Pappa ready to bring A-game to Chicago

Following offensive departures, the Guatemalan hopes to improve

Marco Pappa, Chicago Fire

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It’s March 4, 2010: Guatemala and El Salvador are battling in
an international friendly match at the L.A. Coliseum. In the 45th
minute of play, Guatemala are on the attack. The ball makes its way
to Guatemalan -- and Chicago Fire -- midfielder Marco Pappa about 30 yards from goal.

Undeterred by distance, Pappa takes advantage of the time and space he has and
blasts a left-footed shot. The ball rips through the air, tucking itself inside
the upper 90 of the far post. Miguel Montes, the El Salvador keeper, has no

This moment, this goal, defines Marco Pappa as a soccer
player. He is creative, quick and blessed with a deadly left foot that cannons
shots past top goalkeepers. But, despite his exceptional talent, Pappa’s game
can be fleeting. He disappears too often in matches. He struggles with his
game-to-game consistency. He can’t always harness his talent. But when he does
control his skills, the results can be fantastic -- you just need to see his goal
against El Salvador to see that.

Pappa was able to rein in his ability at times for the Fire
in 2009, when he registered five goals and four assists in 30 games. But the
22-year-old winger is not content with those numbers. He wants more. And now,
in his second full season with Chicago, Pappa feels that the time is right.

“I want to get better in all aspects [of my game],” Pappa
said through a translator on Tuesday. “Now that I have played one season with
the Fire, I think that I have enough experience to do things right.”

And if the Fire are to improve upon last season -- when they
fell a shootout short of making the MLS Cup final -- Pappa will have to get
better. The team lost attackers Cuauhtémoc Blanco and Chris Rolfe this
offseason, and many will be looking to Pappa to help fill the 11-goal, nine-assist
void created by their departures.

“I would like to be able to step into their shoes,” Pappa
said of his former teammates. “’Temo and Rolfey were big presences on the team.
I’m going to take it step by step, but I will do my best for the Fire.”

It’s important to remember that Pappa won’t be alone in
replacing Rolfe and Blanco. Joining him in that task will be returning forwards
Brian McBride and Patrick Nyarko, as well as offseason signings Collins John and Julio
Martiínez. Together, the five attackers should allow head coach Carlos de los
Cobos’ possession-based attack to run smoothly and effectively.

But regardless of who is there to help him out, Pappa has a
goal of his own in mind for the new season.

“I want to improve on the achievements that the team had
last year,” Pappa said. “[But I
also want] to grow as a man because that will lead to more experience in the
world of soccer.”