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Jul 242013

chicago fire 300x169 Know Your MLS Teams: Chicago Fire


You’re going home in a Cook County Ambulance!

Founded: 1997 (Started Play in 1998)

Pedigree: 1998 MLS Cup Champions, 2003 MLS Eastern Conference Regular Season Champions, 1998 MLS Western Conference Champions, and 4-time U.S. Open Cup Champions (1998, 2000, 2003, and 2006.)

Supporters: Section 8 (this is actually an association of the various Supporters Groups,) the Arsonists, Husaria, Fire Ultras 98, Partisans , the Red Scare, Sector Latino, the Western Front, Ultras Red Side, and the Whiskey Brothers Aught Five  

Current Record this Season: 7-9-3 (Currently in Seventh Place)

Coach: Frank Klopas

Top Returning Players: GK Sean Johnson, DEF Janil Anibaba, DEF Austin Berry, MID Alex, FWD Patrick Nyarko, and FWD Chris Rolfe.

Key Additions: DEF Bakary Soumare (Philadelphia Union,) MID Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids,) MID Dilly Duka (Columbus Crew,) FWD Maicon Santos (D.C. United,) and FWD Mike Magee (Los Angeles Galaxy.)

Key Departures: DEF Cory Gibbs (Retired,) DEF Dan Gargan (San Jose Earthquakes,) DEF Arne Friederich (Retired,) MID Pavel Pardo (Retired,) and FWD Dominic Oduro (Columbus Crew.)

Key Players to Watch: Dilly Duka


The Chicago Fire enter into the All-Star break a completely changed team from their opening game of the Major League Soccer season. At the beginning of the season, this Chicago team looked flat. Having lost three players due to retirement, and one of their top forwards in Dominic Oduro in a trade with Columbus Crew. They just could not score. In ten of their first eleven games, the Chicago Fire only scored five goals. This was a team that was going to nowhere. And then they traded for Mike Magee.

Now I do not want to disparage Robbie Rogers or anything that he is going through. The courage that he has shown to come out and be one of the first professional athletes who are openly gay is remarkable. Once he gets off the soccer rust, he will be a very good player for the Los Angeles Galaxy. That being said: the clear winners of the Robbie Rogers-Mike Magee trade are the Chicago Fire. In his seven matches with the Fire, Magee has scored five goals and the club has only lost two games. With the six that he scored with Los Angeles Galaxy, he is currently tied for second in the league in goals with Marco di Vaio. He is very good on second chance shots, and just never seems to stop on any play. Before the Magee trade the Fire seemed flat. It seems like someone has finally lit the match with this team.

The reason why he is such a great playmaker, and why he has been such a great addition to this Fire staff is that he exudes confidence both on and off of the pitch. He seemed to be lacking it in his early years with Los Angeles. But at the end of last year that things started turning around for him. You can also always tell a good striker from a bad striker by their ability to score in clutch situations. In 15 playoff appearances in his MLS career, Magee has 8 goals. The second goal that he scored against D.C. United on the June the 1st was one of the best goals that I have seen all season.

The trade for Magee would only have worked if it galvanized the entire team, and so far it seems to have done so. At the beginning of the season, their other two forwards Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko have returned to their natural positions on the wing, rather than in the center. Both players are excellent distributors and good second options but not the true center forward that the Fire needed. That is ok. Both Rolfe and Nyarko have shown in the past that they are excellent pieces to quality squads. I really like the work of Nyarko, in particular who has shown that he is able to break multiple defenders and either make his own shot or send it in to Magee from the left wing.

Rolfe is probably one of the most unheralded players in Major League Soccer. He does not score many goals as a forward, but he is very good with the last pass, and is able to toss crosses to the streaking attacker on the other side of the field. But he is probably best as a 65th minute super-sub now. “The problem is that Chris Rolfe came back from Denmark a different player,” says Scott Fenwick, Founder of the website On the Fire “He had a nice run in the second half last year, but fell off badly as the Fire backed into the playoffs. This year, he’s disappeared during games for long stretches at a time. Quality MLS defenders have figured out how to shut Rolfe down.”

In addition to the trade of Magee, the other major improvement that the Fire made this past offseason was to completely remake their Midfield. With the additions of Dilly Duka, the Fire have added some much needed youth to what was an aging line. Duka, who was traded for Oduro last offseason has shown that he is one of the best young midfielders in all of MLS. In the match against the Colorado Rapids, Duka won that match for the Fire because of his pace and the runs he was able to make off of the ball. “What’s most encouraging about him [Duka] is his ability to play with his head up in and around the box. He’s had a lot of success pushing the byline, beating his man, and then making perpendicular cuts into the box, where he’s getting good shots on target and service to attacking teammates,” said Fenwick. He still needs to improve on his shooting a little bit. He only has two goals out of his fourteen shots on goal. That being said, he is only in his third full season and his goal really should not be to shoot but to open the field up for his forwards.

I also really like the trade that the Fire made in the offseason  for Jeff Larentowicz.  Larentowicz seems to have regained some of the form that made him a U.S. National Team fixture. He is a strong midfielder, who is able to pull a lot of high balls down, and is very effective with his first touch after a chest trap. He also likes to take the long shot from outside of the box, and has been pretty effective with it.

The only real problem that I see with this team is their defense. I have never been the biggest fan of Bakary Soumare. He always seems to have trouble with his clearances, and sometimes get lost coming back from a run on offense. Janil Anibaba definitely seems to have improved over last year’s implosion against Will Bruin and the Houston Dynamo. He is a quality asset on set pieces as he is very good on headers. However, in Sunday’s match against the Vancouver Whitecaps he was beaten very easily on some simple possessions.

The one player on defense who I think has the most upside is Austin Berry. The 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year, Berry seems to be the most comfortable taking on their opponent’s top striking option. He also has some skills on offense as well. I am a sucker for scissor kicks, so naturally I want to make sure people see Mr. Berry’s goal against the Colorado Rapids. Beyond Berry, Soumare, and Anibaba though the cupboard is bare. This team sorely misses the veteran presence of Arne Friederich and would be wise to trade for an additional 1-2 defenders to supplement their starters.

Though the Fire defense has shown some creaks, there are no creaks with Goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Having seen many of MLS young goalkeepers (Hamid, Hall, McMath, etc.) I have to say that Johnson is the most polished out of all of them. Part of the reason why this team is in the place that they are is because Johnson kept them in it. Even when they were struggling for goals, the Fire were in games because Johnson was able to make some spectacular saves.

There is no greater example of his work this season than the save that he made against the Montreal Impact in Week 9. Not many goalkeepers can make a save like that. It requires excellent positioning, vision, and some confidence in your surroundings to not only make the save, but make sure that you are not exposing yourself to an opponent on your blind side.

Despite Sunday’s loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps, the Chicago Fire have turned a wasted season into one that has infinite possibilities. During the past few matches the club has finally started functioning as a proper unit. Although they are in eighth place and eight points behind the Houston Dynamo, this is a club on the rise having won four of their past seven matches.

In my conversation with Scott Fenwick he pointed out to me a pretty damning statistic: the Fire are 1-7-3 against teams that would be in the playoffs should they start today. With upcoming matches against the Houston Dynamo, Philadelphia Union, the Montreal Impact, and a semifinal match against D.C. United in the U.S. Open Cup the Chicago Fire will have every opportunity to prove that they are still a playoff team and able to win trophies this season.

Beer of Choice: Old Style Beer

While I usually use this space to give a beer of a local micro-brewery in the area that produces a quality brew that is not in a can, for the Chicago Fire there is only true beer. Old Style Lager is just a simple lager that has been brewed since 1902 and is a staple of Chicago culture. There are three truths that I have learned about Chicagoans, from their native son and my good friend Rob Goeke. One, that they are some of the most loyal sports fans in the United States. Two, they have a bizarre taste in pizza (Thin crust>Deep Dish.) And three, a love for Old Style Lager.

I have seen the complex array emotions that Chicagoans have gone through in my friendship with this guy. They wear their team’s colors as if it is a badge of pride, eat insanely hot pizza because the weather is so damn cold, and drink a beer that never wavers. With a team that has supporters unions who only speak in Polish, who grit out victories, and never out of any match, Chicago Fire style is Old Style.

In the words of my friend, the aforementioned Mr. Goeke: “The Cubs are partially symbolic of the Gatsby-esque north shore suburbs. The Fire’s stadium is built in a location to maximize interest in Chicago’s Mexican community. What’s one thing that could unite them? Cheap, serviceable beer. Bebe una cerveza frio, Chicago!”

Author’s Note: As I was finishing this article, I heard the terrible news that actor and legendary Chicagoan Dennis Farina had passed away. In honor of one of Chicago’s own, and of the great Old Style beer, please enjoy this amazing Old Style commercial with Farina from the 1980’s.

Also, a big thanks to Scott Fenwick and the website On the Fire for his help on this article!

Sean Maslin

Writer for Global Football Today and Blatter's Blotter. Lifetime D.C. United, Newcastle United, and Washington Warthog fan. Can be reached at @SeanMaslin on twitter or at

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