Fire's Berry to make MLS debut vs. Chivas USA


Fire's Berry to make MLS debut vs. Chivas USA

The Fire will have a new face in its lineup Friday night when it takes on Chivas USA at the Home Depot Center in Los Angeles. Austin Berry will man a central defenders spot while making his debut in Major League Soccer.

Berry might seem a liability as the Fire (2-2-2) tries to recover from last Saturdays 2-1 home loss to the Seattle Sounders. He was the Fires first-round selection in Januarys MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Louisville and the only reasons hes playing is because Cory Gibbs is recovering from knee surgery and Jalil Anibaba is serving a one-game suspension.

Still, Berry feels hes ready for his first big chance as a pro player.

"I had a strong preseason, and Im getting better every day," he said following a training session in Bridgeview this week. "I feel confident."

Experience-wise, of course, he lacking. Berry has played only in three reserve team matches and a friendly against his college team since coach Frank Klopas finalized his regular season roster. Berry, though, feels hes better prepared than it might seem.

"In college I had some opportunities to train with teams at the next level, so that made me sure about what it would be like," said Berry, "so there were no surprises for me. I knew what I had to work on."

A three-sport athlete in high school, Berry became a student of soccer while at Louisville and was invited to train with the Fire Premier Development side as well as stints with the Columbus Crew, Portland Timbers and Sounders of MLS and a club in Sweden.

"All those 10-day training sessions were good preparation for me before stepping into this preseason," said Berry, "and just being out (at Fire training) every day has helped my technical ability. But its not just technical ability, its making the right decisions on the field."

Berrys biggest adjustment was to the faster speed of play in MLS, and he believes playing beside German veteran Arne Freidrich will ease his transition to MLS game action on Friday.

"Organization and communication have always been one of my strong suits," said Berry, "and itll help having Arne beside me. Hes a world-class player whos big on communication."

With Klopas unable to communicate with the club while at the Home Depot Center (he will make the trip with the club to Los Angeles), the Fire will be coached by assistants Mike Matkovich and Leo Percovich on game day. Both are former Chivas USA assistant coaches, having worked with that club when Preki was its head coach.

Chivas USA (3-5-0) is coming off a 4-0 loss to the Colorado Rapids last Saturday. The Goats, as the team is called, has a defender, Rauwshaun McKenzie, who grew up in the Chicago area and played for Chicago Fire Premier in 2007. Orr Barouch, a Fire reserve, was with Chivas in a similar development program before turning pro with Mexican club Tigres prior to being acquired by the Fire.

The match with Chivas USA will be the first of six MLS tests for the Fire in May, and the teams first game in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup will be on May 29, with the opponent and site yet to be determined.

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Griffins hope to avoid 'sick feeling' going forward after blowout loss to Bradley

Not all losses are created equal.

When Lincoln-Way East suffered a 35-30 defeat in Week 3 to Homewood-Flossmoor, the Griffins took positives away from the loss. They had held a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, battled back from adversity in the second half and had a chance to win the game in the final minute. Even that loss in retrospect appeared acceptable – if there ever was an acceptable loss – as the Vikings are currently 8-0 and in their other seven wins have outscored their opponents by an average of 38 points.

By Week 3 the Griffins were still acclimating to the unique situation of playing at game speed with a host of Lincoln-Way North students who had transferred in the offseason. They had a defense made up almost entirely of first-year starters, and the offense was still rotating quarterbacks Jake Arthur and Max Shafer to figure out how to maximize their talent. By many standards the Griffins went toe-to-toe for 48 minutes with a team also considered to be a favorite for a state title.

The same couldn’t be said for the Griffins’ effort last Friday night in Bradley.

An esteemed program with a 2005 state title and 16 consecutive playoff appearances to their resume, it isn’t often the Griffins are embarrassed on Friday night. But those were the words head coach Rob Zvonar used in his postgame speech to the team following their 38-21 loss to the undefeated Boilermakers.

“We chose to play the game,” Zvonar began. “Which means you play it to the greatest of your ability and you honor each other, God, everybody by your play. And we didn’t do that tonight.”

There were plenty of reasons the Griffins suffered their second loss of the season. That is came in such blowout fashion was the bigger surprise. The Boilermakers found the end zone on their first two possessions, rallying behind a raucous home crowd hoping to see their team go 8-0 for the first time in school history.

The Griffins defense, which had allowed 27 points the previous three weeks combined, were on their heels as the Boilermakers used misdirection and a few trick plays to set up the short touchdown runs.

The Griffins offense moved down the field on their fourth possession, moving inside the Boilermakers red zone looking to get on the board. But Iowa commit Camron Harrell stepped in front of a Griffins screen pass on 4th down and returned it 89 yards for a score. On the final play of the first quarter, with the Griffins moving again, Damien Williams read a route and picked off Jake Arthur, returning it 53 yards for a score to give the Boilermakers a shocking 28-0 lead after 12 minutes.

After a spirited halftime speech from Zvonar, the Griffins came out firing in the second half, scoring on a touchdown run from Nigel Muhammad and a Jeremy Nelson 27-yard reception from Arthur. But the Boilermakers weathered the storm each time Lincoln-Way East attempted a comeback. The Griffins only got as close as 14 points late in the fourth quarter.

“I think we came into this game not ready,” said Muhammad, who finished with 164 yards on 24 carries. “But we’re all a team and we all accept this loss together.”

Added senior Jack Carroll, who finished with a team-high nine tackles: “We have this sick feeling in our stomach right now but the best thing is (next) Friday we can come back and get it out of our stomach. If we lose again in the playoffs then we’ll have that sick feeling in our stomach for the rest of our lives.”

That’s now the reality for the Griffins, and a silver lining if there ever could be one for such a blowout loss. With the playoffs a mere week away – the Griffins defeated Lockport on Friday to finish the regular season 7-2 – the feeling each of them felt getting on the bus back to Frankfort will linger with them and act as a reminder of how quickly things can slip away.

“We’re trying to put this behind us,” said Max Shafer. “We’re going to try to get hot and make a run in the playoffs.”

In a loaded 8A class, the Griffins’ two regular-season losses have already knocked them down in the seeding process. While any loss before Week 9 means little in the long run – the Griffins locked up a playoff berth weeks ago – it also means a more difficult road to Champaign. But that’s the reality for Zvonar’s group, and whether it’s a defense playing faster or an offense avoiding costly mistakes, the Griffins are running out of time to right the ship.

But Zvonar believes such a loss as the team suffered last Friday night can act as the catalyst to doing just that. The Griffins have established themselves as one of the state’s premier programs, and that means not riding the highs too high, and not breaking apart when the lows come. Last Friday night was as low as Zvonar had seen any of his 16 teams, but the silver lining occurred in that his squad now knows what it has to do to avoid it when it’s win or go home.

“What we also think is that the program is built on a solid foundation, so when you take a little hit like that you battle back and you go back to what you believe in and what you know can be successful. And that’s fundamentals and keeping things simple, and the kids have bounced back and they’re not acceptable to them what occurred to them, so very proud of their effort and the way they’re working.

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