Saturday, April 30, 2011

Fire tie Rapids, cap off winless April

Marco Pappa -- Getty Images
Two struggling teams in need of a victory each wound up with a draw as the Chicago Fire and Colorado Rapids played to a 1-1 stalemate Saturday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.

Fire midfielder Marco Pappa tallied his third goal of the season, but Chicago once again could not hang onto a lead. The Rapids' Andre Akpan netted the equalizer in the 49th minute and each team wound up with a point.

The Fire (1-3-3, 6 points) capped off a winless April, going 0-3-2 while getting off to its worst start in team history. This year marks the first time that the Fire have posted only one victory through their first seven games of the season.

Chicago sported a 4-1-4-1 formation in an attempt to emphasize a strong possession game, but it was Colorado (3-3-1, 10 points) that ended up holding a roughly 2-to-1 edge in the possession department.


Friday, April 29, 2011

Fire, Rapids desperate for turnaround

Fire's Logan Pause -- Getty Images
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire, winless in four straight games, are not the only ones in MLS in need of a momentum shift. The Fire face the defending MLS champion Colorado Rapids this Saturday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce, Colo., and the host Rapids are in a three-game skid of their own.

The major difference is that Colorado has three victories in its pocket this season, while Chicago sits with only one.

"We're both desperate for points," Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "We're not going to settle for a tie up there. We're going in for the win. We desperately need the points, and we've played well up there the last couple of years. But we're just unfortunate to not have come out of there with a win."

The Fire (1-3-2) will be without their captain, however. Defensive midfielder Logan Pause strained his hamstring on Wednesday and will not see the pitch Saturday. Also missing from the fray again is defender Cory Gibbs (hamstring), who played for Colorado in 2008 and 2009. Gibbs' replacement, Yamith Cuesta, performed admirably during the Fire's recent 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo.

Colorado (3-3-0) will have some key absences, as well, with forward Conor Casey expected to miss the match with a hamstring injury. The big story resonating throughout the league is the 10-game suspension of Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan, whose severe tackle caused Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Steve Zakuani to break his leg. Mullan was red carded for the incident and would have missed Saturday's match against the Fire anyway. But the league tacked on nine games to Mullan's suspension, and he was fined $5,000.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Fire still striving to mesh on pitch

Fire's Baggio Husidic (R) -- Getty Images
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- In the midst of a four-game winless streak and only one point in hand during April, the Chicago Fire are regularly deciphering their shortcomings to turn around a poor start to the 2011 season. The Fire hover near the bottom of the Eastern Conference with a 1-3-2 record, with Saturday's game at the defending MLS champion Colorado Rapids on the horizon.

Chicago's defense has been an obvious detriment to the team in recent weeks as the Fire have allowed 12 goals this year, which currently ties for second-most in the league. But the midfield also has been a growing point of concern.

In the Fire's most recent 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo, Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos made some changes to every line. That included the insertion of Libertyville native and center midfielder Baggio Husidic, who started for the first time this season. Husidic got the call over Michael Videira, though Videira eventually subbed for Husidic in the second half.

"Even though people criticize our center midfield for not being that creative, I think we have guys in there that on their day can do it," Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "Baggio is an excellent passer with the ball from midfield, but we just need to get more possession out there. It starts from the back all the way up front."


Monday, April 25, 2011

Red Stars join WPSL for 2011

J. Santacaterina, E. Weber, M. Weissenhofer
The Chicago Red Stars are joining the Women's Premier Soccer League for the 2011 season. The Red Stars played during the Women's Professional Soccer league's 2009 and 2010 seasons, and the organization elected to take a hiatus from WPS to shore up its investment group.

The team takes the pitch in the WPSL throughout June and July, with two home games taking place on July 2 and 10 at the Village of Lisle-Benedictine University Sports Complex, 5700 College Road, in west suburban Lisle, Ill. Tickets are $10 for general admission seating. For more information, visit

The Red Stars roster will include former Atlanta Beat and St. Louis Athletica forward Amanda Cinalli (a Notre Dame alumna); Geneva, Ill., native and 2010 Red Stars midfielder Jackie Santacaterina (a University of Illinois alumna); Elk Grove, Ill., native and 2010 Red Stars defender Elise Weber (Notre Dame); Naperville, Ill., native and 2010 Red Stars forward Michele Weissenhofer (Notre Dame); Aurora, Ill., native and 2011 All-Big East Conference First Team midfielder Bri Rodriguez (West Virginia); former Chicago Red Eleven midfielder and current Lewis University (Romeoville, Ill.) women's assistant coach Kara Kabellis; and Batavia, Ill., native and recent University of Illinois defender Julie Ewing.

The Red Stars will be coached by Eclipse Select Soccer Club's Director of Coaching and Player Development, Rory Dames.


Saturday, April 23, 2011

Fire settle for draw against Dynamo

Fire forward Diego Chaves -- Getty Images
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- With the pressure mounting on the Chicago Fire to produce a positive result following three straight defeats, the home side held a late lead but could not hang on en route to a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday in front of 12,473 at Toyota Park.

Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell scored in the 87th minute off of a corner kick to tie the score late at 1-1. Chicago did end its losing streak, but the Fire (1-3-2) missed out on a good opportunity to grab three points against a fellow Eastern Conference side that is known for capitalizing on its set pieces.

"We knew that one of the things that makes that team successful is set pieces," Fire captain Logan Pause said. "Giving up a goal on a set piece, it's just a bummer. We worked on it. It was actually my man who scored."

"They have big guys, big players," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said of Houston (2-1-3). "It's a shame, because it was one of the last minutes of the game again."

Diego Chaves tallied his team-leading fourth goal for the Fire for a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute. The Fire took advantage of Houston defender Corey Ashe coughing up the ball to Chicago midfielder Marco Pappa. Pappa took the Fire the other way and found Chaves inside the box, as Chaves slotted the ball past Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall.


Friday, April 22, 2011

Floundering Fire confront Dynamo

Jalil Anibaba -- Getty Images
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire's current three-game losing streak is creeping into the realm of historic proportions if the team cannot turn things around Saturday when it hosts the Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park.

One more loss would put this stretch among only a handful of four-game Fire droughts, the most recent being a four-game skid in May of 2007.

"The mentality's always strong, but the confidence, we've lost a little bit of," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said Friday following training.

The Fire (1-3-1, four points) have had to rely on some of their younger personnel to shoulder the load this season. Second-year goalkeeper Sean Johnson and 2011 first-round draft pick and defender Jalil Anibaba thrust themselves into starting roles. But both have been prone to some big mistakes in recent matches.

De los Cobos decided before last week's 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy to turn to 33-year-old goalkeeper Jon Conway, who will return to the starting lineup Saturday against Houston. De los Cobos said that Anibaba continues to maintain his starting right back role.

"I think patience is the key, for everybody," 12-year veteran Conway said. "A lot's expected of these young guys, but they are young guys. You've got to realize that being thrown into this sort of environment, this quick and as tough as it may be, sometimes it takes a little bit longer. For me, all I do is show up and train like I have for my whole career and just train hard, and maybe that translates over to them and they can take that from me. I have had a long run of things, fortunately, and maybe that helps them out with getting over what they have to get over."


Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fire drop 3rd straight to depleted L.A.

Dominic Oduro -- Getty Images
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Los Angeles Galaxy was without its star power Sunday, but the struggling Chicago Fire could not withstand the rest of L.A.'s depleted roster as Chicago dropped its third straight, 2-1, in front of 18,203 at Toyota Park.

Former Fire forward Chad Barrett and Galaxy defender Omar Gonzalez provided the Galaxy's scoring as L.A. earned a victory without Landon Donovan (knee inflammation), David Beckham (suspended), Juninho (suspended) and Jovan Kirovski (suspended).

Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos adjusted a couple of things defensively with the addition of 33-year-old goalkeeper Jon Conway for second-year goalkeeper Sean Johnson, and center defensive back Josip Mikulic returned to the fray in place of Dasan Robinson.

But the defensive lapses continued, particularly on Barrett's goal in the 42nd minute. He was left all alone in the middle of the Fire's defense.

"Those little breakdowns that we've been having defensively have been hurting us a lot," Fire midfielder and defender Gonzalo Segares said. "That definitely brought the momentum down."

The Fire (1-3-1) found some late life as second-half substitution Dominic Oduro beat Gonzalez one-on-one at a difficult angle from the right side and slotted the ball past Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts to cut L.A.'s lead to 2-1.

Chicago created a couple more chances, including two sequences when Conway left his goal and went into the offensive third. Shortly into stoppage time, Conway pushed up on a Marco Pappa corner kick, and Ricketts had a huge opportunity to punt the ball toward the empty net. Instead, Ricketts was too busy directing things with his teammates, and Conway eventually trudged back into the net.


Saturday, April 16, 2011

Last-place Fire try to erase slide

Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson -- Getty Images
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Chicago Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos typically stresses the importance of maintaining a similar lineup from game to game, as any coach would prefer. But with back-to-back road losses and the team's worst defensive effort of the season on Thursday, De los Cobos might have some important personnel decisions to make as the Fire attempt to end their little skid when they host the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sunday at Toyota Park.

The Fire posted road losses to Seattle Sounders FC on April 9 and the expansion Portland Timbers on Thursday, and the focus is on Chicago's recent shaky defensive efforts. Chicago allowed a season-high four goals against Portland in a 4-2 loss. Second-year goalkeeper Sean Johnson had one of his poorest efforts of the season against Portland, including the inability to secure the ball that directly led to the Timbers' third goal.

Following Saturday's training, De los Cobos was not ready to state a firm answer as to whether Johnson would return in the net on Sunday, or whether he is leaning toward 33-year-old Jon Conway to make his Fire debut.

"I don't know, I don't know, I don't know," De los Cobos said. "Right now, I don't know. I need to think. I need to talk with [Sean] first. ... We have a good player like Jonny. I think Jonny is very good to stick with us because he can help transmit his experience to Sean and to help him mature."

One person who is back in the mix is center defensive back Josip Mikulic. The Fire missed the stability of Mikulic, who had an effective first two games of the season. Mikulic then injured his quad during 11-vs.-11 training the day before Chicago's Lamar Hunt U.S. Opener Cup qualifier against the Colorado Rapids on March 30.

"Right now, it's perfect," Mikulic said of his leg. "Not to worry -- I'm ready."

The Galaxy confirmed Saturday to that Donovan (knee inflammation) is unavailable for Sunday's game. David Beckham (yellow card accumulation, suspended), Juninho (two yellows on Wednesday, suspended) and Jovan Kirovski (second game of two-game suspension) also are not available for the Galaxy (2-1-3).


Friday, April 15, 2011

Donovan did not travel for Fire match

L.A.'s Landon Donovan -- Getty Images
The Los Angeles Galaxy's Landon Donovan did not travel with his team to Chicago as the Galaxy prepares for its match against the Fire on Sunday at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.

While the Galaxy (2-1-3) has not officially ruled out Donovan for Sunday's game (he is questionable on this week's injury report with knee inflammation), the odds of the team pushing to bring him in over the weekend and see game-time action looks bleak at the moment. Donovan missed Wednesday's scoreless draw against Toronto FC and last Saturday's 1-1 draw against D.C. United.


Follow's new Chicago Fire Twitter account

Folks, launched its Chicago Fire Blog Twitter account on Friday. CLICK HERE to follow all of my updates and story links, starting with this Sunday's Fire match against the Los Angeles Galaxy at Toyota Park (3 p.m. kickoff).

Timbers board up flustered Fire

Fire's Marco Pappa (right) -- Getty Images
Everything that could go wrong did go wrong for the Chicago Fire on Thursday.

For the host Portland Timbers, the expansion side had a dream start en route to their first victory, 4-2, over Chicago during their home opener in front of an enthusiastic 18,627 at Jeld-Wen Field.

The Fire (1-2-1) dropped their second straight match, and the Chicago defense has now allowed a combined eight goals in its past three league games.

Jorge Perlaza tallied two goals to lead the way for Portland (1-1-2), while teammate Rodney Wallace also tallied a goal for the home side. The Timbers jumped out to a 3-0 advantage early in the second half.

"We were making a big push to get the first goal [of the second half] on our end, but a couple minutes into the second half we gave up a third, which makes it a daunting hill to climb," Fire captain Logan Pause said. "We made a chase. We pushed it. We just really need to start learning from some of the mistakes we're making."

Marco Pappa had a goal for the Fire, and he was in the mix of the action during the Timbers' own goal in the 66th minute.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Fire seek rebound effort vs. Portland

Fire defender Cory Gibbs (left) -- Getty Images
The Chicago Fire defense has allowed two goals in each of the team's past two games. That is not a panic statistic, but it also is not an ideal trend considering Chicago posted a 1-7-3 record last year in league play when giving up two or more goals.

The Fire (1-1-1) would like to remedy things on the defensive front as they face the expansion Portland Timbers on Thursday during the Timbers' home opener at Jeld-Wen Field (10 p.m. CT kickoff, ESPN2).

Chicago is coming off a 2-1 loss Sunday against Seattle Sounders FC -- the Fire's first defeat of the season.

"It's been a bit unfortunate, the types of goals we have given up," Fire defender Cory Gibbs said. "But the things we've given up are also easy fixes. We've hurt ourselves on probably more than half of the goals."

For more, visit

Former Red Stars defender Markgraf joins ESPN for World Cup coverage

Kate Markgraf (left) -- Getty Images
Former Chicago Red Stars defender and Notre Dame standout Kate Markgraf will be an analyst for ESPN during the network's coverage of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup -- June 26 to July 17 in Germany. The recently retired U.S. international was the youngest member of the 1999 World Cup team.

Read Natalie Davis Miller's piece on Notre Dame's athletics site,

Monday, April 11, 2011

Nyarko looks to be ready Thursday

Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko -- Getty Images
Chicago Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko said he was "a little lucky" that his injury during Saturday's 2-1 loss to Seattle Sounders FC was not severe.

Nyarko was dealt a vicious knock from Sounders midfielder Servando Carrasco at the end of regulation and into second-half stoppage time. But Nyarko said Monday that Carrasco's cleats-to-the-shin blow should not keep him out.

That is good news for the Fire (1-1-1) and last year's assists leader, who also assisted on Chicago's lone tally by Diego Chaves over the weekend. Chicago has a busy agenda over the next week with a Thursday match at the expansion Portland Timbers (televised on ESPN2), followed by Sunday's return to Bridgeview when the Fire host the Los Angeles Galaxy at Toyota Park.

"Initially I thought it was bad myself," Nyarko said of the injury. "It's nothing but a big bruise. We just got done with training [Monday], even though we didn't do too much, and I'm shooting for Thursday."


Saturday, April 9, 2011

Fire dealt first loss by Sounders

Diego Chaves -- Getty Images
The Chicago Fire created some high quality scoring opportunities in the second half, but Seattle Sounders FC goalkeeper Kasey Keller was up to the task as the Sounders topped the Fire, 2-1, on Saturday at in front of a Qwest Field crowd of 36,223 in Seattle.

The Fire (1-1-1) suffered their first loss of the season, while the Sounders (1-2-2) garnered their first win of the season. Chicago falls to 0-3-2 all-time against Seattle.

Trailing by a goal in the second half, the Fire had three big scoring chances in a 9-minute stretch from the 58th to 66th minutes, but Keller posted three of his game-high four saves to maintain Seattle's lead.

In the 58th, Fire midfielder Marco Pappa took a free kick that hit the Sounders' wall and was not cleared properly. Chicago forward Diego Chaves, who had scored his team-leading third goal earlier in the match, took a strike toward the near right post. But Keller dove to his left and got his left glove on the ball.

In the 61st, Puerari created an opening, but Keller came through with a foot save. And in the 66th, Pappa struck the ball with his cleats and tried to direct the ball to the right side of the frame, but Keller reacted quickly and pounced on the ball.


Friday, April 8, 2011

Fire face true test at Seattle

Gonzalo Segares -- Getty Images
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire have lived up to their first two MLS challenges this season, but now the team heads out to the league's buzzing Northwest corridor for two matches over a six-day span.

The Fire face Seattle Sounders FC on Saturday at the notoriously decibel-shaking Qwest Field, then stay on the west coast to take on the expansion Portland Timbers next Thursday. Chicago is off to a 1-0-1 start to the season, while Seattle is itching for its first victory with a 0-2-2 record.

"They're still looking for their first win, so our motivations are different," Fire midfielder and defender Gonzalo Segares said. "We've got to take advantage and go over there and have two good games and get some points."

Chicago has to feel confident coming off a 2-1 victory over 2010 MLS champion Colorado Rapids on March 30 in its Lamar Hunt U.S. Open qualifier match, preceded by a 3-2 home opener win against Sporting Kansas City on March 26.

The Fire travel into the largest MLS fan base in Seattle, where the Sounders bring in crowds in excess of 36,000 per game. Chicago also has never won against Seattle, posting a 0-2-2 record since the Sounders' MLS debut in 2009.

"This will be one of the first real tests for this team," Segares said. "We've definitely got to be prepared for that. Mentally and physically, we've got to be ready."


Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Jouaux strikes chord with Fire's strength, conditioning regimen

Tony Jouaux -- Chicago Fire
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- First-year Chicago Fire strength and conditioning coach Tony Jouaux stands by the following assessment from Real Madrid head coach Jose Mourinho:

"Mourinho always says that a pianist doesn't run around the piano or do a push-up with his finger tips to be the greatest pianist -- he plays a piano," Jouaux said. "That's the same for soccer."

The 25-year-old Jouaux has taken a fitness approach that resonates with just about any player on the pitch, and that is a program involving the soccer ball in everything the Fire players do.

"If I remember, only one practice in Charleston was without the ball," Fire midfielder and defender Gonzalo Segares said of the team's preseason trip to South Carolina. "Other than that, every other fitness day is with the ball. As a soccer player, you enjoy that more than just going around in circles on the field. I think it makes it more interesting for us."

There is not a clear-cut right answer toward the proper methods of training a professional soccer team, but Jouaux has struck a chord with his approach for the Fire. Many Fire players raved about Jouaux's routine and schedule during the preseason. Now, the key for Jouaux and Chicago (1-0-1) is maintaining a high work rate and a healthy roster over the course of a 34-game regular season.

"He really believes in these phases of where we are in the season, we're doing different stuff," Fire captain Logan Pause said. "So in the middle of the summer, when the legs are exhausted and you're normally fatigued, he has a different plan to cater to guys during that time. It's very individual-specific. It's not something you see overnight. It's one of those things that will make our team better because it'll keep guys healthy, and we'll be hopefully one of the fittest teams in the league."


Monday, April 4, 2011

Fire sign tryout winner 'Pari'

Pari Pantazopoulos -- Chicago Fire
The Chicago Fire's open tryouts typically do not bring in a first-team player, but Mount Prospect's Paraskevas "Pari" Pantazopoulos is an exception to the rule.

The Fire announced Monday that Pantazopoulos, who topped the 210-player pool to win the 2011 open tryout in January, has signed with the club.

"Playing professional soccer has always been a dream of mine," Pantazopoulos said. "I moved to Chicago in 1998 and grew up idolizing Fire players like [Ante] Razov, [Peter] Nowak and [Frank] Klopas, and now I'm part of this team. I'm thankful to the Fire organization for this unbelievable opportunity."