First Impressions

Fire First Impressions by Dan Kelly, Chicago Fire Soccer Club Play by Play Announcer

It’s always fascinating to see how right or wrong your initial impressions are when joining a new work environment.  As a play by play broadcaster, part of my job is to make instant assessments – what’s important enough to raise the inflection of your voice, or was that a stoppable ball, or who was that pass intended for?  Sometimes you are right, and the other times…well let’s just say that is the beauty of sport and soccer in particular because it’s unscripted, unpredictable live theatre.   At times it’s a guessing game, and a beautiful one at that.  Here are some quick observations and impressions after my first month on the job.

Brian McBride

He looks and reminds me of hockey star Wayne Gretzky, who’s also a great ambassador for his sport.  But it’s the intelligence, dedication, drive, and passion that stands out with most stars, not just natural talents.  When talking to Brian McBride you don’t have to be an expert to see why this man is successful.  If you are a young player on the Fire, it might be wise to take a gander at number 20, and do and act like him… will be a nice foundation for a prosperous and enjoyable career.

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Carlos De Los Cobos

The most underrated aspect of a coach in pro or collegiate sports is presence.  Different culture, different language, strange new land and brand of soccer, is not a problem for Coach Carlos.  I love his fearless attitude with the English language.  I wish more coaches would think more before they speak or spout off.  I think it says a lot about the man in charge of leading the Men in Red.  He speaks with passion, commands respect, and communicates his message.  And considering some of the early changes we have seen with a new keeper, new formations, and new roles, the man is not shy about making tough decisions and sticking to his beliefs.  Plus, it never hurts to look the part on the touchline –  just ask former Cowboy coach Tom Landry or Lakers leader Pat Riley.  Carlos is a cross between those two, looking dignified and stylish at the same time. 

CJ Brown and Wilman Conde

These fierce defenders have been heavily counted on in the early going.  Wilman is just a beast and has the talent to go along with his vision and determination.  CJ, is the kind of leader you don’t want disappoint.  I am guessing that his leadership, along with some other veterans, is a big reason why the Fire’s early struggles didn’t continue to fester. 

Frank Klopas

Smooth and passionate, and another guy who holds firm in his beliefs.  Indecision and lack of conviction are not good traits to have in a sports manager.  I have not seen a trace of any of that in Frank.  Confident, charming, and most importantly, believes in what he and the club are doing.  I loved having a chance to chat with him briefly on match day in D.C.  At the time his club was winless, and pressure was mounting a little, and there was a chance the Fire would be the only winless team in MLS…well, a lot was at stake that evening.  But after talking to Frank along with Coach De Los Cobos, you truly got the impression that they believed in the goods they had.  I am guessing that Frank didn’t point fingers when he was a player, but instead his thumb right back to himself, holding himself accountable before his teammates.

Andrew Dykstra

A twenty-four year old keeper that never stops smiling, especially lately now that the pressure has subsided – he now has two straight wins and clean sheets to his credit.  Again, I like this kid’s mental makeup.  Not easy since he surprisingly was given the car keys to the club with the starting assignment role.  His first match, in that sparkling new Red Bull Stadium and on that little network named ESPN, I thought, go get ‘em kid.  And to his credit, he has…after some initial stumbles.  This kid is resilient.  He has the honor of having a military father, Dan Dykstra, who proudly retired as a marine colonel. He has a natural, easy going disposition that was probably developed as  he moved around from base to base as a youth.  The funny thing, I get the impression that he gets his toughness from his mom, Heidi, who he says is the parent that usually is doing the soccer critiquing.  His only flaw, he cheers for Michigan sports teams, which he got from Colonel Dykstra. Well, I guess Dad isn’t right all the time after all.

Chris Doran

He’s a man who lives and breathes soccer.  He is a teacher at heart.  Passionate about that game, but patient enough to teach those who are eager to learn.  A fountain of knowledge, not just of MLS, but has the pulse of the collegiate soccer scene, which is pretty valuable considering we see many collegians roam MLS fields.  Underrated sense of humor and a dry wit, which needs to be exposed more frequently on Comcast SportsNet.  I guess that is my job though.  I also love the respect and admiration he has for anyone intelligent enough to love the beautiful game.  If you are wearing a Liverpool jersey in a parking garage, Chris will ask you about the match as he drives around looking for a parking space. His passion for soccer does not rest.

Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko

First, the poise and relaxation of Marco is impressive.  He lines up a shot on frame during a match the same way he does in training.  No panic, not always perfect, but smooth and relaxed.  It’s actually graceful to witness up close.  For some reason his shots don’t make as much noise as others, but they certainly find the back of the net.  The first thing that is noticeable about Patrick Nyarko is the speed.  But a lot of players are fast without the ball.  But Patrick doesn’t seem to be slowed down by having precious possession.  He can dazzle with the feet at a high rate of speed, and of course dish off delicious feeds to hungry teammates.  It’s such a good sign when a young player wants the ball in crucial situations, and does not fear making mistakes. That’s the place that Patrick seems to be right now, and him possessing the ball has been a very good thing for the Fire.  I would love to see him develop the element of surprise, and not become predictable to defenders or keepers, and let it rip every now and  then.  Keep them honest, as many offensive players like to say.  Nyarko would then have even more room to create, and that’s a scary thought for the rest of MLS.