(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.
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.
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).
In this edition of Burning Questions we sat down with defender Jalil Anibaba. Now in his second season with the Fire, Jalil has put together a solid sophomore season, starting 26 of his 27 appearances. An integral part of a solid Fire defense, he has also contributed on the offensive side, scoring one goal and adding one assist. A native of Davis, Calif., Jalil was selected ninth overall in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. Jalil took the time to answer our Burning Questions about his hidden talents, his favorite birthday memory and what it’s like to own canaries.
Always on the Inside: You were named the Gatorade California Player of the Year for Soccer in 2006-07. What’s your favorite Gatorade flavor?
Jalil Anibaba: Probably Glacier Freeze. Light blue.
AOTI: What is the most embarrassing song on your iPod?
JA: Probably a song of myself. I wouldn’t say I sing a lot but it’s a hobby of mine.
AOTI: Are you going to make us a mix tape?
JA: No. Definitely not. That’s why it’s one of the most embarrassing things on my iPod.
AOTI: Who plays Jalil Anibaba in the Jalil Anibaba movie?
JA: Probably one of my brothers because they know me so well, they’d be able to portray my character in the best light.
AOTI: Your brother Jammil and yourself look remarkably alike. How often do people confuse the two of you and have you ever used your similar looks to trick people?
JA: We’ve never used our similar looks to deceive people on purpose. In Chicago we get confused for each other pretty often. It happens a lot up in the Stadium Club after games but it’s great having my brother here for support. It’s awesome.
AOTI: Your birthday, which is on October 19, is almost exactly one month away. What’s your favorite birthday memory?
JA: I would say being back in Davis when I was younger, in my teenage years and before that. My birthdays were always special because they were times when the whole family was together. My grandmother would always come and make my favorite cake, Lemon Pound Cake. We would just have dinner together, so they were great times and great experiences.
AOTI: Last year you put together a very solid rookie season, starting 27 of 29 matches and registering three goals (one of which became the team's Goal of the Year) and one assist. This year the Fire have another rookie defender, Austin Berry, who is putting together similar numbers. Do you consider him your protégé and have you ever called him Jalil Jr.? What do you think of him following in your footsteps?
JA: No, I definitely don’t think of Austin as a Jalil protégé. Simply because I’m still a young player and I’m still trying to prove myself day in and day out. I think Austin has done a tremendous job learning on the curve, and that’s part of being a rookie. His future is definitely bright.
AOTI: What’s a typical day like in the life of Jalil Anibaba?
JA: I wake up for training, come to the stadium in the morning, and put in my day’s work as far as my profession is concerned.
Once I leave the stadium, the day is pretty slow. I like to get a nap in after training and then pretty much after the nap, it’s all about getting ready for the next day, so eating well, resting, watching either a movie or a couple of TV shows and just being ready for the next day.
AOTI: What TV shows do you like?
JA: There are a couple series that I’ve been intrigued with lately. I’m happy that season five of “Sons of Anarchy” started again; that’s one of my top choices. I was into “Damages” but that show is done now. I’m a big fan of “Suits.” With time on my hands I like to indulge in different TV series to entertain myself.
Reality TV is something that me and my brother and some of my friends like to get into. We watch “Love & Hip Hop” and “The Voice” to keep things light hearted.”
AOTI: Do you have any hidden talents?
JA: When I was young I used to skateboard and I used to yo-yo. I’m a little rusty but maybe I could still do some tricks.
AOTI: Your dad raises canaries. What’s the most interesting thing about canaries?
JA: What’s interesting about them is that the males sing, and they sing beautifully. If you’re ever to come to my house back in Davis, you’ll definitely hear birds singing, and it’s a great, great sound.
Well, things didn’t go our way last night.
Out East, Sporting KC did what no one else has done this season, using two goals inside the first 20 minutes from C.J. Sapong and Kei Kamara to defeat New York at Red Bull Arena 2-0. From the offset, it seemed a game that New York wasn’t quite up for as Sporting dictated the play, much to the visible frustration of Red Bull captain Thierry Henry.
HIGHLIGHTS: SKC 2, NYRB 0 (9/19/2012)
Both teams face a quick turnaround for Saturday as KC (54pts.) heads to Montreal (39pts.) for a matinee kick (12pm CT on MLS Live/Direct Kick) while New York (49pts.) visits New England (6:30pm CT MLS Live/Direct Kick).
A little bit closer to home, Columbus found another late winner, this time an 89th minute strike from substitute Justin Meram to earn a 1-0 victory and a valuable three home points over Chivas USA. The win keeps the East race very tight as the Crew (45pts.) leaped back over D.C. United (44pts.) and into final playoff spot in the East.
All it will take for the Crew to be bumped back down to sixth is a D.C. United draw Thursday night when they visit the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park (7pm CT on ESPN2).
Of course, United is favored and expected to win. If they do, they’ll jump all the way back over Columbus and Houston (46pts.) and into fourth place in the East.
- Red Bull has shown they are in fact beatable at home, which is good with the Fire heading there in just over two weeks.
- The Fire maintain second place in the Eastern Conference with a game in hand on both first place Sporting KC and third place Red Bull.
- Red Bull is just 4-18-5 all-time at New England. In a span that stretches almost exactly 10 years back to the MetroStars era, New York hasn’t won in Foxboro in 15 matches, going 0-11-4 since the streak began on September 21, 2002.
HIGHLIGHTS: CLB 1, CHV 0 (9/19/2012)
- Sporting KC midfielder Roger Espinoza picked up a yellow card and will now be suspended for the team’s game Saturday at Montreal, where the Impact are 10-3-2 this season.
- The Fire hold a game in hand on all but D.C. United.
- Albeit with a game in hand, Sporting has opened up a four point lead on the Fire for first place in the East. Even if the Fire win Saturday and Sporting loses, the team will still be one point behind KC.
- The Fire are just six points ahead of sixth place in the East, leaving little room for error.
- Houston, D.C. United and Columbus all have much easier schedules than the top three teams, indicating a Top 3 Eastern Conference finish is far from a certainty.
Montreal vs. Sporting KC – 12pm CT (Direct Kick/MLS Live/TSN)
New England vs. New York – 6:30pm CT (Direct Kick/MLS Live)
Chicago vs. Columbus – 7:30pm CT (NBC 5.2)
Philadelphia vs. Houston – 3pm CT (Direct Kick/MLS Live)
D.C. United vs. Chivas USA – 6pm CT (Galavision)
With a 3-1 victory over the Montreal Impact on Saturday evening, the Chicago Fire moved into second place in the Eastern Conference. After falling behind in the 20th minute, the Fire’s trio of midseason acquisitions Sherjill MacDonald, Alex (whose goal is up for MLS Goal of the Week) and Alvaro Fernandez lead the charge as the Men in Red scored three unanswered goals. Catch all of the highlights here.
MacDonald, who hadn’t found the back of the net in nearly a month, said that a chat with Head Coach Frank Klopas helped him relax and alleviate the pressure that he put on himself, leading to his goal Saturday night.
With six game remaining in the MLS Regular Season, the Fire are within reach of a ‘ridiculous’ goal of 60 points that they set during preseason. “We’re going for it,” said midfielder Patrick Nyarko.
As the Fire continue to gain points, folks are taking note of the Fire’s recent run of good form. In his most recent MLS Power Rankings for ESPN, Jeff Carlisle had the Fire in second place, up three spots from last week.
ESPN wasn’t the only one taking notice as the Fire were named Soccer by Ives’ Team of the Week.
The Fire’s run of form could be attributed to the current depth of the squad as the Fire continued to make moves prior to the MLS Roster Freeze on Friday. On Monday, Sept. 10 the Fire acquired midfielder Wells Thompson from the Colorado Rapids and on Friday, Sept. 14 the Men in Red added two-time World Cup veteran and Mexican international Guillermo Franco.
Sporting KC just barely rescued first place at the top of the East while the Fire, Red Bulls and United all tightened up the race… An updated breakdown of the week and month and a half a head in this edition of Playoff Math…
WATCH: SKC 1, HOU 1 (9/14/2012)
1) Sporting KC
Current Points: 51
Games Remaining: 6 (2 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 69
Average Opponents Points: 42.6
Remaining Schedule: at New York (9/19), at Montreal (9/22), vs. Chicago (9/28), at Columbus (10/7), at New York (10/20), vs. Philadelphia (10/24).
The Rundown: By virtue of C.J. Sapong’s late header to equalize with Houston on Friday night, Sporting KC still controls their own destiny for first in the East , if only just barely. The team enters this week with two big away matches, facing third-place Red Bull at midweek and Montreal on Saturday.
Neither game will be easy. With their 3-1 win over Columbus Saturday night, New York moved to 10-0-3 overall at home and a perfect 8-0-0 vs. the Eastern Conference at Red Bull Arena. While those stats are daunting, if Sporting are going to finish first in the East, they’ll likely have to find a way to take four points from this game and their next visit to New York on October 20. If New York stays consistent and beats another East team at home, they will at least momentarily move to first in the East.
Sporting will then head to a somewhat down-trodden Montreal side whose playoff hopes seem only mathematical at this point. Despite that, the Impact’s home form combined with KC playing on just three days rest, will make this a very difficult game for Sporting.
This could be a week where Sporting puts a stamp on the Eastern Conference lead or gives it up completely…
2) Chicago Fire
Current Points: 50
Games Remaining: 6 (3 home, 3 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 68
Average Opponents Points: 40.1
Remaining Schedule: vs. Columbus (9/22), at Sporting KC (9/28), vs. Philadelphia (10/3), at New York (10/6), at New England (10/20), vs. D.C. United (10/27)
WATCH: CHI 3, MTL 1 (9/15/2012)
The Rundown: The Fire had a huge week, taking six points at Toronto FC and at home to Montreal Saturday night. In neither match did the team play a complete game but Fire fans should feel confident in the fact that the team is 1) capable of coming back from a deficit to win and 2) can have a bad day and still earn three points and 3) with six wins from their last seven, are the hottest team in Major League Soccer.
With KC drawing the night before and both New York and D.C. winning earlier Saturday, the pressure was certainly on the Fire to get the three points in order to maintain second place in the east. With KC playing New York as well as D.C. playing Philadelphia at midweek, there’s chance the Fire could momentarily fall from that spot and it seems almost certain things will tighter heading into the weekend.
That all matters very little as long as the Fire continue to hold serve at home and defeat a Columbus team on short rest Saturday night to set up a humongous match at Sporting KC the following Friday.
3) New York Red Bulls
Current Points: 49
Games Remaining: 6 (4 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 67
Average Opponents Points: 38.1
Remaining Schedule: vs. Sporting KC (9/19), at New England (9/22), vs. Toronto FC (9/29), vs. Chicago (10/6), vs. Sporting KC (10/20), at Philadelphia (10/27)
The Rundown: This is also the week in which New York can really make their claim for first in the East. If they can take advantage of their perfect home record vs. the Conference and earn three points on Wednesday vs. KC before doing what’s expected at eighth place New England on the weekend, they’ll find themselves on top.
Taking care of business this week would also be huge as Red Bull will have four matches remaining, three at home and two of those against direct top of the East competitors Chicago and Kansas City in October. It’s also worth nothing that of the top three, Hans Backe’s side has easiest schedules to finish the season as their opponent’s point average equals out to 38.1
4) Houston Dynamo
Current Points: 46
Games Remaining: 5 (3 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 61
Average Opponents Points: 30
Remaining Schedule: at Philadelphia (9/23), vs. New England (9/29), vs. Montreal (10/6), vs. Philadelphia (10/20), at Colorado (10/27)
The Rundown: Houston nearly took three points from Kansas City Friday night in a match that many didn’t expect them to take any. While they’ll be disappointed in giving up a late equalizer, the Dynamo by far have the easiest schedule of anyone in the East from here on out, with their five games coming against teams outside of their Conference’s Top five and three games remaining at BBVA Compass Stadium.
It would be a reasonable expectation for the Dynamo to take 12-15 points and really keep themselves in the conversation for a Top 3 spot as the Fire, New York and Kansas City all have matches remaining against each other.
5) DC United
Current Points: 44
Games Remaining: 6 (2 home, 4 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 62
Average Opponents Points: 32.8
Remaining Schedule: at Philadelphia (9/20), vs. Chivas USA (9/23), at Portland (9/29), at Toronto FC (10/6), vs. Columbus (10/20), at Chicago (10/27)
WATCH: NY 3, CLB 1 (9/15/2012)
The Rundown: No DeRo, no problem. D.C. United found a way to be victorious without their captain in Saturday night’s 2-1 victory over New England, effectively leaping over Columbus and into the final playoff spot in the East. Much like Houston, United have a very easy upcoming schedule to make things even tighter in the East as they face the literal bottom four teams in Major League Soccer over their next four games.
The only problem is that three of those four come on the road where United hasn’t been great this season (3-9-0). Nonetheless, if D.C. can take maximum points from the next four, they’ll put themselves not only in a good position to qualify for the playoffs but a chance to finish a bit higher than fifth.
6) Columbus Crew
Current Points: 42
Games Remaining: 6 (4 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 60
Average Opponents Points: 37
Remaining Schedule: vs. Chivas USA (9/19), at Chicago (9/22), vs. Philadelphia (9/29), vs. Sporting KC (10/7), at D.C. United (10/20), vs. Toronto FC (10/28).
The Rundown: In a previous edition of Playoff Math, I said that I wasn’t yet convinced of the Crew’s run up the table because during their four-game winning streak, they’d played three of the worst teams in the East.
A trip to Gillette Stadium caused a somewhat surprising 2-0 loss before the international break and then Saturday night’s visit to Red Bull Arenas saw a less surprising 3-1 defeat for the Crew. The two losses have Columbus now back on the outside looking in. Though they have two matches over the next seven days just like KC, New York and D.C., it’s safe to say the week ahead could be very telling for the Crew’s playoff chances.
The Crew should expect to defeat Western Conference bottom dwellers Chivas USA at home on Wednesday but their visit to Chicago, will be very difficult as the Fire haven’t fallen to an Eastern Conference team at home since October 12, 2010, going 12-0-5 in that time.
7) Montreal Impact
Current Points: 39
Games Remaining: 4 (2 home, 2 away)
Maximum Possible Points: 51
Average Opponents Points: 36.7
Remaining Schedule: vs. Sporting KC (9/22), at Houston (10/6), at Toronto FC (10/20), vs. New England (10/27)
The Rundown: Montreal’s really just run out of game but it doesn’t mean they can’t affect the Eastern Conference playoff race (which they still sort of remain in). The Impact’s home form has had me mark this Saturday’s game vs. Sporting KC as one that really have implications on the top of the East while a point at Houston isn’t completely out of the cards either.
After October 6, Montreal could mathematically be out as they face two other teams that are already that way.
I’m not a huge fan of predictions but I got all the East’s playoff related results correct this weekend so, I’ll go with three midweek predictions…
New York 2, Sporting KC 1
Columbus 1, Chivas USA 0
D.C. United 2, Philadelphia 1
Sega 200. No that isn't a new gaming console.
Seeing as Gonzalo Segares has only missed three regular season matches the past two seasons, it seems a good bet that the eight-year Fire veteran will record his 200th competitive appearance for the Men in Red when the side welcomes the Montreal Impact to Toyota Park Saturday night.
The Costa Rican international enters the match having racked up 172 regular season, 12 MLS Cup playoff, 12 U.S. Open Cup and three SuperLiga appearances since his rookie year of 2005.
Not a bad haul for a guy that saw 34 other names called before his in that year’s MLS SuperDraft.
Sega Plays All Parts in the 2011 Capital Comeback
“I’m very excited,” Segares told Chicago-Fire.com Friday afternoon. “In this day and age it’s definitely not an easy thing to play 200 games with the same team. It’s something I’m really proud of.”
If not for an injury riddled 2009 campaign and his short stint in Europe during the first half of 2010, Segares would have easily hit the mark earlier. It’s still worth noting the veteran really has no equal in terms of consistency at the position over the course of the club’s 15 seasons.
“I’m always thankful for the Fire to have given me the opportunity. Since 2005, it’s been a long road -- I have memories of very good moments and some tougher ones but it’s been a very positive experience.”
Of those moments, Segares pointed to his first game as a professional (a 2-1 win over Colorado on May 21, 2005), his first goal less than a month later (4-3 loss at D.C. United on June 15). A less fond memory is his stoppage time equalizer that was disallowed in that year’s Eastern Conference final at New England.
More recently, Segares counts playing in front of a sold-out Soldier Field against Manchester United last July and his role in providing two assists in the stunning 2-1 stoppage time “Capital Comeback” last season at D.C as happy memories.
Nothing beats the time he hoisted the 2006 U.S. Open Cup in front of the Fire faithful at Toyota Park.
“That was my first championship as a professional. You can’t replicate a memory like that, especially at home.”
The second longest tenured member of the current squad, Segares recently stated on the All-In Podcast that he wouldn’t mind ending his career as a member of the Fire.
“It’s place where I was given my first chance to become a professional. If I get the opportunity I would love to stay here.”
After beating Toronto 2-1 on Wednesday night, the Fire face Canadian opposition again on Saturday, hosting for the first time Montreal at Toyota Park (LIVE 7:30pm CT on CSN Chicago). Winning games that you don't play well in is the sign of a good team and the Fire certainly showed that against TFC.
Montreal is still fighting to sneak into the MLS Cup Playoffs but the Fire haven't lost to an Eastern Conference foe at home for over two years. Here are some things to look out for in Saturday night’s game:
WATCH: CLB 2, MTL 1 (9/1/2012)
Montreal's formation: back 3 or back 4?
Montreal manager Jesse Marsch has experimented with both a back three and back four this season. When fit, Nelson Rivas, Alessandro Nesta and Matteo Ferrari serve as the first choice defenders and you would be hard pressed to find a more experienced trio in all of MLS. The trio has hundreds of Serie A matches under their belt.
In Montreal's last game they played a back four system away against Columbus and I think we will see the same on Saturday night as the Fire's attacking ability and willingness to push the outside defenders up in support of the wingers would cause big problems for a three back setup.
Experienced defenders = lack of pace
Whenever an opposing team is asked about the Fire, the first aspect of the team's game that every coach and player talks about is "pace." Montreal's defenders may have all the experience in the world but with the Fire they come up against a team that has the ability to beat them with speed.
In his last two games, Patrick Nyarko has used his pace to devastating effect, blowing by the Houston defense to score after less than a minute and forcing the Toronto back line into making mistakes by applying pressure high up the field. Nyarko was also very dangerous on the break, especially after Toronto set pieces.
Patrick played very high up the field against TFC on Wednesday, almost as a third striker, and I think that will continue against the Impact.
Felipe - the often overlooked danger man
In attack, Montreal have two excellent wingers in Davy Arnaud and Justin Mapp. For the past decade, both players have consistently helped their teams by scoring goals but more importantly netting assists.
WATCH: CHI 2, TOR 1 (9/12/2012)
For the Impact, both play in the wide positions and distract from Felipe who is more central. He can fade in and out of games but he is very capable of providing a killer assist. Philadelphia were so concerned about his attacking threat that they man marked him for the entire match. I don't think the Fire will follow suit, but they cannot solely focus on the wide men and neglect Filipe.
Fire offense: finish your chances
In the game against TFC on Wednesday night, the Men in Red were once again guilty of missing too many excellent goal scoring opportunities. Those misses made the game a lot closer than it should have been, especially after TFC pulled it back to 2-1 in the second half.
Pavel Pardo and Sherjill MacDonald were both guilty of missing after going 1v1 against TFC 'keeper, Milos Kocic. Obviously not every chance will result in a goal but I would expect that coach Frank Klopas was stressing the importance of taking your chances to the players this week.
With the playoff race in the Eastern Conference so tight, a goal or two here and there could be the difference between coming 1st and 3rd in the final standings.
Prediction: 2-0 Fire. Frank Klopas' side take their sixth win in seven matches with goals from MacDonald and Nyarko.
Despite a plethora of chances, the Fire didn’t make things easy on themselves Wednesday night in Toronto. Going up 2-0 with goals from Alvaro Fernandez and Chris Rolfe before halftime, the Fire had plenty of chances but couldn’t put Toronto out of its misery with a third goal.
Eric Hassli’s 79th minute strike and Toronto’s constant pressure late kept things interesting but Frank Klopas’ side found away to lock things down at the back and grind out another important three points on the road.
Ugly as it may have been at times, at the end of the day, Frank Klopas’ side still came away with a valuable away win and catapulted itself into second place in the East. The team now sits even on games played (27) and one point ahead (47) of the New York Red Bulls (46).
Heading into Saturday’s game vs. Montreal, there’s a chance the Fire could sit atop the East by the end of the weekend.
WEEKEND PLAYOFF IMPLICATION SCHEDULE
Sporting KC vs. Houston Dynamo – 7:30pm CT (NBC Sports Network)
New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew – 6:00pm CT (MLS Live, Direct Kick)
D.C. United vs. New England – 6:30pm CT (MLS Live, Direct Kick)
Chicago Fire vs. Montreal Impact – 7:30pm CT (CSN Chicago)
Let’s put things in perspective…
WATCH: Sporting KC 0, Houston 0 (7/7/2012)
One of two huge matches in the East this weekend is Friday’s nights encounter between first-place Sporting KC and fourth-place Houston at LiveSTRONG Sporting Park.
If Kansas City, who are just a surprising 4-3-3 at home vs. East teams loses, it sets the Fire up for a move to first on Saturday night. If that happened, the Dynamo could also potentially jump all the way into second place (at least momentarily) as well.
Lucky for the home side, Houston’s away form against the Conference has been quite poor (1-5-4), though one of those four draws did come at Sporting on July 7 (0-0).
The obvious hope for the Fire is to see the Dynamo earn their second away win against the East Friday night but I think anything more than a point for Houston is unrealistic.
PREDICTION: Sporting KC 1, Houston Dynamo 1
- Further East on Saturday, third-place New York welcomes the Columbus Crew to Red Bull Arena. I wrote recently that I wasn’t yet convinced about the Crew’s surge up the East table because of the level of opponents they’d played during their run and in their last match, they fell 2-0 at New England.
In Saturday’s game, they travel to play a New York side that is unbeaten at home this season (9-0-3) and hasn’t even drawn against an East opponent at Red Bull Arena (7-0-0). Interestingly enough, at 4-6-4, Columbus has a much better away record than Houston and has gone 3-5-2 away in the conference, including a victory over Sporting KC.
Even with all that, it’s hard to go against New York’s home dominance this season. As it relates to the Fire, a draw would be a fantastic result for a few reasons but I have to think Red Bull comes away victorious this weekend.
PREDICTION: New York Red Bulls 2, Columbus Crew 1
WATCH: New York 4, Columbus 1 (4/7/2012)
- Sixth place D.C. United hosts New England Saturday night at RFK Stadium in a match where all three points will be quite necessary for the home side.
Most of MLS was in shock Thursday morning with the club’s announcement that captain Dwayne DeRosario had suffered an MCL sprain that will keep him out 10-12 weeks, effectively ending his season.
Even still, United (41) sit one point back of the final playoff spot, even without DeRo are better than New England and much like Red Bull, have fantastic form at RFK this season, going 9-1-4 overall and 7-1-3 against Eastern opponents.
While New England bounced back with a home win against Columbus before the international break, their away record is abysmal (1-10-2; 0-7-2 in the East) and I suspect their skid down the East table continues Saturday night.
PREDICTION: D.C. United 2, New England Revolution 0
- In the last Eastern match of the night, the Fire will know exactly what they have to do to move into first place or retain second place by halftime against Montreal.
If all the predicted results above hold and the Fire win oer the Impact, they'd stay in second place but sit just one point back of East-leading KC.
The Fire’s home form this season (9-2-2; 7-0-1 vs. East) combined with Montreal’s away record (2-11-1; 2-6-1 vs. East) certainly favor the Men in Red in this match, though Klopas’ side will be coming off just three days rest while the Impact will not have played in two weeks.
Also remember that while the first-year MLS side is just three points out of the final playoff spot, they only have five games remaining while almost everyone above has seven.
A loss for Montreal on Saturday would come as close as could be to effectively end the Impact’s bid for a playoff place in their first MLS season.
PREDICTION: Saturday night will certainly be a battle but I think the Fire take their 10th home win of the season and move within one point of first in the East with a 2-1 victory (what other score line is there?) over Montreal.