With second place on the line when the Fire host D.C. United Saturday afternoon, both Fire head coach Frank Klopas and striker Sherjill MacDonald have stressed the importance of having fans in the stands early.
Another reason to get in early Saturday is that the Fire will recognize the club’s 2012 Most Valuable Player, Defender of the Year and Golden Boot winners in a pre-game ceremony.
While the official awards are voted on by local media members, Jeff Crandall and Eunice Kim gave their take on who they thought deserved the respective awards.
Chicago Fire Defender of the Year
Eunice Kim: Austin Berry
Jeff Crandall: Arne Friedrich
Why Eunice Chose Austin… Since his MLS debut May 4 against Chivas USA, rookie defender Austin Berry has been a steady, unfailing presence in the Chicago Fire backline. Berry has racked up 27 consecutive starts and is the only field player to play every minute since May 4.
Perhaps what has helped the Fire rookie sustain his consistent level of form is his unflappable demeanor, which quickly became evident in his debut. Minutes after giving up a penalty kick, Berry redeemed himself when he got on the end of a Sebastian Grazzini chip and coolly volleyed his effort past Chivas USA 'keeper Dan Kennedy for the equalizer.
Standing 6'2", Berry is the tallest Fire field player and provides a dangerous aerial presence on set pieces. Twice this season he’s risen above the scrum, heading home goals against the Columbus Crew May 26 and the game-winner against Toronto FC Aug. 4. With three goals each to their name, Berry and Gonzalo Segares lead Fire defenders in scoring.
Additionally, with just two yellow cards thus far, Berry is the only Fire defender this season who has not been ejected or missed action due to yellow card accumulation.
Berry is an indispensible, consistent cog in the Fire defense which has only conceded 40 goals in 2012, and that is why he has my vote for 2012 Chicago Fire Defender of the Year.
Why Jeff Went With Arne… With goalkeepers eligible for the Defender of the Year award, choosing one was very difficult as all the core members of the Fire defensive unit have been very good this season.
With that said, there has been no more consistent player in the back than 2012 Fire newcomer Arne Friedrich, who has served not only as a mentor to Eunice’s choice Berry but also to another young player in Jalil Anibaba.
Friedrich’s timing to come into the team back in April is just as impeccable as his ability to be a step ahead in reading so many offensive plays that come through towards his backline.
With only one goal on the year, his offensive numbers may not compare to those of Berry or Segares, this is a defensive award and folks need only look at the 14-5-3 record in games he’s appeared and 3-6-2 mark, giving up 15 goals in matches he’s been unavailable.
While all players in the Fire’s third-ranked MLS defense should take a bow for an impressive season, the core of the unit’s success has come down to the play and leadership of Arne Friedrich in the back.
Most Valuable Player
Eunice Kim: Patrick Nyarko
Jeff Crandall: Chris Rolfe
Why Eunice #PickedPat… Though we didn't see our favorite fleet-footed Ghanaian winger in the All-Star Game after the #PickPat campaign in July, it did shine the spotlight on one of the most underrated players in MLS, midfielder Patrick Nyarko.
My pick for the 2012 Chicago Fire MVP award, Nyarko combines his deceptive speed and quick feet to take on defenders and create chances. Nyarko, one of the most consistent members of the Men in Red, is the only player who has appeared in every match this season.
Leading the team with seven assists, Nyarko has also added three goals, including a 47th second goal in a 3-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo Sept. 2, which went in the books as the fourth quickest goal in club history.
With his uncanny ability to slalom through the opposition, Nyarko constantly frustrates defenders who have yet to figure out a way to stop him without drawing a foul. He’s also the most fouled player in MLS suffering 78 fouls this season.
In addition to his offensive prowess, Nyarko's tireless work ethic and willingness to track back and defend make him the complete package, which earns him my vote for 2012 Chicago Fire MVP.
Why Jeff Recommends Rolfe… Though I was the main proponent behind June’s #PickPat campaign, when I sat down to evaluate each player for my vote, I asked one simple question, “Where would the Fire be without ___________ this season?”
This award is tough because in my view a lot of different players, including Patrick, gave incredible contributions at different times during the season. Without a team effort throughout the campaign, the Fire would have fallen falt but without the strong midseason performance of Chris Rolfe, the team might not be in the playoffs.
Re-joining the Fire back in April, Rolfe rolled his ankle in training, delaying his re-debut with the club until early June. Since then, the Fire’s second all-time leading scorer has tallied a team-leading eight goals (two game winners) and three assists in 21 matches.
Rolfe’s M.O. has always been the ability to score spectacular strikes (he’s done that plenty this year) but what’s made him “most valuable” to the Fire this season is his movement throughout the field and ability to adjust and succeed with a team in flux.
Rolfe’s body of work in just over half a season is better than most around the entire league and his play will be key to any success the Fire have in the postseason.
Who do you think should win 2012 Chicago Fire Most Valuable Player and Defender of the Year? Tell us below and make sure to get into Toyota Park early on Saturday to see the awards presentation.