Chicago Fire and Red Stars analysis and notes

  • Written by Jeff Vorva and Alison Moran




 Photo by Jeff Vorva

Chicago Fire star David Accam had an overtime goal and the winning penalty kick in a 2-1 victory over Indy Eleven on June 15.






WHEN: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday

WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview

LAST TIME: Columbus and the Fire engaged in a 0-0 tie in a Major League Soccer game on a cold day at Toyota Park on March 19.

Late becomes never for struggling Fire

By Jeff Vorva

The Chicago Fire continues to get bitten late in games.

In the 89th minute, Colorado’s Marco Pappa’s shot from distance got by goalie Sean Johnson and the Rapids won a 2-1 battle Saturday night in Commerce City Colorado.

Dejected rookie coach Veljko Paunovic has seen this before:

(bullet) On April 16, Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti scored in extra time of a 2-1 victory over the Fire.

(bullet) On May 11, Vancouver’s Blaz Perez score in the 88th minute of a 2-1 victory over Chicago.

(bullet) On May 14, New England’s Femi Hollinger-Janzen scored in the 84th minute to all but dash the Fire’s hope for a point in a 2-0 Revolution victory.

And it happened again Saturday night not long after midfielder Joey Calistri became the first homegrown player in team history to score a goal as he scored in the 81st minute.

Then Pappa scored a day before Father’s Day to make for a miserable weekend for the Fire (2-6-5).

”We have to be less innocent in these kind of games,’’ the coach said.Of course nobody is happy with that, but the only thing we can do is move forward -- move forward and keep on working and believing. I think that's what we also have to improve our faith in that we can be a winning team on the road, so that's also something that we have to improve on." 

The Fire has not won an MLS match on the road since 2014 – a span of 31 matches.

Chicago continues to battle injuries and other issues with players the organization is counting on.

Gilberto missed the match as he is going through personal issues. Midfielder Arturo Alvarez came out of Saturday’s match with a knee injury. John Goossens and his sore legs haven’t played since April 16. The only good news on the injury front is that Michael Harrington returned on Saturday. The defenseman had a right adductor strain and had not played since May 14.

The Fire was scheduled to play Wednesday at Philadelphia its next MSL action isn’t until July 1, when it hosts the San Jose Earthquakes.

Offensive help will be on the way after that as Dutch star Michael de Leeuw will be eligible to make his Fire debut on July 9 at Toronto. General manager Nelson Rodriguez called de Leeuw “a predator in the box.

’’He is one who hunts down goals at every turn.’’ The GM boasted.

Given that the Fire is one of just four teams in the 20-team MLS, it needs all the help it can get.

 Still in the Hunt

The Fire enjoyed some success outside the MLS when it beat the Indy Eleven out of the North American Soccer League, 2-1 in a match decided by penalty kicks June 15 at Toyota Park in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt Cup. The Fire faces fellow MLS squad Columbus Tuesday in the Round of 16.

The Fire’s offense continued to sputter in a 0-0 draw against Indy in regulation. Both teams traded goals in the overtime periods and David Accam scored the OT goal and the PK winner.

"It was a very important win,” Paunovic said. “Of course it was a hard start for us because, we expected, we are playing against the champions of the first half of the NASL season that is going to be very hard to beat. We knew from the very first touch it was going to be the most important skill we have today: mental toughness. And I think in the end we did well, especially when we were down with that lead of 1-0. We reacted very well with that goal by David but also we created a lot of chances because we wanted to win.

“Reaction was positive and on the other side I think on the penalties we were very tough. Mentality was very good with the pressure so I'm very, very happy about it.’’

Matt Lampson, who opened the season as the Fire’s goalie but was replaced by Sean Johnson in May after six matches, picked up the victory.

Huerta puts a hurtin' on Boston

By Alison Moran


A sendoff of Olympian proportions was in the works for the Chicago Red Stars at Toyota Park Saturday night.

And Sophia Huerta helped send things off in style with two goals in a 3-0 victory over Boston.

At stake was sole possession of first place in the National Women's Soccer League as the Red Stars (5-1-3) blanked the Breakers (1-7-1).  Plus, it was the last home game for the Red Stars' Rio Olympians; forward Christen Press, goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, and defender Julie Johnston until late August.

The three were scheduled to play in Wednesday’s road game against Portland and will miss five games as they head to camp in July and Rio in August.

Since losing 1-0 in its previous meeting with the Red Stars, Boston came into the game buoyed by a 1-0 win over defending champion FC Kansas City in May and a 1-1 draw with Washington June 10.

But Saturday, it was all Chicago.

"Our goal is to create more chances than any opponent," said Rio-bound Johnston, who also denied a chance for the Breakers to score with a 34th-minute block on midfielder Kyah Simon.

Create chances they did.

In what was arguably their most complete game of the season, the Red Stars pounced on their opportunities early and often, correcting recent slow starts and sluggish first-half offense.

In the third minute, Naperville native and midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo contributed the first of two quality passes during the match, a low drive from the left side to Huerta, who tapped it into the net, past goalkeeper Libby Stout.

Huerta would strike again in the 45th minute, just past the half. On a pass from midfielder Alyssa Mautz, she leveled a shot past Stout's fully extended form and fingertips to the top corner of the net.

Another Naperville native, defender Casey Short, avenged a goal flagged offside in the first half by scoring the third goal of the game, teaming with DiBernardo to push a shot past Stout in the 62nd minute. It was the first NWSL goal for the 25 year old, a Breakers draft pick in 2013.

"I think Vanessa's been our most consistent player throughout the season so far," said Red Stars coach Rory Dames.

Yellow cards were issued to three Breakers...Kyah Simon, Louise Schoolyard and Eunice Beckman for defensive handling and Huerta, for a reckless foul.

Press earns another honor

Press earned NWSL Goal of the Week honors for neutralizing the Portland Thorns June 12 in the 61st minute. This is the third time she's received the honor.

Another legend honored

Retired Red Stars captain Lori Chalupny will be honored July 30. The Red Stars host FC Kansas City at 7 p.m. at Toyota Park.




Fire and Red Stars notes, news and analysis

  • Written by Alison Moran and Jeff Vorva

Page 2 RED STARS 13 Portland 25

Photo by Melissa Tamez

Chicago’s Christen Press, left, and Portland’s Meghan Klingenberg  jockey for position on a header attempt Sunday in the two teams’ 1-1 draw.




WHEN: 7 p.m., Saturday

WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview



LAST TIME: The Red Stars beat the Breakers 1-0 on May 7 on the road when Christen Press scored the lone goal of the game in the 60th minute.


Top two teams draw the line

The backstory was compelling.

So was the match.

The Chicago Red Stars came into Saturday’s game atop the National Women’s Soccer League and riding a six-game unbeaten streak.

The Big Three United States Women’s National Team members from the Red Stars -- forward Christen Press, defender Julie Johnston and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher -- were back after missing a Chicago match because they were playing a couple of friendlies with Japan. They were pitted against the NWSL's only unbeaten team -- the Portland Thorns.

In the end, both teams got a point in a 1-1 draw.

Both teams "came out flat," according to Thorns coach Mark Parsons but then found unusual and entertaining ways to score goals.

Controlling and attacking through most of the first half, Portland (3-0-5) struck first. In the 24th minute, the Thorns' team captain, veteran forward Christine Sinclair, gave herself a 33rd birthday present on a back-pass from Red Stars defender Samantha Johnson. The pass bounced off Sinclair, past Naeher, and into the net.

It was the Red Stars' (4-1-3) turn in the second half.

"You give a team like Chicago a second chance, and they punish you," said Sinclair.

They did.

The Red Stars scored the equalizer in the 61st minute, when midfielder Alyssa Mautz, substituting for forward Jen Hoy, used her brains and her chest to down a pass to Press, who hit to the underside of the crossbar, where it bounced down and in past the fully extended fingertips and body of goalkeeper Adrianna Franch.

"The ball had a lot of spin on it," Press said. "You don't get lucky like that often, so you just take it and appreciate it.’’

Yellow cards were issued to Red Stars Sofia Huerta, Arin Gilliland, and Mautz for defensive handling. Portland's Nadia Nadim was also issued a yellow card for defensive handling.

The Red Stars' next game is the Olympic sendoff for the trio. The Boston Breakers will be in town on at 7 p.m. Saturday, which is also Day 2 of Porky's Ribfest at Toyota Park. No special accommodations have been announced for the game, according to Red Stars' officials.

Oh, baby, Lomnicki honored

The Red Stars devoted their halftime festivities to honoring the accomplishments of former defender Michelle Lomnicki, who retired after the 2015 season. The Colorado native was the longest-tenured player in Red Stars history, playing five seasons, scoring three goals and adding two assists in 48 appearances.

She also played with Germany's SC Freiburg. She was feted by the Red Stars with a video of each team player thanking her for her leadership, and was presented with a Red Stars onesie for the baby boy she and husband Brad are expecting.

"Today, I say thank you to the game that has given me so much," said Lomnicki, who thanked Red Stars management, her family, her teammates, and the fans for supporting her.

Red Stars bits

Naeher was voted the Player of the Month by the NWSL Media Association. She currently ranks third with 22 saves on the season. Her four shutouts are tied for most in the league…Press leads the NWSL this season with five goals. She scored her 20th overall goal on Sunday…The Red Stars are tied for first place with the Western New York Flash with 15 points each while Portland and the Washington Spirit each have 14 points.



WHEN: 8 p.m., Saturday

WHERE: Dick’s Sports Goods Park, Commerce City, Colorado



LAST TIME: Colorado’s Dillon Serna scored in the first minute in a 1-0 victory over the Fire on Aug. 22 in Bridgeview.


Lion hopes to roar with his new team

The Fire’s recent signee, Michael de Leeuw, was scheduled to meet the media on Tuesday but on Saturday, he met with the fans.

De Leeuw, whose surname means lion in Dutch, visited Heineken Pub 97 at the PrivateBank Fire Pitch during the team’s fifth Fire, Brews + Bites event, hopes to energize an offense that score a Major League Soccer-low 10 goals in its first 12 matches.

“I only wanted to say, I’m glad that I’m in Chicago, and I can’t wait to score goals," he said, "And play for the Fire and play for you.”

He is expected to make his debut for the Fire in July.

De Leeuw, 29, played 27 games with Eredivisie side FC Groningen in the Dutch League and scored nine goals. In 241 professional matches, he has 105 career goals.


St. Laurence stuns Brother Rice and falls to PFN

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 3 jump BR ST L

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Dejected Brother Rice players watch St. Laurence celebrate a sectional victory Saturday at St. Rita.


It took a long time to say goodbye.

A half hour after the St. Laurence baseball team had its season come to an end with a 2-0 loss to Plainfield North Monday night in front of a crowd of 1,797 in the Crestwood Class 4A Supersectional, the players finally trudged from right field to the third base side of Standard Bank Stadium and climbed the steps into the near empty stands. It seemed like they just didn’t want the season to end.

For most of the time, the team hugged, consoled and talked. It was a special season for the Vikings to get this far and even though it hurt to lose, coach Pete Lotus was happy to experience a season in which the team (31-8) got this far for the first time in more than 20 years.

The offense struggled, mustering one hit and one walk against Tigers lefthander Tyler Garrity, who some say is the third best pitcher on the Tiger staff. Vikings’ pitcher Anthony Robles gave up two runs in the first but he and Angel Sandoval threw zeros the rest of the way. Left fielder Zach Verta made a huge play in the sixth inning when he caught a fly with the bases loaded and threw Jake Dunham out at the plate. But the Vikings weren’t able to maintain the momentum into the final inning and the Tigers (33-3) celebrated.

“I can’t say enough about our guys – I’m so proud,” Lotus said. “They have nothing to be ashamed of. Obviously I wish it would have worked out. It’s always hard to say goodbye to our seniors. Nobody is happy unless you win that last one. But I know those guys will never forget what they accomplished.’’

On Saturday, the Vikings won their first sectional title in 1993, when Lotus was a player, with a 4-3 shocker over Brother Rice, which was ranked 11th in the nation according to USA Today and No. 1 in the state according to Prep Baseball Report at St. Rita.

St. Laurence trailed 3-1 heading into the fifth when John Peterson scored on a wild pitch, Tom Farrell stole home on a double steal and Jimmy Burnette singled home pinch runner Joe Hincks in the inning to take a 4-3 lead. Relief pitcher Joe Vascik caught a line drive and turned it into a double play to end the sixth inning and struck out Brother Rice star slugger Ryan Kutt in the seventh with a runner on second to end the game.

“The players will never forget that game and I’ll never forget that game,” Lotus said.

“It meant the world to us,” Verta said.

In the sectional semifinals, Brother Rice was six outs away from being vanquished by host St. Rita last Thursday. The Crusaders trailed 3-1 but Kutt slammed a two-run homer in the sixth and Jack Guzek drove home pinch runner Anthony Mastro in the seventh to escape with a 4-3 victory in front of an estimated crowd of 1,000 fans.

St. Laurence made it to the sectional final with a 9-5 victory over Mt. Carmel as Tom Farrell opened the scoring by stealing home. The Vikings scored the first five runs of the game and hung on to the win. Angel Sandoval picked up the victory. Brother Rice finished 35-4.

Brooks Sectional: In Class 3A play, seventh-seeded Evergreen Park suffered a 15-6 loss to eighth-seeded De La Salle in the title game on Saturday and the Mustangs finished 17-18.

The Mustangs reached the title game with a 6-4 victory over third-seeded Harlan last Thursday.

Joe Martin slammed a three-run homer and winning pitcher Pat Doran had an RBI single. Doran came into the game in relief and worked out of a base-loaded jam in the fifth before blanking Harlan in the final two frames.

At Providence: Marist dropped an 8-7, 10-inning heartbreaker in the sectional semifinals on June 1.

The RedHawks (20-18) opened the game with a Brad Wood two-run homer in the first but trailed 6-2 after four frames.  Marist rallied to tie the game and send it into extra innings. Bobby Gorman’s three-run blast gave the RedHawks hope.

Marist’s John Carmody had an RBI single in the ninth, but North tied it and won it in the 10th on a sacrifice fly.

At Lincoln-Way West: In Class 3A action, Chicago Christian lost another tight sectional game, this time a 2-1 setback to Herscher in the semifinals on June 1. Dan Vos struck out 13 in the loss and Tyler Edgar had an RBI double for the Knights’ (27-11) lone run.

This is the Knights first year in Class 3A and coincidentally, it is Herscher’s first year in that class as well. In the past six year, Herscher has edged the Knights out of sectional play three times – 3-2 in 2-12, 8-6 in 2015 and 2-1 this season.

Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Nonne better -- I say SXU pitcher is the best of all time

  • Written by Jeff Vorva




At the end of March, I wrote a column asking if St. Xavier University pitcher Nicole Nonnemacher could be the greatest pitcher in NAIA history.

At the beginning of June, I had my answer.

Before Nonnemacher, who was huge in guiding SXU to a second-place finish in the NAIA World Series last week, burst onto the scene, a case could be made for Rachel Murray being the best ever.

Murray pitched for Union University in Tennessee from 1999-2002 and is the NAIA leader in victories with 126. She racked up an NAIA best 68 shutouts and 16 no-hitters. Her career strikeout total of 1,257 ranked fourth.

Great, great numbers for the downstate Herrin native. Who knows if her win total will ever get beat?

Murray was inducted into the UU Hall of Fame in 2015.

After college, she had a tryout with the USA Olympic Softball team, was an assistant softball coach at the University of Mobile and went to India on a medical mission trip. She is married and her last name is now Buchanan and she is a physical therapist assistant in Houston.

Nonnemacher, a Bloomington native, finished her career with 103 wins, 53 shutouts and managed to pass Murray in strikeouts with 1,392 and tied her in no-hitters with 16. The strikeout total is second in NAIA history to Oklahoma City’s Lily Lavelle, who had 1,411 from 2009-2012.

Nonnemacher also has two perfect games including one against Trinity International in which she struck out all 15 batters she faced. She’s the second player in NAIA history to do that. She also struck out 42 batters in a doubleheader against a strong St. Ambrose team this year. She is the only player in NAIA history to do that.

Her best performance, in my humble opinion, came in the World Series on May 30 when when she beat top-seeded Oklahoma City University, 1-0, in the third round. Oklahoma came into the game with 542 runs in 65 games and Nonnemacher shut its hitters out and was one strike away from a no-hitter. It was the first time Oklahoma was shut out in 2016.

Even though Oklahoma came back out of the losers bracket to  beat SXU 2-0 and 5-0 to win the World Series last Thursday, Nonnemacher’s body of work was still strong enough as she was named NAIA Pitcher of the Year a third consecutive time and named to the NAIA All-America team a fourth time.

Catcher Brittany Plimmer was on the NAIA second team and coach Myra Minuskin was happy for both leaders, who helped the Cougars to a 46-10-1 mark.

“Nicole is hands down the best player we have ever had in our program and ends her career as one of the most decorated players in the history of NAIA softball,” said Minuskin.  “I have had so many people tell me throughout her four years at Saint Xavier that she is the most talented pitcher they have ever seen and I have to agree with them.  Brittany was also a huge reason why we had such an amazing season.  She is the best defensive catcher we have ever had and is also a fierce competitor.  I’m so proud of both of these exceptionally talented young women.” 


That pretty much seals it for me. I hereby proclaim Nonnemacher the GOAT – greatest of all time – when it comes to NAIA pitchers.

There was Nonne better.



Chicago soccer notes and news

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


 Photo by Jeff Vorva

Gilberto, shown during a preseason practice, has taken some time away from the team for personal reasons.



WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday

WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview

WHY: This will be a fourth-round game in the Lamar Hunt Cup before the Fire returns to Major League Soccer action June 18.


WHEN: 5 p.m., Sunday

WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview



LAST TIME: Portland beat the Red Stars, 2-1, Aug. 9 in front of an announced crowd of 15,858 in Portland. Alyssa Mautz had the lone goal for the Red Stars.

Gilberto’s season put on hold for personal reasons

The only player who was scheduled to make a million bucks on the Chicago Fire has a hazy future with the team.

Gilberto, the highest-paid player on the team at $1.14 million according to has just two assists and multiple reports say the team is trying to buy out his contract. He missed the Fire’s last game against defending MLS champion Portland May 28 as he took personal time off, according to coach Veljko Paunovic.

General Manager Nelson Rodriguez said Monday the Gilberto told him he was “not in a state of mind” to return but added the organization has not discussed  buying out Gilberto’s contract  nor has had discussions with a team from Brazil.

The GM also said that if Gilberto doesn’t fulfill his obligations, the tam will discuss the situation with Major League Soccer and the player’s union.

Gilberto, 26, had five goals in 10 appearances for the Fire in 2015.

Kennedy Igboananike is the second-highest paid Fire player at $901,000 while David Accam is third at $771,000.

Orlando City’s Ricardo Kaka is the highest-paid MLS player at $7.1 million this year. Giberto ranked 21st in the league. There are 22 players slated to make $1 million or more in 2016.

Cup runneth over

The Fire enters the Lamar Hunt Cup competition in the fourth round by hosting the Indy Eleven on Wednesday.  

Since 1998, the Fire have compiled a 39-13-4 record in Open Cup play, including a 26-1-1 record in matches played in Illinois, reaching the semifinal round 11 times and the final six times.

The Fire previously hoisted the Dewar Trophy four times, in 1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006. 

Red Star scores big goal against Japan

Chicago Red Stars defender Julie Johnston scored a goal in the 27th minute Sunday in the U.S. Women’s National Team’s 2-0 exhibition victory over Japan in Cleveland in front of a crowd of 23,535.

Christen Press, another member of the Red Stars, also played in the game.

Red Stars goalie Alyssa Naeher did not get in the game nor Friday’s 3-3 tie against Japan as Hope Solo was in the net for both matches.

All three return to the Red Stars on  Sunday, when they host Portland in a battle for first place in the National Women’s Soccer League.