Then and Now with CJ Brown
CJ Brown is the epitome of "Fire Original". The
veteran backliner has been with the club since the team's inaugural season in
1998, playing in 342 matches and logging 31,794 minutes across all
competitions, Brown will set a new record for longevity when the Fire kickoff
2010 this Saturday at Red Bull New York.
Opening up his 13th consecutive season with the Fire, the
former U.S. international will officially surpass former Los Angeles Galaxy midfielder
Cobi Jones who spent 12 straight years with the club, before retiring to become
an assistant coach with the team.
In that time, Brown has gone from a 22-year-old rookie,
to a 34-year-old vet, playing with the likes of Nowak, Wynalda, Stoitchkov,
Razov, Beasley, Bocanegra and Blanco. He's played in three different stadiums,
four if you count the new Soldier Field, winning five major trophies with the
club, with Carlos de los Cobos representing the fifth head coach he's played
So what has changed, C.J.?
"A lot," said a reflective Brown. "From
'98 to now, things have been up and down. It's very difficult to match the way
we started that year, we obviously have been unable to repeat that feat, but
that first team was very special."
Led by current U.S. national team head coach Bob Bradley,
the '98 squad featured the aforementioned Nowak and Razov, along with proven
internationals in strikers Roman Kosecki, Jerzy Podbrozny (both from Poland),
Frank Klopas (USA) and defender Lubos Kubik (Czech Republic). Bolstered by
up-and-coming American internationals Chris Armas, Josh Wolff and Zach
Thornton, the '98 team remains the only expansion side in MLS history to win
the league's championship in its debut season.
And while MLS Cup has eluded the club over the last 12
seasons, Brown has been a part of four Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship
teams with the Fire, winning his first five days after the club's '98 league
"The Open Cup is something our club has taken very
seriously over the years," said Brown about the longest continual cup
competition in American sport. "Every preseason we ask what we're here
for, and the answer is to win trophies. With that in mind, I think we've placed
the importance of the tournament higher on our priority list than other MLS
teams and the results have reflected that."
It is through the tournament that Brown found his way to
Major League Soccer, impressing MLS sides after helping the USISL Division
Three San Francisco Bay Seals to the semifinals of the 1997 Open Cup, where
they fell 2-1 to DC United.
Along with Armas and another former teammate in Diego
Gutierrez, Brown's four U.S. Open Cup championships are a record for one player
during the tournament's "Professional Era", having won again in 2000,
2003 and 2000.
The 2000 championship in particular holds a special story
for the defender.
Originally scheduled for October 22, 2000, a Sunday at
Soldier Field, the final coincided with Brown's scheduled wedding on the same
"My wife told me I had to miss the game because it
was our wedding day in California. I had to tell her there was no way I could
Fortunately for Brown, his future wife Kim and the Fire,
the Chicago Marathon was scheduled for the same day necessitating a move of the
final from Sunday to Saturday - Relief!
Playing the full 90 minutes, the Fire would go on to
defeat the Miami Fusion 2-1 and Brown took off.
"Kim gave me her blessing, saying it was ok, as long
as I got to California on time. It wasn't my best performance as I had other
things on my mind, but we still came away with the victory and I high-tailed it
out west soon after. The next day, some of my teammates even made it for the
wedding as well."
Coming up on his 13th season with the Fire, Brown's also
thankful for the support Section 8 and its predecessors have given the club
over his years in Chicago.
"They've been a huge part of the Fire's success
since day one. When we moved to Naperville while Soldier Field was being
renovated, the numbers dipped a bit but returning to the city and then making
it Toyota Park, they're as strong as they've ever been and as a player it
really lifts you to know someone's supporting you through good times and
Brown will look to help the club gain its first three points of 2010 this Saturday when the Fire travel to Denver to take on the Colorado Rapids at 3:00 pm CT.