A WILD and CRAZY night of football with Brother Rice and St. Laurence

  • Written by By Phil Arvia and Jeff Vorva


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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice’s Xavian Valladay breaks Crete-Monee’s Dabion Couch’s tackle attempt en route to a 55-yard touchdown run in a 61-44 victory Friday night in Chicago. It was the first of his five TDs on the night.




Crusaders make Warriors cry uncle


A year ago,a unique family dynamic factored in as Brother Rice running back Xavian Valladay played a secondary role, frequently blocking as a lead back for Clifton Taylor — who just happens to be his uncle.

“Nepheeeew,” Crusaders coach Brian Badke said with a smile, mimicking the way Taylor addressed Valladay last season. “He’s just a great kid. But we knew Xavian would step right in this year.

“(Valladay) did the work. He put on about 15 pounds this spring. He knows how to read in our zone scheme. He’s not a dancer — he’s just always moving forward.”

Friday, Valladay carried 36 times for 277 yards and five touchdowns in a 61-44 win over Crete-Monee that set a Rice record for combined scoring.

“He’s a big-time player,” Badke said. “He really showed it tonight — he’s like the Kansas Comet (ex-Bears great Gale Sayers). He’s a playmaker who really wants the ball in crucial situations.”

In the afterglow of his performance, one of the first people to come to Valladay’s mind was Taylor.

“I do miss that kid,” he said of his father’s brother. “I miss being around him. We’ve been growing up together since we were around six or seven years old.”

After his name-making performance, Valladay anticipated a chat with Taylor.

“The first thing I’ll tell him is we had a big start. We scored on the third play of the game. Like he’d always say, ‘Whatever you decide to do, depend on your offensive line.’”

After being stopped for no gain on the first play from scrimmage, then an encroachment foul against the Warriors, Valladay scampered 55 yards to the touchdown he insisted was his favorite of the night — though he later added scores 56, 8, 1 and 5 yards.

“Those were big blocks John Farano and Kyle (Mehok-)Doherty made for that cutback to just open up on the right side. I just flew through there,” the running back said.

Once Valladay got off and running, it seemed everyone was.

Combined, the teams racked up 1,008 total yards. The first quarter ended with Rice (2-0) up 35-19, and after the Warriors (1-1) closed to within 35-32 at the half, a pair of rushing touchdowns in the third left the Crusaders ahead 49-32 heading into the final 12 minutes.

Crete-Monee, ranked third in Class 6A by the Associated Press, got within 52-44 with 1:58 left, but Valladay set up his own 5-yard run for the final touchdown with a 46-yard burst on the preceding snap. The scoring wasn’t complete until Rice’s John Richardson kicked his second field goal of the evening, a 41-yarder, with 18.3 seconds left.

Crusaders quarterback Dino Borelli was 14-of-27 for 20 yards and two touchdowns, both to Branden Houston (6 catches, 84 yards). Crete-Monee’s Isaiah Rucker completed 29-of-51 passes for 430 yards and two touchdowns, both to Kevin Pate (11 catches, 195 yards), who also had rushing touchdowns of 1, 3 and 2 yards.

“That could’ve been the longest football game ever,” Badke said. “Crete-Monee is a very good football team, and they came ready to play. Obviously, we gave up a few big plays, but that team has big-play ability. What do they have, six Division I prospects over there?”

One of those is cornerback Juawan Treadwell, the brother of Minnesota Vikings rookie Laquon Treadwell. The younger brother was largely responsible for limiting Brother Rice wideout Ricky Smalling, an Illinois recruit, to 57 yards on four catches.

Valladay, too, has a D-I offer, from Western Illinois. Before the season began, Badke predicted more would come as Valladay moved into the feature back role.

“After tonight,” Badke said, noting scouts from the University of Wyoming were in the stands Friday, “it looks like I might be right.”




Muskrat love for Rowell and Knights in slugfest win over Vikings

There’s a lot of David and Goliath stuff going on in high school football so far.

In Week 1 of the season, St. Laurence, who could either be a Class 5A or 6A team come playoff time, beat a traditionally strong Class 8A team, Benet, on the road.

On Friday night however, the Associated Press’s No. 1 Class 3A team in the state, Immaculate Conception, came to Burbank and beat the Vikings (which was ranked ninth in Class 6A)) by a this-is-not-a-misprint score of 62-49.

As the disappointed Vikings left the field and went into the school to talk about the train that hit them, the Knights players and coaches were screaming “We shocked the world – we shocked the world!!!!”

Well, I’m sure that there are a few pockets of the world where a non-conference high school game in Illinois would not generate a second thought, but I was sure impressed.

The way this chain of events is going, IC better look over its shoulder because there might be a Class 1A team that is licking its chops, looking for an upset.

As the score indicated, this was a goofy game, maybe even goofier than that game at Brother Rice (a 61-44 victory over Crete-Monee) on the same night. There were fireworks shot off every time the Vikings scored and converted an extra point or two-point conversion. It was a good thing they didn’t shoot them off for both teams or the school would be in such a debt that only Donald Trump can get it out of with the snap of his smallish fingers.

Jordan Rowell, who ran for 207 yards and four touchdowns in the Knights’ 38-0 season opening win over defending Class 3A champ Bishop McNamara, rushed 19 times for 260 yards and four TDs against St. Laurence and caught five passes for 107 yards and a touchdown.

The pass reception for the score came in the third quarter after the ball was expertly tossed into his mitts from Luke Ricobene, who escaped on defender and was being wrestled to the ground by another.

“Our quarterback is a muskrat, you know?” Rowell said.

I’m not sure what that meant, but it sounded funny and the quarterback laughed when he heard it. The muskrat said he was happy with the TD.

“I don’t know quite what happened but I threw the ball toward Jordan when the guy was getting close to me,” Ricobene said. “I hit the ground and I got up and we said ‘we don’t know what happened, but it’s a touchdown.’ ’’

The Knights had 667 yards on the night. St. Laurence (1-1) had 447, including 167 yards and three touchdowns from Fayezon Smart. Quarterback Romello Washington ran for 78 yards and threw for 174.

To make things even more miserable for the Vikings, the heart and soul of their defense, Jimmy Burnette, had to be carted off the field with an apparent knee injury. He was a leading tackler last year that nabbed nine interceptions in 2015.

It was an entertaining night but not a good one for St. Laurence.

“Obviously IC has a very special team,” Vikings coach Harold Blackmon said. “But we made too many mistakes – too many mistakes all the way around. It’s not just the defense. We gave up an onside kick and we worked on that this week. They executed and we didn’t.’’

The Vikings host the aforementioned Bishop McNamara Friday night in their first Catholic League White conference game. Last year, St. Laurence beat the Kankakee team, 70-40.

Bishop McNamara, by the way, came close to pulling off a David/Goliath upset of its own during Week 2, dropping a 20-14 overtime decision to traditional Class 8A power Bolingbrook.

McNamara was missing Western Michigan receiving recruit Chris Bell, who injured his thumb and likely won’t play against the Vikings.

I guess the only thing I can advise it to not be surprised by anything that happens in this game.




Time running out but Fire making playoff run

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva

The Fire would like to keep star player David Accam through 2020.



WHEN: 7 p.m., Saturday

WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview



LAST TIME: Host Toronto beat the Fire, 1-0, on July 9 as Justin Morrow scored in the ninth minute for the lone score of the night.



WHEN: 5 p.m., Sunday

WHERE: Swope Soccer Village, Kansas City, Missouri

RED STARS RECORD:  8-4-5 (through Sunday)


LAST TIME: The Stars won a 1-0 match July 30 at Toyota Park as Stephanie McCaffrey scored in the 53rd minute. 

 Time running out but Fire making a little playoff run


Chicago Fire General Manager Nelson Rodriguez hates where his team is at right now.

But he’s not giving up hope.

Last Thursday, he told a group of reporters that he didn’t like the fact the team had the worst record in Major League Soccer but there were nine matches left and the team was nine points behind D.C. United for the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

“We control our destiny,” he said. “We still have everything at our feet. Five of those nine games are at home and we play three of the four teams ahead of us head-to-head. I’m optimistic.’’

Two days later, the Fire fueled his optimism even more after stunning Philadelphia, 3-0, before an announced crowd of 16,102 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. Philadelphia fell to 11-10-7.

Philadelphia’s Roland Alberg picked up an own-goal in the 22nd minute while Michael de Leeuw and Arturo Alvarez scored second-half goals for the Fire. Sean Johnson, who gave up six goals at D.C. United on Aug. 27 (five came when the team was down a man) picked up his fifth shutout of the season.

The team is 6-0-6 in its last 12 games at Toyota Park (including MLS and Hunt Cup games) and the joint could be jumping on Saturday as first-year coach Veljko Paunovic said the game against Toronto is nearly sold out.

“We finally have a foundation,” Johnson said. “This league, the way it is, the summer months are important -- you can win two games and things can turn around quickly.”

It’s still a long shot for the Fire to make the playoffs, but the GM is not giving up hope.

“I feel this team is pounding the rock, as we like to say,” Rodriguez said. “Some of those rocks we put in front of ourselves. Some of those rocks are what I believe are placed the unbelievers and some placed by the make believers.

“I believe in our men and our character. We’re at a point in the season where certain statistics don’t matter anymore, such as having nine players under the age of 23. There are no more rookies at this stage of a season. There are no more surprises within the MLS season. Now it’s a test of character. We’re ready for this home stretch and I look forward to it.”

Accam’s comings and goings

David Accam, who leads the Fire with seven goals, was missing in action for Saturday’ game because he was called up by his national team, Ghana.

International professional teams have been trying to obtain him and the Fire is not interested in parting with him. He is under contract through 2017 with an option for 2018 and Rodriguez hopes to keep him around after that.

“We’re looking to extend his contract all the way to 2020,” Rodriguez said. “We want to keep him here and David says he loves playing here.’’

Newly acquired David Arshakyan was called up to his Armenian national team while Collin Fernandez was called up by the Peruvian U-20 team.

 Mexico coming to Toyota Park

The annual Mexican National Team U.S. Tour will make its first visit to Toyota Park when El Tricolor takes on CONCACAF rival Panama at 8:30 p.m. on October 11.

Tickets went on sale to the public on Wednesday via or by calling 800-653-8000.

The match -- the fifth and final stop of the 2016 Tour -- will be key for both squads as they prepare for November CONCACAF World Cup qualifying contests. Mexico currently sits atop Group A in the fourth round of qualifying with a perfect 4-0-0 record and has already qualified for the fifth and final round, known as The Hexagonal. Panama is in second place of Group B with a record of 2-1-1.

Red Stars tie Seattle

Seattle raced out to a 2-0 lead but the Chicago Red Stars countered with goals from Sofia Huerta and Christen Press in Sunday’s National Women’s Soccer League game at Toyota Park.


Smalling comes up huge on the big stage

  • Written by Jeff Vorva





Photo by Jeff Vorva

Ricky Smalling caught two touchdown passes in Brother Rice’s 31-7 victory over Marist Sunday at Soldier Field.


OK, it’s no secret that Brother Rice receiver Ricky Smalling is good.

He proved that last year with a monster season of 1,165 yards and 15 touchdowns and became Lovie Smith’s first verbal recruit at Illinois.

So he’s not sneaking up on anybody this year.

Chances are, whatever stadium he plays at, everyone in the joint, including the mothers and fathers boiling the hot dogs and popping the corn at the concession stand, will know who he is and will be wondering how in the heck to stop him.

His first game since going from Ricky Smalling to RICKY SMALLING came on Sunday night against neighborhood rival Marist at Soldier Field in a non-conference battle in the Kickoff Classic and he proved that with or without hype, he is dangerous.

He’s not going to be left alone much and he will have defensive company breathing down his neck all year. Yet he caught a 56-yard touchdown pass on the second play from scrimmage from Dino Borrelli, later caught a 39-yard TD pass in the third quarter and finished with five catches for 110 yards as the Crusaders beat Marist, 31-7 in the season opener for both teams. Marist, which has two Division I recruits on defense, figured to be a good test for Smalling and the Crusders.

“Big-time players step up in big-time games,” Brother Rice coach Brian Badke said. “I’m glad he’s on my side.’’

In some circles, Smalling has been called the best receiver in the state. But he said that’s not something he worries about.

“I don’t have anything to prove,” he said. “We got the win. That’s all that matters.’’

Borelli’s second TD pass to Smalling came under heavy pressure on the QB.

“He makes everything so much easier on a quarterback,” said Borrelli, who threw for 185 yards. “I knew he was going to catch that second one. It’s awesome to get smashed and still throw a touchdown.’’

The Crusaders also had big playmakers in Xavian Valladay (a 70-yard touchdown run) and Aarion Lacy (a third-quarter interception after Smalling’s TD put Brother Rice ahead, 21-7).

Both teams will return to action with just four days of practice as Marist hosts Chicago Public League power Simeon on Friday while Brother Rice hosts Crete-Monee, a team that finished second in the state in Class 6A last year.

“We will have to show some resiliency,” Marist coach Pat Dunne said. “It looks like we have a lot we have to fix quickly. This is the quickest turnaround I’ve ever been a part of, but I think we’ll get through it.’’

Morgan Taylor’s 57-yard touchdown strike to TJ Ivy in the first quarter was the lone score for the RedHawks.

The game was a part of a tripleheader at the home of the Bears.

The opening game featured a wild contest as St. Patrick from the East Suburban Catholic Conference outlasted Catholic League Blue for Taft, 47-44.

In the second game, Catholic League Blue power Mt. Carmel was able to force a running clock in the third quarter en route to a 49-7 rout over Taft from the Chicago Public League.


Fire and Red Stars report -- Red Stars GM to step down

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

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Photo by Jeff Vorva

Michael de Leeuw, shown knocked to the ground in a tie with Los Angeles on Aug. 24, and his Chicago Fire teammates suffered a 6-2 loss at Washington Saturday night. De Leeuw scored to make it 1-1 and the bottom fell out after that. 



WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Saturday

WHERE: Toyota Park in Bridgeview                       



LAST TIME: The Union beat the Fire, 4-3, at Talen Energy Stadium on June 22. Philadelphia owned a 4-1 lead but the Fire tightened things up with a Razvan Cocis goal in the 69th minute and a Khaly Thiam score in the 80th minute.


WHEN: 6 p.m., Sunday

WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview



LAST TIME: The Red Stars beat the Reign, 2-1, on the road May 22. Reign goalie Hope Solo did not play in that match as she was absent due to a family matter.

Nyuk, nyuk – Ex-Fire player Nyarko has last laugh in Washington


Former Chicago Fire player Patrick Nyarko took a few hard hits and knocks in Saturday night’s Major League Soccer game against his former team.

But when he was nailed by Khaly Thiam and Thiam threw the ball at his face in the 34th minute, Nyarko and his D.C. United team had the last laugh.  Thiam was ejected after he received a red card with the score knotted at 1-1 and the Fire played a man down and was whipped, 6-2, at RFK Stadium in Washington.

Nyarko had a goal and two assists and Patrick Mullins had a hat trick for United (7-8-11). Michael de Leeuw and Razvan Cocis scored for the Fire, which entered this week with an MLS-worst 5-12-8 mark.

Recently acquired David Arshakyan made his debut in the 56th minute.

“It’s a tough game of course, with the red card so it’s difficult to play your style,” Arshakyan said. “It’s a hard debut but we’ll keep pounding. I’m happy to make my debut no matter what the score.’’

“How much do it think the red card influenced the game? Obviously a lot,” first-year Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “It affected our guys and our game plan.’’

It was the first time the Fire gave up six goals in a match since 2003.  

Home still sweet home

In a game neither coach was thrilled about,  the Fire and LA Galaxy tied 2-2 at Toyota Park on Aug. 24.

“It was a sloppy game,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said multiple times after the game. “It was a game we could have won.’’

The Fire, however, extended its home unbeaten streak to 11 matches including Lamar Hunt battles.

Arturo Alvarez and David Accam helped put the Fire up, 2-1, with goals but L.A.’s Giovani dos Santos came into the game in the 60th minute and scored nine minutes later.

Paunovic wasn’t thrilled with giving up the tying goal but applauded his team’s effort.

"I think we (played) a fantastic game,’’ he said. “I'm feeling very sorry for our guys, they're disappointed that we couldn't get more from this game. I think the performance was fantastic. I think we finally feel we are where we wanted to be all this year, we can finally field a team that can beat anyone in this league. I'm feeling proud of our guys, feeling proud of pushing hard until the end.’’

In the stands

The MLS released average attendance figures and Seattle was first with 42,230. The Fire was second-to-last at 19th with an average of 15,081.

The team drew 16,179 against the Galaxy and, while that wasn’t obviously the 40,000 that Seattle gets, the Fire appreciated the atmosphere the crowd created.

"I think it was great to see how they supported the team,’’ Paunovic said. “Especially in that moment when (recently acquired) Luis Solignac had that great opportunity that he missed. Everyone was disappointed, but the reaction was fantastic, applauding and giving him support. Same thing from the players, I think that's important to see." 

"It's huge, it's everything,’’ rookie Brandon Vincent said of the support. “Our confidence on the field comes from the fans, comes from the group, comes from everybody. It's a team effort, the fans are included. They're part of this club, they're part of this team's success, when we have it. We do everything we can to make them proud. We just try to keep fighting, and their support is everything for us." 

Red Stars win

After more than a month off because of the National Women’s Soccer League break for the Olympics, the Chicago Red Stars came out with a 3-1 victory over Sky Blue in New Jersey Saturday night. 

Stephanie McCaffrey, Christen Press and Sofia Huerta scored for the Red Stars.

Red Stars boss resigns

Although there was nothing on the team website nor a news release from the media relations department over the weekend, Alyse Lahue announced Friday via social media she was leaving as general manager of the Red Stars after this season. She joined the team as an intern in 2008 and was named GM in 2012.

“Obviously, it’s never easy to depart a role you’ve laid your life into,” she wrote in a letter attached to a Tweet. “My departure is not indicative of the status of this club. It’s in the best position it has ever been in.’’

No Hope

Those fans hoping to show up to Toyota Park on Sunday to razz or boo Hope Solo will be disappointed.

The controversial Seattle Reign goalie, who last week was booted off the United States Women’s National Team for six months for comments she made at the Olympics, has taken a personal leave from the Reign.

Solo called Sweden players “cowards” for their conservative play after the favored United States lost to them on Aug. 12, denying them a shot at a gold medal.


Fire and Red Stars report: Fire players no longer road worriors

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




WHEN: 6 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: At RFK Stadium, Washington, D.C.

FIRE RECORD:  5-11-7 (though Tuesday)


LAST TIME: The teams tied 1-1 at Toyota Park when ex-Fire plyer Patrick Nyarko knotted the game in the 65th minute.


HEADLINE – Fire players no longer road worriers

By Jeff Vorva

Sports Editor

The monkey – make that gorilla – is off the backs of Chicago Fire players.

After more than two years  -- actually 771 days – 36 MLS matches and 39 matches overall, the Fire tasted victory on the road when it blanked Montreal 3-0 Saturday night at Stade Saputo in Montreal.

 Razvan Cocis and winning goalie Sean Johnson were the only two members of the current team that played on the last Fire team that won a road game.

The Fire, which had a home game scheduled against the LA Galaxy Wednesday night, entered this week with the worst record in the MLS at 5-11-7 but that fifth win could provide a boost for a team which is hoping for a big finish and a microscopic shot at making the playoffs.

“Of course, it's very important for everyone to say that we finally broke the rock of winning on the road.” said first-year coach Veljko Paunovic. “We're very excited but now I'd like to dedicate this victory to our fans, who have been waiting passionately and patiently for this road win. From now on we have to take advantage of this win, it's a long way to go and we're very aware of where we are and what we have to do but this win feels very good and it's for sure going to help to improve our performances at the end of the season.

"If I tell you that the playoffs are more believable now, I would lie. Because you always believe. We knew it was a matter of time that it was going to break. And we worked hard, we were challenged so far and still I'm going to repeat, we haven't done anything. It's a very small step but it's very important .’’

Recently acquired Luis Solignac scored in the 15th minute, David Accam scored his team-high sixth goal in the 73rd minute and Matt Polster wrapped it up with a goal in the 89th minute.

"This was one of our best performances of the season,” Accam said. “We played according to our plan of what we were told. We started early wanting to put them on the back foot and pressure them.’’ 

Solignac was picked up in July and this was his second start.

"I'm happy because I came for that, to try and help the team and bring energy,’’ he said. “ I'm really happy I scored and helped the team to win." 

 MLS-ing around

The MLS will have two new teams – Atlanta and Minnesota -- in 2017.

The Fire doesn’t really have a close rival with the exception of Columbus and it appeared playing Minnesota a number of times would help develop a new rivalry but Minnesota has been placed in the Western Division while the fire is in the Eastern.

CAPTION – Photo by Jeff Vorva

David Accam said that Saturday’s win at Montreal was the best game the Fire played this season.


WHEN: 6 p.m., Saturday

WHERE: Yurcak Field, Piscataway, N.J.



Medal-less Olympics ready to test mettle in the NWSL


Christen Press, Julie Johnston and Alyssa Naeher were not able to bring home medals as members of the United State Olympic team.

Now they turn their attention to a National Women’s Soccer League title with the Chicago Red Stars.

The Red Stars have not played since July 30 and are in fourth place in the league with a 7-4-4 mark. The top four teams make it to the playoffs.

The Red Stars face fifth-place Sky Blue on the road on Saturday night and have four games in September – including three at Toyota Park – to close out the regular season.

Coach Rory Dames is pumped up about a big finish to the regular season. He said his team is not satisfied with just making the playoffs – it wants to win the regular season title and pick up a No. 1 seed.

“We’re coming back fresh and we’re excited about finishing it off,” Dames said. “The last five games after the Olympics are going to be important. How some of the players come back from the Olympics will be important. In my opinion, Alyssa is the best goalie in the league and Christen is the best goal scorer in the league and Julie is one of the best defensive players in the league.

“We’re still a young team but several players have found their identities before the break.‘’