It’s that time of the year again when the Chicago Fire and every other Major League Soccer team is forced to assess who they value the most by releasing their MLS Expansion Draft protected lists. Supporters have been mulling over who they would protect and later today we’ll find who the club will protect from being selected by new MLS side Montreal Impact. For now, let’s take a look back at who the Chicago Fire selected in their Expansion Draft protected list last season and analyze who could make the cut this season: Continue reading
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Interim Head Coach Frank Klopas shares his thoughts and answers questions following the Chicago Fire’s 1-1 draw against DC United at Toyota Park on August 18, 2011. Sebastian Grazzini opened the scoring for the Fire in the 59th minute but former Chicago forward Josh Wolff equalized for the visitors 14 minutes later to hand the Fire an MLS record 15th draw. Here’s what Frank had to say…
Chicago Fire vs. Vancouver Whitecaps Preview: Pardo and Grazzini Provide Renewed Hope for the Visitors
Following Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union at ToyotaPark, the Chicago Fire remain tied for last place in the Eastern Conference table and look set to put every Fire bookmaker out of work. The midweek draw was Chicago’s 13th of the season and has become a predictable result for this team. The Fire’s tally of 13 draws is a league high and is already four more than the team managed last season. To make matters worse, the Fire are also winless in seven matches.
Despite the lack of wins and the abundance of draws, there is a new found hope in Bridgeview. And despite two more dropped points on Wednesday (or one gained?), we were gifted with an impressive preview of what that hope might entail in the next few months and beyond. That hope rests on the shoulders of two of Chicago’s recent signings: Pavel Pardo and Sebastian Grazzini.
Pardo announced himself in style on Wednesday by scoring the equalizer for the Fire ten minutes into the second half, preventing what would have otherwise been a third straight loss for the men in red. Grazzini, meanwhile, demonstrated exactly why he’s the type of player the Fire have been missing by linking up well with the rest of the Fire midfield as well as lone striker Dominic Oduro. The former All Boys midfielder also come inches away from scoring a truly spectacular debut goal with a powerful left-footed drive that grazed just over the crossbar.
If ever the Fire have needed a glimmer of hope, it’s now. And if ever the Fire have needed a win, it’s certainly now. With Pardo and Grazzini, the time has come to ease the pain of being winless in MLS play since June 12th and prove that this is a team that can make a run for the MLS playoffs. With just two wins all season, the odds are fully stacked against Chicago, but with Pardo and Grazzini, the Fire have two players ready to take hold of the mantle and spur a struggling club on to greener pastures.
The Chicago Fire have yet another great opportunity to put their winless woes behind them with a crunch match against expansion side Vancouver Whitecaps, who also find themselves rooted to the bottom of the table in the Western Conference. As the only team in the league who find themselves in a worse predicament than the Fire, the Whitecaps are just as desperate for a win having gone six matches without a win and most recently suffering a 4-0 home loss to the LA Galaxy.
Empire Field is the setting for Sunday’s match, a place that has only seen the Whitecaps win once all year. That win arrived on the opening weekend in a 4-2 win over Toronto FC, ensuring Vancouver fans have faced an even longer wait for a home win than Chicago. The Whitecaps will be confident of seeing their winless streak at home finally come to an end this weekend, especially with former Fire midfielder John Thorrington returning from a calf injury just in time to face his former teammates.
There will be no favors from either side on Sunday. Needless to say, both teams are desperate for a win and rightfully so. The MLS playoffs are quickly approaching and a quick turnaround is essential for both sides if they wish to have any chance of prolonging their season. With the Fire’s new look midfield, the odds look good for a rare Chicago win, even if the bookies will tell you otherwise.
6pm CT, Empire Field.
Chicago: 2-13-6 (19 points, 8th place)
Vancouver: 2-9-11 (15 points, 9th place)
Chicago: Goals – Oduro 5, Pappa 5 | Assists – Nyarko 3
Vancouver: Goals – Hassli 8, Sanvezzo 6 | Assists – Chiumiento 6
The Fire and Whitecaps met for the first time in MLS play on May 7th atToyotaPark in a 0-0 draw. Ironically, both clubs fired their head coaches on the same day later that month.
Players to watch:
Pavel Pardo – After a vital debut goal on Wednesday, look for Pardo to continue to make a big impact for the Fire on Sunday. Despite being just 90 minutes into his Fire career, Pardo already looks at home in the Fire midfield.
Sebastian Grazzini – The Argentinean also enjoyed a successful debut on Sunday. If the Fire hope to earn a win againstVancouver, Grazzini will play a big role.
Christian Nazarit – Used as a substitute on Wednesday, Frank Klopas would be wise to partner Nazarit up front with Oduro, who was often too isolated on his own against theUnion. If given the chance, Nazarit could really benefit from playing alongside Grazzini and Pardo.
Eric Hassli – A bonafide goalscorer, Hassli has been in fantastic form forVancouver. Look for him to continue his rich vein of form on Sunday.
Shea Salinas – His ability to break down defenses will be vital. The Fire run a tight ship in defense and the home side will needSalinasto create opportunities for Hassli and Camilo.
John Thorrington – Having played just 52 minutes all year for the Whitecaps, Thorrington will be desperate to play on Sunday. If he does receive the start, the Fire are well aware of his capabilities.
2-1 to Chicago. Pardo and Grazzini to make the difference in a tightly contested match.
Feel free to share your thoughts and predictions. You can also follow @chicagofireblog for more updates and analysis.
Take a walk down memory lane for one moment. Think back to August 23rd, 2000, a time that feels like ages ago. Some of you may not have even been Chicago Fire supporters yet, while others may not have even been a fan of the wonderful sport of soccer. Whichever category you fall into, it’s irrelevant, as we can all do with a modest reminder of the importance of that day in our club’s history.
Playing in the unfamiliar Titan Stadium in Fullerton, CA, a stadium with a capacity of just 10,000, the Chicago Fire took on the Los Angeles Galaxy in the US Open Cup semi-finals in hopes of reaching its second final in three years. After a goalless 79 minutes, Cobi Jones – one of the faces of American soccer at that time – popped up to break the deadlock for the Galaxy and put them on the brink of a place in the final of US soccer’s oldest club tournament.
Thirty minutes prior to the goal, current US Men’s National Team captain Carlos Bocanegra, a rookie out of UCLA that year, received his marching orders for a minor incident which eventually involved nearly all 22 players on the field taking part in a large tussle which demonstrated the importance of that match. For a half hour the Fire battled with ten men to maintain any chance of reaching the final. That in itself was impressive, but there was more to come.
In the 85th minute, another Fire legend, Peter Nowak, controlled the ball deep in midfield and while running horizontal to the goal somehow managed to cut open LA’s defense with an absolutely delightful pass to find Ante Razov’s run (another Fire legend). The Croatian made little mistake from eight yards out, silencing the California crowd and sending the match to a Golden Goal and thus setting the stage for an incredible finale to an already unforgettable US Open Cup semi-final.
In the second half of extra-time, the Fire’s attempt to maintain a bit of possession in the midfield turned into the team stringing pass after pass together before the ball eventually arrived to DaMarcus Beasely inside the Galaxy box. His first-time shot was saved, but thankfully, Josh Wolff was first on the scene and his simple tap in sealed the match for the Fire. Cue euphoric scenes for Fire players and coaches. Even Dennis Hamlett looked too excited to even know what to do with himself.
So why is this match so important to the Chicago Fire? First of all, the Fire would go on to defeat the Miami Fusion 2-1 at Soldier Field in the final in what was a highly successful season for the club. Tonight, almost 11 years later, the Fire host the New York Red Bulls, presumably a weakened side, in a US Open Cup quarter-final at Toyota Park with memories of wins like that still vivid, yet slowly, gradually fading, in many of our minds. The Fire have won the US Open Cup more times than any other MLS club with four triumphs to date, but haven’t tasted success in the cup, or any cup for that matter, since 2006.
If there’s any better time to bring back some silverware to this club, it’s now. In the midst of a frustrating season in the MLS, the US Open Cup is the perfect platform to achieve success and remind everyone associated with the club, from its players and coaches to the supporters and the rest of the league, what the Chicago Fire are all about. For starters, we are kings of the cup. Now let’s prove it like we did in that memorable cup run in 2000… and before that in 1998… and then in 2003… and again in 2006.
Highlights of the Chicago Fire’s 2-1 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy in the 2000 US Open Cup Semi-Final:
Abstruse is a fun word. Do you know why? Because, it means ‘hard to understand’ or incomprehensible or, better yet, perplexing. Fun, huh? A word with a meaning you immediately say “Oh, yeah, of course” once you hear its definition because you’ve never heard anyone use it in a sentence—written or spoken. It’s pejorative. Which means it’s not a nice thing to say about someone or something.
I’m not just writing this to make myself sound like a pseudo-intellectual (although I am), no I’m writing this to let you know what I think of the MLS take on transfer season. It’s difficult to understand a professional football league that refuses to toe the line with the rest of the world’s professionals. Whatever. The Designated Player, a purely US creation, could actually be interestingly employed (more on that later).
As an English Premier League football fan, I love transfer season for so many, many reasons but mostly because it allows my inner geek to speculate. Speculation is manna to all football supporters. Thus I now take my precious gift of “You know what, I’ll tell you what…” and apply it to my national team, the Chicago Fire.
Chicago have problems like all clubs. Fortunately, the problems the Fire have are not based in players failing to live up to expectations (think Arsenal) or players being hired-guns only able to play as individuals and not a team (think ManCity) or even front office pressure that inevitably leads to confusion on the pitch (nearly every Italian squad). The issue with the Fire squad are lack of pieces to complete the puzzle.
For example, Chicago desperately needs a deadball specialist—someone who has to taken seriously on penalties and someone who can take a corner and drop it in the box. As of right now, Chicago have a slew of individuals who can do the work but who don’t excel at the job. The fact is, a Chicago corner kick is an ugly affair, which is a horror in a sport called the beautiful game. Perhaps this is something that can be remedied with focused practice. But the easiest way to fix the situation is to bring in someone. So, that’s the first missing piece.
This leads us to the second, the lack of a body in the box to take the service. No one on the Fire have that killer instinct, that mindset of “If the ball is in the box, it’s my ball and I’m heading into the back of the net.” Every quality team needs to have a centerback who comes to the fore on corners and slices through the mass of bodies. Chelsea has John Terry and Manchester United has Nemanja Vidic, these are two of the best players in the world.
We can’t expect every team to have a player like this because they just don’t exist, they are rare jewels and even if you hate their colors you know that they are precious. My point is, you have to have a player on your squad that wants to be like this, that considers the box (on either end of the pitch) theirs and theirs alone. The best service in the world will fail without someone else to execute on the other end.
And while we’re talking about the defensive end of the pitch, let’s talk fullbacks. A great leftback/rightback can redeem a tired midfield or, equally, energize a flagging attack. Chicago has Gustavo Segares who is putting in a brilliant effort this season and rookie Jalil Anibaba who is quickly taking to the position (a slight transition from centerback in college). As Anibaba learns the ropes, there’s Bratislav Ristic to back him up (and soon enough injured Steve Kinney). But Ristic and Sega are ‘aging’ (31 & 28 respectively). The Fire need to plan on finding the next players to step into those roles. Tryout sensation Pari Pantazopoulos could be that, but another signing is always a good idea.
So, to my mind, the Fire need a deadball specialist most likely a midfielder, a centerback with an eye for dominance, and a young fullback with vision. I also don’t really believe in internationals as the DP or transfer standard. The MLS needs to cultivate a transfer culture similar to the EPL where players can move from lower league clubs to hirer and vice versa with ease. The Designated Player could function like a sort of Franchise Player, being the player(s) that are the face of the team. For the Fire, Marco Pappa, Patrick Nyarko, and Sean Johnson would all fit this role. But honestly, that’s a bit of tangent—an idea to be saved for another time.
To the task at hand, here in the US there are plenty of quality players that just need to be given the chance by their national league to shine. So the following players are simply individuals that I believe would shine in the Fire’s club culture and possibly complete the puzzle. Hopefully, this list will entertain, provoke more speculation in you other football supporters, and demonstrate my own abstruse reasoning.
Kyle Altman, Centerback
Minnesota Stars of the NASL
Altman has been a rock for the Stars, a leader on the pitch and off. As a CB for the Fire he would bring maturity to the defensive but still being 24 he’s entering his prime as a player. This acquisition would strengthen and deepen the Fire defense.
Perry Kitchen, Fullback
This kid has done quite well for DC, thus we must pinch him and make him ours. Acquiring Kitchen would mean that Anibaba could shift to centerback with more ease and there would be someone able to learn from Sega to eventually take over the side.
Austin da Luz, midfield
NY Red Bulls
The matches where I’ve seen da Luz play he has had a certain poise that I think would serve the Fire well. His control of the ball and long passes would add a needed element to the Fire game plan.
Gershon Koffie, midfield
We all love Ghana in Chicago. Nyarko has become a stalwart winger and currently all Fire supporters praise the trade for Dominic Oduro from Houston. All the more reason to get another in the mix. Koffie has played hard in the MLS thus far this year and I think he could benefit from playing on a team with some of his countrymen who could mentor him.
Jonathan Fana, midfield/forward
Puerto Rico Islanders
Fana is damn fast and can run circles around tall oak defenders. Add to this the ability to cross beautifully and I think we can conclude he would be an asset. Though a bit older, think of Fana like Toronto’s Joao Plata.
Written by Daniel Casey.
You can follow Daniel on Twitter at @winslowbobbins