Chicago Fire

Berry, Fire close out postseason training

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Berry, Fire close out postseason training

Thursday marks the last day of training for the Fire in Bridgeview, and that also means the end of Austin Berrys first professional season. It also figures to be much more memorable for another reason.

Major League Soccer announces the finalists for its season awards as well, and Berry should be a shoo-in as one of the three vying for Rookie-of-the-Year honors. The actual winner of the award will be revealed on Monday and in this voters mind at least Berry should be a shoo-in for that, as well.

Berry, 24, got his chance when former U.S. national teamer Cory Gibbs was lost to knee surgery in the third game. Though inexperienced, Berry did not disappoint. Benefitting by having Arne Friedrich a veteran on Germanys national team playing beside him, Berry blossomed into a solid defender just months after completing his collegiate eligibility at the University of Louisville.

It was a good season in that I got a lot of games under my belt, Berry said. Theres no substitute for getting on the field.

The Fire has done its part in promoting Berry for the rookie honor, having even put his likeness on a Life cereal box. If Berry does have a challenger, itll probably be Nick DeLeon, a former college teammate who plays for D.C. United.

The only Fire defender honored as MLS Rookie-of-the-Year was Carlos Bocanegra in 2000, and Berry at least had a better day than Bocanegra did on Wednesday. The U.S. national team captain, Bocanegra came off early with an apparent hamstring injury in the teams 2-2 draw with Russia in an international friendly in Krasnodar, Russia.

Bocanegra and Berry were both first-round draft picks by the Fire, and Bocanegra eventually took his talents to major European clubs in addition to establishing himself as a U.S. mainstay. The only other Fire Rookie-of-the-Year was striker Damani Ralph in 2003.

Berry could only dream of being in this position when the season started, and he figured to be playing behind Friedrich and Gibbs.

I set some lofty goals, said Berry, but you never know how close you can come to them. Fortunately now Im reaching a lot of those goals.

Berry figures to be the only Fire player among Fridays finalists for the various awards. Friedrich has already been named the clubs Defender of the Year, Chris Rolfe was the teams MVP and Golden Boot winner, and forward Patrick Nyarko was named this week as the 2012 Supporters' Player of the Year. His selection will be celebrated at 2 p.m. on Sunday at Cleos when Section 8 fans donate 1,000 in Nyarkos name to the charity of his choice. Two hours later the Illinois State Soccer Assn. will hold its Hall of Fame banquet at Toyota Park.

The Fire, as per usual MLS policy, continued training after being eliminated from postseason play. The last match was Oct. 31, a 2-1 home loss to the Houston Dynamo in the Knockout Round of the MLS Eastern Conference playoffs the first postseason appearance for the Fire since 2009.

Though Houston was the bottom seed in the Eastern Conference, the Dynamo is in a great position to reach the MLS Cup final for the second straight year. The finalists are determined in a two-game home-and-home series and Houston was a 3-1 winner over D.C. United in the first match of the series. United hosts the second at 3 p.m. (Chicago time) on Sunday.

The Western Conference representative in the Dec. 1 MLS Cup will also be determined when the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy visits the Seattle Sounders in an 8 p.m. match. Los Angeles won the first game of that series 3-0.

Thursdays final training session figures to be routine, what with head coach Frank Klopas travelling and goalkeeper Sean Johnson on the way home from Russia. Johnson was again called up by U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann, but he didnt dress for the Russia match. He did get a good taste of international soccer over the course of the year, though, as the U.S. went 9-2-3 in Klinsmanns first year and posted first-ever road wins over Italy and Mexico.

Tim Howard is the U.S. mainstay in goal, and Nick Rimando was the backup on Thursday. Johnson, though, has received regular call-ups and could play a part in next years final stages of World Cup qualifying.

Fire Talk Podcast: Does David Accam have a long-term future with the Fire?

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USA TODAY

Fire Talk Podcast: Does David Accam have a long-term future with the Fire?

Dan Santaromita and Shane Murray (MLSsoccer.com) recap the Fire's 2-1 loss at New York City FC and discuss why the team continues to struggle against shorthanded teams.

Next, they recap the Fire's All-Star selections and talk about David Accam's reaction to being left off the team.

Then, hear from forward Michael de Leeuw, who has some choice words about the Fire's performance in Yankee Stadium.

Dan and Shane return to talk about the weird Dom Dwyer trade from Sporting Kansas City and Orlando before the Fire head to KC on Saturday. Finally, the guys answer fan questions.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below:

Fire hoping loss in Yankee Stadium will provide wake-up call

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USA TODAY

Fire hoping loss in Yankee Stadium will provide wake-up call

Coming off the first MLS loss for the Chicago Fire in more than two months, Tuesday’s practice seemed to have a bit more intensity.

After coming out a bit sloppy in a 2-1 loss to New York City FC following a two-and-a-half week break, the team is trying to get back the sharpness and consistency displayed during its 12-game unbeaten run.

“I think it’s the transfer from the bad sensations that we had in the last game,” Paunovic said. “You can lose the game and it’s not the end of the world, but not in the way we lost it.”

The Fire are again licking their wounds after failing to convert chances against a shorthanded team. As opposed to the scoreless draw in Orlando in June, when the Lions finished the game with nine players, this time the Fire were able to score, but actually lost.

This problem is something Paunovic has spoken about before, but is one the Fire still haven’t been able to solve.

“You see the same as in Orlando,” de Leeuw said. “If they play with 10 men and it looks like we’re playing with 10 men, then they deserve every point they had.

“I don’t know what it is. I think maybe when teams are sitting back we need to do something else. We are good at 11 against 11 with possession, the runs we make, but when they have 10 men and they’re going to sit back, you think you need to run less, but actually you need to run more. Because you are with 11 guys you need to create more space. The expectation is higher then from you and I think we lacked that and some other things in the game.”

The filter-free, outspoken de Leeuw said the team had no energy. He is hoping the loss will turn into a motivating factor for the Fire.

“It’s better that it happens now because everybody needs to wake up,” de Leeuw said. “The points we had, it’s not coming by itself. We have to work for it every game, against every opponent, if it’s 10 men, nine men, we have to work for it. It’s good everybody had a wake-up call Saturday I think. OK, we need to work for it, but also we don’t need to distract because we lost one game. We had 11 or 12 good games before that and we lost one, so OK it can happen, but it’s more s--- that it’s against 10 men.”

Teams having sometimes inexplicably bad games is a part of Major League Soccer. The fact that the Fire had gone so long without one was what made the team’s unbeaten run so impressive.

The players and Paunovic have talked about how important the break was. Bastian Schweinsteiger said it was more important for the mind than the body. However, is it possible that the break took the edge away from the Fire?

“We were not sharp, I don’t know, maybe from the break,” winger David Accam said. “We came back and not a single player was sharp. We gave sloppy passes and for us I don’t think it’s just about 10 men or teams staying back, it’s just about us. We were not sharp. We did not play well. It was like we were still training or something.”

Paunovic is trying to refocus his group for another tough road game at Sporting Kansas City coming up this weekend.

“The break was a good thing in terms of recovering from the tough first half of the season,” Paunovic said. “Every team needs that, especially when you’re at the top and did well like we did in the past, but also the break has some challenges and these challenges are losing the rhythm, getting back to the working suit and working atmosphere and mentality.

“It’s just different when you have the game, when you’re in the rhythm of the games and in the season and you’re going from game to game you kind of get that habit very, very simple and very fluent and then you just work towards the next game. That was maybe interrupted with the break, but we are going back, as I said that’s our goal now, to get that habit back again, that mentality that we had before.”