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 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.”