Cory Gibbs solid soccer career came to an end on Monday when the Fires veteran central defender announced his retirement after 12 professional seasons.
Gibbs last 26 games were with the Fire, but he had successful stints with clubs in Europe and made 19 appearances with the U.S. national team. He had three goals and one assist in his matches with the Fire, who acquired him in the 2010 Major League Soccer re-entry draft. His most memorable moment came with his header goal that gave the Fire a 1-0 lead against Manchester United in a 3-1 loss at Soldier Field in 2011.
The career-ender for Gibbs turned out to be a torn meniscus suffered in training on April 4. A starter in the Fires first three matches of 2012, Gibbs underwent surgery on April 10 and didnt play another game. He attempted a return to late-season training, but decided he couldnt make it back to where he had been.
"It was a tough decision," said Gibbs. "After discussing it with the medical staff, my wife and family, its the right time for me to step away from the playing field. Ive done everything in my power to return to the game. However, my latest injury has made it too difficult to play again."
Even if Gibbs had returned to form its doubtful he would have enjoyed his same workhorse role with the club. When he went down Austin Berry was forced into action sooner than anticipated and he responded with a season that earned him the MLS Rookie of the Year Award.
Berry partnered with Arne Friedrich, a player rich in experience with the German national team. They worked well together, and when Friedrich made clear his intention of playing another season with the Fire there wasnt much opportunity left for Gibbs. Second-year man Jalil Anibaba, the starter at right back, proved a solid replacement in the center on the few days when Friedrich wasnt available.
Though the Fires season ended with a playoff loss to the Houston Dynamo on Oct. 31 the Fire continued to train until Nov. 15. With preseason training having begun in January, that concluded a long stretch of soccer for the players but even then the work wasnt over for at least two of them.
Anibaba and Berry were invited to train with Europa League champion Atletico Madrid, an experience certain to benefit the two young defenders. Anibaba reported to the Spanish La Liga side on Nov. 18 and will train with that team through Dec. 2. Berry began his stint in Spain on Nov. 25 and will train through Dec. 9.
Their opportunities stemmed from a strategic alliance the Fire established with Atletico Madrid and six other clubs on four continents in 2011.
Soul ready for home debut
While the Fire is done playing for awhile, soccer the indoor variety is about to return to Chicago. The Chicago Soul faces the Rochester Lancers in their first home game on Dec. 7 at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates.
The Soul is the latest in a long line of Chicago indoor teams, following the Sting, Vultures, Shoccers, Power, Storm and Riot. Most didnt last long, but the Power ruled the National Professional Soccer League in 1990-91. Fire head coach Frank Klopas had his first head coaching job with the Storm and the Riot was founded by Peter Wilt, the Fires first general manager.
A one-time popular Chicago player, Manny Rojas, coaches the Soul. He was a mainstay with the Sting. Rojas has endured a difficult start in his first professional coaching job. The Souls first seven games were scheduled on the road. In the first six the Soul was 2-4, and the seventh is against the Milwaukee Wave on Saturday, Dec. 1.
While the Soul is Chicagos latest entry into the Major Indoor Soccer League, the circuit is growing and has three well-established members the Baltimore Blast (leading the league at the moment with a 7-0 record), Wichita Wings and Wave. When the Riot was representing Chicago with home games at The Odeum in Villa Park the circuit had just five teams. Now it has seven, the others being the Syracuse Silver Knights, Missouri Comets and the Lancers.
Red Stars go big-time again
The Chicago Red Stars will be back for another attempt to establish a top-level womens pro league. This third try at doing it is being led by the Chicago-based U.S. Soccer Federation and also has significant involvement from the soccer associations of Canada and Mexico. Its the third time in 12 years that a top-level womens league has been created. That first two attempts were thwarted by financial problems.
Particulars on the latest circuit, to begin play in March or April, are sketchy. All that USSF president Sunil Gulati would announce was the participation of the Red Stars and seven other teams. Besides the Red Stars returning teams from previous unsuccessful league ventures are the Boston Breakers, Western New York Flash and Sky Blue of New Jersey. Other franchises will be located in Portland, Seattle, Kansas City and Washington D.C.
The Red Stars have issued no specifics, either, though preliminary reports on the still-unnamed circuit say the team wont play at Toyota Park, as was the case the first time around. MLS stadiums wont be used for the womens games, though the Portland franchise will be operated by its MLS counterpart.
Most significant thing, so far, about the latest attempt at a womens league is on the financial side. USSF will pay for scheduling, promotion and websites as well as the salaries of up to 24 U.S. national team players. The Canadian federation will sponsor up to 20 players and Mexicos will pay for up to 12.