Dan Santaromita

Fire fans are throwing a killer party for the club's 20th birthday

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Fire fans are throwing a killer party for the club's 20th birthday

Most MLS teams are too young to have substantial history, but Fire fans are doing their part to celebrate the 20 years of Chicago Fire soccer.

A group of supporters is putting the work in to throw a party for the club in the vein of a fan convention — except this one isn’t run by a team. The small group of fans from the Fire’s independent supporters’ association, Section 8, is pooling efforts to throw a killer birthday bash and inviting former players and coaches to return for the celebration.

The Chicago Fire 20th Anniversary will take place on Oct. 8 at the Chicago Cultural Center. That’s 20 years to the day since the club’s first general manager, Peter Wilt, announced the name of the then-MLS expansion team at Navy Pier. Wilt will be among the star-studded list of attendees.

“You’re basically taking a fan convention and cramming it into four hours,” said Scott Greene, the chair of Section 8’s board of directors.

Greene was at the anniversary party five years ago and the plan is to continue them every five years. He said the 15th anniversary was “pretty flawless” in the way it ran and they are hoping to replicate that this time around with a similar type of program.

“It was astounding from the fact of what the Fire means for former players,” Greene said. “I think that always takes you aback at their experience at what the Fire means... Their willingness to come out to Chicago to interact with the fans is remarkable.”

The list of confirmed guests already boasts some of the biggest names in the team’s history and more are expected, although still unconfirmed. Five players from the original 1998 team, which won both the U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup, are already confirmed to be attending: Lubos Kubik, Diego Gutierrez, Jerzy Podbrozny, Roman Kosecki and current broadcaster Frank Klopas.

“It’s always great, the ability now to reconnect with all the old friends,” Klopas said during the broadcast of the D.C. United match this past Saturday. “I pretty much run into a lot of my old teammates that are still involved in the league here, but the ability to spend some time with Kosecki and Podbrozny, guys that you don’t see that much. It’s fantastic to reconnect with some of our old fans and some of the new fans and talk about some great moments from the past, but also some fantastic moments where the team is now.”

Longtime Fire defender Gonzalo Segares, 2013 MLS MVP Mike Magee and 1994 Ballon d’Or winner Hristo Stoichkov also will be attending.

In order to get the players to come to Chicago, Section 8 has worked to raise funds to fly the players in, which is especially tricky with those coming in from out of the country. Greene said ticket sales are the main revenue portion, but they are also accepting donations and there is a silent auction.

The auction includes a game-worn Michael Bradley national team jersey from a Gold Cup semifinal this year. Bradley is the son of the Fire’s first coach, Bob Bradley, and grew up in Chicagoland while his dad coached the team. There is also the press of the Bastian Schweinsteiger poster that ran in the Chicago Tribune.


“It’s a ton of coordination, but from a fan’s point of view it’s pretty awesome to email people,” Greene said. “I sponsored Andy Herron and it’s really cool to interact with him. I’m interacting with my sporting heroes. That’s really cool from being a volunteer and organizing this, the logistics of who’s coming.”

The club has helped provide videos and photos as part of the program and the beer list would make some brew fests envious. Chicagoland breweries Half Acre, BuckleDown (which has a Section 8 Pale Ale), Two Brothers (which will have a 20 Twenty-Plus Pilsner Lager which is named for the founding year of the brewery, which matches the Fire’s founding year) and Goose Island will have beers at the party. Goose Island is making a black lager made exclusively for the party.

Tickets and more information are available through the Fire 20th Anniversary website.

With playoff spot nearly secure, 'now it’s about how good' Fire can be

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USA TODAY

With playoff spot nearly secure, 'now it’s about how good' Fire can be

Things have been on the upswing for the Fire for the past couple weeks, but the players recognize the sharpness of the team’s unbeaten run earlier in the season still eludes them.

The 3-0 win against D.C. United on Saturday wasn’t all-out domination, but was the only comfortable win in the past seven games. With five games remaining in the regular season, and a playoff spot virtually locked up, the Fire is hoping to reach its heights from earlier in the year.

“We can start mentally getting ready to treat I think these next five games like they are playoff games, mentally getting ready for it,” midfielder Dax McCarty said. “We haven’t clinched anything yet so I don’t think we can take any of that for granted, but obviously with a couple good results in a row now, we’re feeling pretty comfortable about making the playoffs. Now it’s about positioning. We want to get a first-round bye so, like I said, these last five games for us, from my perspective, are playoff games.”

New York City FC is three points ahead of the Fire for second place in the Eastern Conference. The two teams play at Toyota Park on Sept. 30.

They already met in Yankee Stadium on July 22. That game was the first in a stretch of seven games in which the Fire lost six. NYCFC suffered an early red card and still managed to beat the Fire. The Fire’s struggles to create and convert quality chances was evident in that game and continued for many of the next several games.

The three-goal outburst against D.C. was a sign that the Fire may be getting the attack back in gear. David Accam, whose six chances created were most in MLS this past weekend, said the attack is not quite back to its peak.

“At the moment we are creating more chances,” Accam said. “We’re not sharp in front of goal. Before we were. We were creating, we were sharp, but now we are only creating. We’re not sharp. We are still working in training at trying to be sharper in front of goal in games.”

Defensively, the Fire has allowed one goal in the past three matches. In the previous eight matches, the team allowed 19 goals. As Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster returned from injury, and Joao Meira is right behind after coming off the bench against D.C., the Fire’s defensive record seems to have improved.

That doesn’t mean the team has a clean bill of health. Both Bastian Schweinsteiger (calf) and Juninho (knee) were not at training on Tuesday. Luis Solignac (thigh) and Daniel Johnson (knee) were both limited to running. Even without Schweinsteiger and Juninho, the Fire produced in a convincing win against D.C.

McCarty wasn’t worried the team would turn things around, but he has noticed more confidence in the team after getting seven points from the last three games.

“Certainly there’s more confidence in the group,” McCarty said. “We know we’re a good team. We know we can win games. Now it’s about how good can we be? We’re going to have to play our best if we’re going to be successful because I think we’ve shown that if we drop our level, even just a little bit, we’re just not good enough to win games in this league. We have to be very good every time we step on the field because other teams have certain aspects where maybe they’re stronger than us in, but if we can be at our best I like our chances against anyone.”

Top 10 storylines from the White Sox minor league season

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USA TODAY

Top 10 storylines from the White Sox minor league season

White Sox prospects received more attention from fans and media this year and on Sunday the White Sox minor league season concluded with rookie level Great Falls dropping the decisive game in the Pioneer League Championship.

Here's a look at some of the standout players, storylines and moments from the season that was, from Yoan to Eloy to Robert.

1. Yoan Moncada gets called up to make his White Sox debut after seven-player trade with Yankees

Yoan Moncada wasn't only the top White Sox prospect but the top prospect in baseball according to some, so when he was the first big prospect in the club's rebuild to get called up, it was a significant moment. Moncada mania began with a standing ovation from the home fans in his debut. He drew a walk in his first plate appearance and later said his White Sox debut had a similar feeling to his major league debut with the Red Sox.

2. Eloy Jimenez’s arrival and immediate hot streak

Trading Jose Quintana to the Cubs wasn't an easy pill for White Sox fans to swallow. With that in mind, it's a good thing that Eloy Jimenez quickly turned public perception of the trade in the White Sox favor. Jimenez had good, but not great numbers with the Cubs' Carolina League affiliate Myrtle Beach (.271/.351/.490) when he was traded. Jimenez had missed some time due to injury, but staying in the same league, he erupted with the Winston-Salem Dash. In 29 games with the Dash, Jimenez hit .345/.410/.682 and blasted eight home runs.

One of the highlights was when Jimenez told teammate Ian Clarkin, who arrived from the Yankees just days after the Quintana-Jimenez trade, that he was going to hit a home run. After Jimenez did in fact go yard that game, Clarkin shared Jimenez's prescient call on Twitter.

Jimenez provided more magic by blasting a home run in his first at-bat for Double-A Birmingham. In 18 games with the Barons, Jimenez hit .353/.397/.559 and solidified his spot as one of the best hitting prospects in the game. He has impressed the White Sox and Jimenez thinks he is ready to play in the majors.

3. The Luis Robert saga

With the major league team struggling on the field, the off the field moves attracted most of the attention. The chase for Cuban free agent Luis Robert riled up Sox fans, who were eating up the latest news and rumors about the then-teenage prospect.

When the Sox landed Robert, it was another big move for a quickly improving farm system. The outfielder has received high praise from around baseball.

After signing Robert played in the Dominican Summer League. He missed some time with minor injuries, but finished hitting .310/.491/.536.

4. Michael Kopech dominates in Double-A

Along with Moncada, Kopech was a big part of the Chris Sale trade. When the White Sox got him he was a hard-throwing 20-year-old who had plenty of strikeouts, but also plenty of walks.

After continuing that trend for the first three months of this season, something appeared to click for Kopech. The former first-round pick walked 11 batters in 44 1/3 innings in his final eights starts with Birmingham. He struck out a whopping 58 during that stretch and earned a late-season promotion to Triple-A Charlotte.

When he was in Birmingham, Kopech created buzz the Barons hadn't seen since Michael Jordan. He finished tied for fifth in the minors with 172 strikeouts on the season, which impressed the White Sox front office and earned him Southern League Most Outstanding Pitcher.

5. Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez make White Sox debuts

Moncada was the first major prospect to get promoted in the White Sox rebuild, but Reynaldo Lopez and Lucas Giolito represented the first pitching prospects to join the big league club. Both joined the White Sox in the Adam Eaton trade in the offseason, had major league experience and began the year in Triple-A.

Lopez's debut came first. After rolling off a hot July in which he posted a 2.10 ERA, Lopez pitched a quality start on Aug. 11 in his White Sox debut.

Meanwhile, Giolito waited a little bit longer after struggling for much of the year in Charlotte. He had a 5.40 ERA in his first 16 starts for the Knights, but found some consistency later in the year and drew rave reviews when he made his Sox debut on Aug. 22.

6. Breakout years for Alec Hansen and Dane Dunning

Lopez and Giolito received most of the attention in the Eaton trade, but in the early part of the season it was Dunning who was making the most noise in the minor leagues. The 2016 first-round pick utterly dominated the opposition in Single-A Kannapolis with a 0.35 ERA and 33 strikeouts against just two walks in 26 innings. Dunning got promoted to Winston-Salem and finished tied for 11th in all of the minors with 168 strikeouts, capping off a stellar first full season in pro ball.

Amazingly, Dunning may have been outshined by his own teammate. Alec Hansen, who the White Sox drafted in the second round last year, didn't get promoted out of Kannapolis as quickly, but dominated in Winston-Salem and finished the year in Birmingham. He ended up leading all of minor league baseball with 191 strikeouts and he thinks 2018 could be even better.

7. White Sox draft Jake Burger in the first round and he hits for a cycle

The White Sox will have a higher draft pick next year, but this year the Sox picked up Missouri State third baseman Jake Burger with the No. 11 pick.

Burger began his pro career hot by hitting .358 in Kannapolis, but slumped the rest of way. Burger hit .219 in August and September, but did hit for a cycle on Aug. 24.

8. Zack Collins struggles at the plate, but shows defensive improvements

When Zack Collins was drafted by the White Sox with the 10th pick in 2016, he was thought of as a sure-thing bat with question marks about his ability to play catcher. So naturally, his 2017 played out in exactly the opposite way.

He hit .223 in Winston-Salem while striking out 118 times in 426 plate appearances, but got promoted to Double-A Birmingham anyway. He got promoted the same day as Eloy Jimenez and both homered in their Birmingham debuts. Collins posted an .893 OPS in Birmingham, but still hit just .235.

Collins received better reviews about his defense, which he owes partially due to training with Dodgers catcher Yasmani Grandal, a fellow University of Miami product.

9. Zack Burdi’s Tommy John Surgery

When Zack Burdi was with the White Sox in spring training, he was trying to act like he belonged in big league camp. The fire-balling relief prospect was in line to be the White Sox closer of the future.

After beginning the season in Triple-A Charlotte and producing uneven, but promising results, the White Sox learned in July that Burdi would need Tommy John Surgery. A look at the White Sox bullpen now shows a lot of young, unproven pitchers and Burdi likely would be among them had he stayed healthy.

Now, it's all about the recovery for the 22-year-old, whose upside combined with the lack of proven arms in the White Sox bullpen means he remains a potentially key part of the team's future.

10. Micker Adolfo flashes power potential

Micker Adolfo wasn't a high-profile prospect at the start of the year, but had a breakout season. The 21-year-old was a big international signing back in 2013, coming with a $1.6 million signing bonus.

He was named the White Sox minor league player of the month for both May and June. He began to show his power potential with Kannapolis and helped the team make it to the South Atlantic League Championship Series. Adolfo slowed in the second half, but finished with 16 home runs, tied for fifth in the league.

Bonus: Nicky Delmonico shines in short big league stint

It wasn't a big deal at the time, but Nicky Delmonico's promotion has looked like a potentially significant moment for the White Sox rebuild. He has had a breakout performance in the majors and has made a strong case that he could be a significant part of the team's future.