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27 September 1:10 pm

Since the start of the 2012 MLS season, the Fire have added six new players to the roster. With the Men in Red set to battle for first place tomorrow, Friday Sept. 28 against Sporting Kansas City at 7:30 p.m. CT on the NBC Sports Network, it’s hard to argue against the impact that the newest players have had on the team.
 
Here is a quick look at the Fire’s midseason acquisitions:
 
Chris Rolfe
Rolfe returned for his second stint with the Fire on April 16. Having suffered an ankle sprain in his first week back that kept him out commission for two months, Rolfe made his Fire “re-debut” on June 2 in a 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution. Since then, Rolfe has started 14 of 17 games and now leads the team in scoring with 8 goals. Rolfe has two multi-goal games so far this season, scoring two goals in a 3-1 win over the Philadelphia Union on Aug. 12 and two goals in a 2-1 win over the Columbus Crew on Sept. 22. The veteran Fire forward has five games left to hit double-digit goals, a feat he never accomplished before leaving for Denmark in 2009.
 
Alex
Brazilian attacker Alex joined the Fire from Swiss side FC Wohlen on April 26. Alex has two goals to his credit in 13 appearances. Having started five games, the Brazilian attacker has found fire of late, scoring both of his spectacular goals during the month of September in 3-1 wins over Houston (September 2) and Montreal (September 15).
 
Sherjill MacDonald

Sherjill MacDonald signed with the Fire on July 24 from Belgian club Beerschot AC. In nine games for the Men in Red, the former Dutch youth international has two goals and three assists to his name. Since earning his first start on Aug. 12 against the Philadelphia Union, MacDonald has started seven consecutive matches, helping the Men in Red to a 6-1-0 record in those matches.
 
Alvaro Fernandez
Uruguayan playmaker Alvaro Fernandez joined the Men in Red via trade from Seattle Sounders FC on July 27. Fernandez, who has made seven starts in eight games, scored his first Fire goal on Sept. 12 against Toronto FC. Just three days later, Fernandez scored his second goal of the season and added an assist in a 3-1 win over the Montreal Impact on Sept. 15.
 
Wells Thompson
Thompson joined the Fire in a trade from the Colorado Rapids on Sept. 10. Thompson, a 2010 MLS Cup winner with the Rapids, provides additional depth to a strong Fire midfield, and has made three appearances off the bench in his young Fire career.
 
Guillermo Franco
On Sept. 14, the Fire announced that the club signed two-time World Cup veteran and Mexican international forward Guillermo Franco. Franco saw his first action in a Fire shirt in MLS Reserve League action when the Fire defeated FC Dallas 2-1 on Sept. 18. Franco, who has yet to make his first team debut, is available for selection by Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas when the Men in Red take on Sporting Kansas City on Friday, Sept. 28.

24 September 11:37 am

With a 2-1 victory over the Columbus Crew Saturday evening, the Chicago Fire maintained their hold on second place in the tightly-packed Eastern Conference. After Crew forward Jairo Arrieta capitalized on a rare defensive miscue, Fire forward Chris Rolfe lead the charge with two goals in three minutes for a big Fire victory. Catch all of the highlights here.

Rolfe, who now leads the team in scoring with eight goals, was glad the Fire were able to convert their chances as  he said it’ll get tougher towards the end of the season.

The victory marked the eight time this season the Fire were able to come from behind to take the full three points, which Rolfe calls, “A good thing.”

One of the reasons the Men in Red were able to bounce back so quickly from the defensive gaffe that lead to the Columbus goal was the team’s positive mentality, which according to Fire Head Coach Frank Klopas, was evident in the team’s reaction.

Tim Howard, currently the top ‘keeper for the U.S. Men’s National Team, told Soccer by Ives that for Sean Johnson and his fellow young, American ‘keepers, while growing pains are inevitable, “The sky is the limit.”

With the result, the Fire remained in second place in Jeff Carlisle’s most recent Power Rankings for ESPN, setting up for an exciting match on Friday night against Sporting Kansas City, who are ranked third this week.

The Guardian says that there is “no doubt” that Friday night’s clash for first place under the lights of LIVESTRONG Sporting is a must-watch, so make sure to “clear your diaries.”

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 9:00 am

Another game, another win for the Fire last weekend against Eastern Conference rivals Montreal Impact. The task gets a little harder this week when Columbus Crew come to Toyota Park on Saturday night looking for the points they need to stay in playoff contention. Columbus will be buoyed by their last gasp winner against Chivas USA on Wednesday night at Crew Stadium but they come up against a Fire team that has only lost one of its last eight games. Here are a few things to look out for on Saturday night.

Balls over the top: a Crew potential weakness

The Crew center back pairing of Chad Marshall and Julius James have had some trouble this season with balls played over the top into the path of an on-running striker. This was especially evident in the Crew's match against New York last weekend.

In one case, Rafa Marquez played a brilliant ball over Marshall’s head for Henry to score. Dax McCarty also played Henry in over the top from a more advanced position than Marquez which almost led to a goal.

Even though it’s not really the Fire’s game, the midfielders, especially players like Fernandez, Pause and Pardo should be on the lookout for chances to play Rolfe and potentially Nyarko in over the top, if the opportunity arises.

HIGHLIGHTS: CLB 1, CHV 0 (9/19/2012)

 

Federico Higuain - don't allow him room to cross

Federico Higuain has boosted the Crew attack dramatically since arriving a few months ago. His crossing ability as well as his excellent free kicks make him a threat against any team.

Against a similar sort of danger man in Felipe last week, the Fire dropped Logan Pause deeper to prevent the Brazilian from operating in the space between the midfield and back line. Higuain does that but also likes to move out wide where he can put in teasing crosses.

Against Philadelphia in August the Fire allowed Freddy Adu too much space to cross and it resulted in a goal. The team should look to prevent something similar from happening on Saturday night.

Playing 90 minutes plus: no switching off

This Crew have had a love/hate relationship with the last 15 minutes of games this season. They have conceded quite a few goals late in games but in recent weeks, they are reversing that trend. The last gasp winner last week against Chivas USA is one example. Earlier this month, the Crew came from behind to beat Montreal in the 93rd minute.

Though not necessarily a tactical point, you can be sure that head coach Frank Klopas told his team this week that they cannot shut off against the Crew and that giving up a late goal could be very harmful in the push for first place in the East.

On the other side of the coin, Columbus have proven that they are guilty to shutting off late in games and this could come back to haunt them against a Fire team who have capitalized on their opponents mistakes time and time again this season.

Prediction: 2-1 Fire with goals from MacDonald and Oduro. 

Stephen Piggott is a Contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.

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).

11 September 8:31 am

After a massive home win against Houston and a morale boosting come-from-behind draw against Santos Laguna in an exhibition match, the Fire travel to Toronto full of confidence for Wednesday night's game at BMO Field. In contrast, Toronto are missing some key players through a combination of injury, suspension and international call-ups. Here are a few things to look out for in Wednesday night's match:

Terry Dunfield - how to replace a missing captain

The Fire lost captain fantastic Logan Pause due to lung and rib injuries against Philadelphia on August 12. Fortunately, the Fire had strength in depth with Alvaro Fernandez and Daniel Paladini filling the central role in Logan’s absence. Toronto do not have the luxury of a Paladini or Fernandez to replace their missing captain Terry Dunfield who, like Pause, is the heart and soul of the team.

Dunfield, like Pavel Pardo covers a lot of ground in the center of midfield and is essential to breaking up opponents attacks but also starting them for TFC. He has also scored some big goals this season including one in a recent away draw with Houston. Dunfield's absence is good news for Chris Rolfe who will look to exploit the more inexperienced potential replacements for Dunfield, namely Aaron Maund and Matt Stinson.

Long balls - TFC's bread and butter

Toronto have found some success in the long ball tactic, often bypassing the midfield altogether and looking for a flick on or knock down from Ryan Johnson and co. Johnson will be missing on Wednesday night but this will not stop TFC looking to kick it long at every possible opportunity.

The Fire back line will need to keep a close eye on TFC striker Eric Hassli who is always on the shoulder of the last defender looking for a ball over the top or a flick on. The long ball tactic also put a heavy emphasis on winning second balls. Stopping TFC from getting scoring chances from second balls is essential.

Possession - looking for more of the ball vs. TFC

In the Fire’s last game against Houston, their opponents had more than double the amount of possession. Though the Fire set up to play that way, I think we will see a much different game plan Wednesday night. The Fire will look to possess the ball for long stretches, looking do draw out TFC and create space for the attacking players to move into.

Kansas City held over 70% of the possession against TFC on September 1 and eventually broke them down, coming behind to win 2-1. The Fire will need to be patient, but their constant pressure should lead to goals.

When broken into 15 minute intervals, TFC have allowed the most goals this season from the 75th to 90th minute - another reason for the Fire to stay patient on Wednesday night.

Darren O'Dea - potential weak link in the back

In an interview on Monday night, TFC center back Darren O'Dea looked exhausted, and who could blame him? O'Dea had just returned from Kazakhstan where he played the full 90 minutes for the Republic of Ireland in their 2-1 victory on Friday. O'Dea also admitted that he was battling a cold but said he would be ready for Wednesday night.

Though very good in the air, O'Dea lacks pace and his partnership with Richard Eckersley is in its infancy. The Fire should be looking to get in 1v1 situations with O'Dea as often as possible bearing in mind his transatlantic excursions and illness. The Fire have managed to do this in the recent past, most notably when Sherjill MacDonald was able to turn Bakary Soumare and set up Chris Rolfe for an easy finish against Philadelphia.

The TFC coaching staff have been singing the praises of O'Dea since he joined the team but Wednesday's match is a potential banana skin for the Irishman .

Prediction: If the Fire stay patient, the goals will inevitably come. 2-0 Fire with goals from Chris Rolfe and Austin Berry.

31 August 8:34 am


Stopping Dynamo midfielder Oscar Boniek Garcia is one key to three points Sunday vs. Houston

Having had over ten days to ponder the loss to DC, the Fire take to the field Sunday night at Toyota Park against the Houston Dynamo. (NBC 5.2/Galavision 6:00pm CT) Houston have had their own slips of late but will be looking to take away some points in a massive Eastern Conference match up. Here are a few things to look out for tactically.

Right back starter: Jalil Anibaba or Dan Gargan?

In the past few games, Jalil Anibaba has started over Dan Gargan at right back. Though not playing in his natural position, Jalil has used his athleticism and speed to make the transition to the outside. After a tough game against DC, some fans were calling for the return of Gargan but, against Houston, Anibaba’s aerial abilities will be needed.

Everyone knows that Dominic Kinnear’s team makes its living on scoring from set pieces. The Dynamo are a big side and Anibaba's height will be needed to deal with the likes of Will Bruin and Macoumba Kandji

WATCH: Fire vs. Dynamo Preview

Double team in the left: Neutralize Kandji

In Houston's last two league matches, Kandji had two completely different performances. Against Toronto, especially in the first half, he was excellent, running at the defenders, latching on to long balls over the top and also bringing the ball inside to link up with his strike partners and advancing play makers.

The week before against Columbus, Kandji was effectively shut out of the game by being double teamed. Columbus also didn't allow him any room to operate out wide which made him a non-factor in the game. If the Fire continue their favored formation, either Patrick Nyarko or Alvaro Fernandez will need to drop to support Anibaba and prevent Kandji from getting in 1v1 situations.

Stop Davis and Garcia: plugging the middle

Against DC last week, Chris Rolfe was unable to operate because United packed the midfield. I can see the Fire deploying the same technique against Houston and their two deep lying play makers: Brad Davis (if healthy) and Boniek Garcia. Both are given license to roam, and do so eagerly knowing that recently returned midfielder Ricardo Clark is staying behind to protect the back four.

The movement and passing ability of Davis and Garcia is Houston's biggest threat and if the Fire can stop both players from creating, it will cut off the supply line to the attacking three. The outside midfielders, especially Fernandez who has experience playing in the middle, will need to tuck in as much as possible to help out Pavel Pardo and Daniel Paladini.

This, of course, leaves a lot of space out wide for the outside backs to move into but it is a worthwhile risk if it prevents Davis and Garcia from linking with the attacking three.

Biggest strength and biggest weakness: midfield

For all the talk of Houston's attacking talents from midfield, the weakness of the 4-3-3 system is that it only contains one defensive midfielder. Ricardo Clark may be one of the best holding midfielders in the league but he can easily be exploited if the Fire can transition quickly from defensive to attack.

Columbus did this to perfection against the Dynamo in their recent 2-2 draw. Houston's center backs like to come forward to help Clark out in an attempt to cut off balls into the target forward (in the Fire’s case, Sherjill MacDonald) and this creates gaps that someone like Chris Rolfe can move into.

In this formation, Rolfe should have more room to create and we all saw how effective that was against New England. Because Houston is playing away from home, they won't be as inclined to attack as the would be at home but on the occasions that they do get men forward, the Fire must be ready to pounce.

Prediction: Chicago Fire 1, Houston Dynamo 1 with Sherjill MacDonald bagging his second goal for the Fire.

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com. Follow him on Twitter @irish_steve.

17 August 8:27 am

The Fire face yet another Eastern Conference foe at home this week: New England. The clubs appear to be heading in opposite directions with Frank Klopas’ side only losing one of their last five while the Revs have lost four out of five but the Men in Red can’t overlook this one. Here are a few things to watch out for from a tactical standpoint.

Who will replace the captain? Logan out 4-6 weeks

Last week’s 3-1 win in Philly was very costly, namely because of the injury to captain Logan Pause who, to date, has had yet another stellar year. With Logan out for at least a month, two major questions arise – who should replace him in the lineup and should his injury force the Fire to change their tactics? The answer to the second question is almost certainly no. The tactic of two holding midfielders has served the Fire well this season and there is no need to change it.

Replacing Logan is a difficult task but the Fire certainly to have options. Fernandez slotted in for Logan in the second half against Philly but players like Corben Bone, Mike Videira, Daniel Paladini and Victor Pineda can all play in the center of midfield.

Having this many options is a luxury for coach Klopas but the obvious candidate in my eyes is Fernandez. He is the most experienced MLS midfielder and did a fine job in that position last week. Fernandez also didn’t play in Wednesday’s reserve game which could be another indication that he will be getting the start alongside Pardo.

Shots from Distance: Be Wary

Though New England haven't scored too many goals of late, its not for lack of trying. Midfielders, Lee Nguyen, Saër Sène (sometimes a striker) and Benny Feilhaber are all not afraid to pull the trigger from distance. Just a few weeks ago, Sène scored an absolutely brilliant goal against the Union, cutting in from the right before blasting it past Zack MacMath.

 

PREVIEW: Fire vs. NE

 

Nguyen scored a goal-of-the-season candidate earlier this season when he volleyed the ball from outside the box into the top corner. The Fire cannot allow the Revs' midfielders space to shoot from the outside. New England will also have target man Jerry Bengtson back from international duty and will be looking to him to provide layoffs for shots from the outside. 

 

Chris Tierney: A Threat from the Left

New England have deployed different formations in its past two games but one thing that hasn't changed is the team’s reliance on left back Chris Tierney to get forward to provide crosses into the box. Against KC, Nguyen constantly pushed inside to allow space for Tierney to move into on the left.

Against Montreal last week, New England played with one striker but again the Revs made room for Tierney on the outside to get the ball in the box. The players pushing inside also meant that New England had numerous players waiting to attack Tierney's crosses instead of just the forwards. In both of the past two games, the Revs have pushed Tierney up in advanced positions while keeping the outside right defender on more a leash.

If the Fire do indeed bring Fernandez into the middle it will be up to his replacement (presumably Nyarko) to track back and help either Jalil Anibaba or Dan Gargan when Tierney gets pushes forward into the attack.

PREDICTION: Chicago Fire 2, New England Revolution 0 with goals from Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald

Stephen Piggott is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com, follow him on Twitter @Irish_Steve.

13 August 12:53 pm

The Comeback Kids were at it again. The Chicago Fire moved into fourth place in the Eastern Conference with the sixth come-from-behind victory of the season as the Fire dispatched the Philadelphia Union 3-1. Chris Rolfe’s brace and Arne Friedrich’s first MLS goal helped the Men in Red escape Philadelphia with the full three points. Catch all of the highlights here.
 
Though his brace Sunday evening was the fourth time the veteran striker scored multiple goals in a Fire match, Rolfe said that he thinks there’s still room for improvement. “I think overall it was okay,” said Rolfe. “I had quite a few mistakes that I need to work on.”
 
While there’s always room for improvement, folks are already noting the Fire’s recent run of good form.  In his most recent MLS Power Rankings for ESPN, Jeff Carlisle had the Fire in fifth place, up one spot from last week.
 
ESPN wasn’t the only one to notice how well the Fire players have been performing. Three Fire players, goalkeeper Sean Johnson (United States), midfielder Marco Pappa (Guatemala) and forward Orr Barouch (Israel U-21) were all called up for international duty to represent their respective nations on the upcoming Aug. 15 FIFA international date.
 
On a more bittersweet note, the Fire announced this morning that midfielder Marco Pappa has signed a pre-contract with Dutch Eredivisie side SC Heerenveen and will join the club when the transfer window opens Jan. 1, 2013. Pappa will finish out the season with the Fire. “I plan to do the club proud,” said Pappa, “And put everything I have into the remaining matches with the Fire.”