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 give up two goals in a minute in loss at New York City FC

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Fire give up two goals in a minute in loss at New York City FC

For about six minutes things looked pretty good for the Chicago Fire.

That changed quickly.

After earning three corner kicks in the first six minutes, the Fire allowed two goals in rapid succession in a 4-1 loss to New York City FC on Friday. Jefferson Mena kneed in the first goal on a designed short corner kick routine and David Villa doubled the lead a minute later to give the hosts a two-goal lead less than 10 minutes into the match.

Andrea Pirlo played a short corner in the eighth minute that led to Khiry Shelton centering the ball with a header. Mena was open in front to score with his knee and make it 1-0.

Almost exactly 60 seconds after Mena found the net, Villa was there to score again. The Fire turned it over soon after the kickoff and Villa didn’t miss his chance in the box.

That disastrous sequence left the Fire (6-14-9, 27 points) chasing for the rest of the match.

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Arturo Alvarez sparked a number of Fire chances in the rest of the half, including assisting Luis Solignac on a goal. Alvarez picked up his seventh assist of the season with a cross that Solignac headed into the net in the 35th minute.

Alvarez later hit the post on a shot that led to a corner kick. David Villa and NYC (13-9-9, 48 points) countered that corner kick. The result was a Steven Mendoza curled shot past Sean Johnson that restored the two-goal lead just before halftime.

David Villa added NYC’s fourth and his second goal in the 83rd minute.

Fire defender Rodrigo Ramos saw his first action since the U.S. Open Cup semifinal loss on Aug. 9. Ramos started at right back after missing the previous eight MLS matches. Also on the backline, Jonathan Campbell did not start for the first time since Aug. 6. Campbell replaced Ramos in the 58th minute.

The Fire go from the East Coast to the West Coast with a match at Seattle on Wednesday.

Fire open three-game road trip Friday in Yankee Stadium

Fire open three-game road trip Friday in Yankee Stadium

In May the Chicago Fire faced a three-game road trip over the span of eight days involving flights to both coasts.

The Fire lost all three games. Losses at Vancouver (2-1), New England (2-0) and the New York Red Bulls (1-0) resulted in no points on the trip for Chicago.

Starting Friday at New York City FC (12-9-9, 45 points), the Fire (6-13-9, 27 points) begin a similar road trip. This time it will be three games in nine days with the opener being on a Friday in Yankee Stadium. A midweek trip to Seattle follows on Wednesday and the road trip closes at Columbus next Saturday.

The Fire had a more limited roster in May. That was before Michael de Leeuw, Luis Solignac or David Arshakyan arrived to add much-needed depth to the team’s attack. David Accam missed the Vancouver game due to injury and didn’t play 90 minutes for any of the three games while returning from a knee injury. Midfielder Khaly Thiam debuted in the second game of that road trip.

John Goossens missed that May road trip due to a knee injury. He will also miss Friday’s game due to a back injury.

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This upcoming road trip will start against a team that the Fire have already played twice this season. New York won the season opener 4-3 at Toyota Park. Just over a month later the teams played to a scoreless draw in Yankee Stadium.

“Of course they are a very good team,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “They are in a very good spot in the league so it’s going to be tough. They have very important, very good players, experienced guys playing together a long time, for a couple of seasons. The momentum they are leaving is actually very good. Against all these adversities we have to work and prepare and then perform. I believe we will do that. I believe we can win the game."

NYCFC is two points behind Eastern Conference leader Toronto, but Toronto has a game in hand. Frank Lampard, who has 12 goals in 18 appearances this season, will be out with a calf injury. Lampard also missed the two previous meetings with the Fire.

“We know that everyone in this league so far we can see that everyone in this league is beatable," Paunovic said.

In addition to Goossens, goalkeeper Matt Lampson is out with a toe injury. De Leeuw is still listed as questionable due to the ankle sprain that kept him out last week against D.C.