, Magee and the suddenly more clinical Duka - Nyarko - Rolfe supporting cast will continue to carry the Fire towards a playoff spot. It only seems right.

 

But with big road games in Vancouver and Houston coming up this month and the games starting to wear people down, the Fire are going to have to prove that their ascent is legitimate. They’ll have to prove that June’s run was no lie, that the early goals were a bunch of mistakes, errors, blips - not what defines them.

05 July 11:33 am

Soccer in America is still constructing its infrastructure, and we need engineers. People to build the institutions that will support the weight. One of those engineers is here, with us. If you’ve watched a game in a bar in Chicago you probably already know him.

Tall, beer in hand, iconic rockabilly hat - that’s the ubiquitous German Cowboy. His name is Mike Knueppel, and he’s been in Chicago since 2005. You’ll find him often at the far side of the bar in Cleo’s on Chicago, sometimes in the back room, rarely on the patio, but you can always pick him out by his trademark collection of kits, dozens and dozens of them, all with COWBOY 57 on the back.

We were driving to Toyota Park on Wednesday night talking about all those jerseys. I once saw him change from a German kit to an American one at halftime of their friendly in June. How can one support ALL the teams? What happened to loyalty?

“I wear the shirt of who’s playing,” he said. “But mostly if they have a German player.”

This was hard to take. Aren’t we supposed to live and die for a club? That means hating other clubs, wishing harm on strangers in other colors, “You ain’t got no history,” all of that.

But he was saying something different. You watch because, first of all, you want to watch the game. The game is primary. Then, you have your local allegiance. His is German and Hamburger SV (He founded Hamburger SV Supporters Chicago with a few others.) He cares most of all about the German national team and he’s willing to wear shirts of teams he “can live nicely without,” as he says, like Bayern Munich, because of some of their players.

“I even bought a Bayern Munich shirt recently,” he told me. “I mean I really shocked their supporters, they know I don’t like that team, but as a fellow German I support them internationally.”

I said, “This is troubling. You support players as they come and go? They’re moving around constantly. It’s like rooting for mercenaries.”

“I don’t support only the players. That’s why I have COWBOY (or VAQUERO for Real Madrid) on my shirts with my birth year. At least I know that won’t change. But first you support your local club.”

That’s fine too, but the logic breaks down again because what about the organizations with detestable front offices or ownership groups? (I’m thinking about even some of our Chicago teams’ history.) You can’t just support a team willy-nilly.

“It’s true,” he said. “But you have to support your location.”

And Americans supporting European teams in places they may have never even seen in person?

These to me are the tough questions of support and fandom. What exactly are we doing supporting these teams, all over the world? Thankfully, seated in Toyota Park to watch our shared, indisputable, actual home team, we could lay the question aside for 90 minutes or so.

Fun game, too, right? Nice how the rain broke and the night warmed up. Dilly Duka more than deserved the standing ovation he got as he came off in the 87th. The Cowboy and I enjoyed watching him absolutely terrorize Quakes right back Steven Beitashour.

The night was beautiful. Leaving the stadium, I was mumbling about how we fans deserve these nights. Those cold, grinding results early in the season were tough. You could feel the fans’ relief at the result. No disappointment this time. Wednesday night was even better because of the challenge and drama; San Jose wouldn’t die, but the Fire earned the three points with three beautifully worked goals. “They won, that’s all that matters,” the Cowboy said. “Fans love the win.”

There’s a long story for how the Cowboy got to Chicago, a story including four weeks at the Presidential towers in 1987, karaoke, his wife Sharon, the city of Seattle, software programming - it’s a story that he might tell you if you see him at Cleo’s. He’s not afraid to share.

And in some ways, it’s fitting that he’s around. The Cowboy embodies the 21st century globalized soccer paradigm. He can watch his Bundesliga, follow die Mannschaft, and participate in the growth of soccer in America, all from a comfortable neighborhood bar in Chicago. His work developing Cleo’s website and social presence has made it one of the primary soccer locations in Chicago and turned heads nationally. Maybe most importantly, his unofficial freelance soccer ambassadorship has brought people from all over the world together.

You’ll see him meeting with local supporter clubs (some of which he founded himself) like those of Dortmund and Hamburg, as well as Section 8, the Fire, ESPN, and just last week, in the beer garden, you would’ve seen him watching Uruguay and Italy in the Confederations Cup with Hamburg’s senator of the interior and highest ranking police officer.

Ever since he convinced Cleo’s to let him fix up their site and control their Facebook page, and with the blessing and help of Stephen behind the bar, the Cowboy has been our handyman, fixing up games and posting schedules so we can watch American and European soccer at our ease. “I wanted a bar where I know them and they know me and I get there they put the drink on the bar,” he said. “Where I can watch all the games and they’ll open early.”

In other words, it’s not really about the fanaticism of watching games. Going back to our conversation about supporting clubs, it became clear to me that the whole “it’s what’s on the front of the jersey, not the back of the jersey” thing is cheesy and doesn’t apply - just having a jersey is what matters. In this way, the Cowboy is critical in experience-making. He’s not an owner of the bar, or even an employee - he’s one of us. His work setting up games and events at Cleo’s, with just watching the game as the goal, means that there’s less pressure to know esoteric European stadium statistics, or to spew hatred for teams thousands of miles away.

Maybe that’s the answer about why we support who and how. Maybe we just support the game. Watch the game for the game’s sake. Love the game. Talk to people. Drink beer. Amen.

Ben Schuman-Stoler is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @bsto.

04 July 5:27 pm

Part of Fire forward Mike Magee's incredible run of form since joining the Men in Red back on May 25 will be featured in Friday's episode of "MLS Insider" LIVE at 6:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network.

Check out the trailer below: