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 chance.
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.”