Fire stumbles in season opener

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 1 Fire 9 stumble

Photo by Jeff Vorva

Fire player Gilberto, right, has his jersey pulled by a New York City Fire Club defender a second before hitting the ground in Sunday’s MLS loss at Toyota Park. 

It was entertaining.

But it was still a loss.

The first real match in the Veljko Paunovic era of the Chicago Fire was wide open but in the end, the team suffered a setback in a 4-3 loss to the New York City Fire Club Sunday in front of 17,768 at Toyota Park.

Paunovic, the rookie coach, and nine players making their Fire debuts (the most since the club’s first season in 1998) have made this a new-look club. While scoring three goals is fun, giving up four is troublesome.

“There was good and bad,” midfielder Razvan Cocis said.

Cocis was a part of the good as he scored the first goal in the Paunovic era as the Fire trailed 3-1 at half and Kennedy Igboananike and David Accam added second half goals.

But it wasn’t enough.

Recently signed goalie Matt Lampson got the nod over Fire elder statesman Sean Johnson, fueling speculation that Johnson could be shipped out. First-year general manager Nelson Rodriguez has shown he can pull the trigger on deals whether or not a player is popular or not. He dealt Harry Shipp to Montreal for cash during training camp in February.

Lampson, who had not played an MLS game since 2013 but owns a 9-6 career record all with Columbus, gave up three first half goals before settling down in the second half.

“I don’t think it was my best game – the first half was definitely not good,” he said. “The third goal (off the foot of Khiry Shelton, who shielded rookie Fire defender Brandon Vincent and then rounded goalkeeper Matt Lampson before tapping into the net) was on me and it’s something I need to learn from.’’

Paunovic, who is not announcing who will start Saturday’s game at Orlando, had nothing but good things to say about Lampson after the game.

“We’re happy with him,” the coach said. “Matt did very well in the last game of the preseason (a 2-0 win over defending MLS champion Portland) and the team feels comfortable with him playing. We didn’t read the game well early because there was a lot of wind against us. But after that, he did very well. He tried his best and that’s all you can ask.’’

Lampson said he will go into the Orlando City start with the same attitude he had since the Fire picked him up on Feb. 26.

“I prepare every week like I’m going to start,” he said. “I found out (before the game) that I was going to start. You have to be ready. Next week, I will prepare like I need to play. It’s good for competition. Everyone is out there trying to earn a spot. That’s all I’m going to do.’’

The Fire finished with 17 shots while New York had 20. New York picked up goals from Thomas McNamara, Tony Taylor, Shelton and Mix Diskerud. NY is just in its second year of play and finished 0-1-1 against the Fire last year.

Vincent, a former Stanford star making his pro debut, said there is work to do.

"Our job is to defend and not let in goals, so giving away four is tough,’’ he said. “But looking forward, that's what we'll work at." 


Double-double dynamic duo

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 1 duo Drynan

Photos by Jeff Vorva

Erin Drynan had 23 games where she recorded at least a double-double and six of those were triple doubles. 


Page 1 Borgen

Moraine Valley freshman Michelle Borgen had 22 double-doubles in 30 games this season and led the nation in number of free throws made.




When Mother McAuley’s Erin Drynan and Andrew’s Michelle Borgen signed up to play at Moraine Valley Community College on the same day last offseason, it was uh-oh time for the two power players.

After meeting each other, both wondered how much they would get to play.

“I looked at her and said ‘it looks like I’m going to have to split playing time with her,’ ’’ Borgen said.

“I was thinking the same thing when I saw her,” Drynan said.

Fortunately for both and unfortunately for opponents, Cyclones coach Delwyn Jones decided to use the 6-foot-3 Drynan and the 6-1 Borgen on the court at the same time. The Cyclones closed their season with a 20-10 record after losing to Waubonsee in the Region IV semifinals on Saturday and the two freshmen finished the season with a huge collection of double-doubles and, in Drynan’s case, a handful of triple-doubles as well.

All told, the two Cyclones combined for 45 games where they had at least a double-double showing. That included six games in which Drynan had six triple-doubles.

They were the double-double dynamic duo of Moraine Valley.

Moraine Athletic Director Bill Finn, a longtime basketball coach in the area, was puzzled when watching the two work during a late regular season game.

“I can’t believe these two aren’t playing Division I basketball somewhere,” he said. “They are so strong inside and can run the floor. I’ve seen a lot of players at this school and these are two real good ones.’’

Both said that they received little notice from colleges coming out of high school.

“In high school, I was more of a quiet player,” Drynan said. “We relied on a lot of outside shooting and not as much inside play for offense. But coming here, I had to be more aggressive and help lead the team.

“It’s definitely a turnaround for me and people were surprised to see me doing this.’’

Drynan averaged 17 points, 14 rebounds and six blocked shots per game. She was ranked No. 1 in the nation in NJCAA Division II play with 191 blocks and No. 2 in rebounds with 404.

Borgen was also taken aback by her numbers as she averaged 21 points and 13 rebounds per contest. She was seventh in the nation with 610 points and 12th with 333 rebounds. She was also No. 1 in the nation with 199 free throws.

“To be honest, I wasn’t expecting this type of season,” Borgen said. “This is a much higher level than high school. But playing with Erin and having us do so well was the most fun I’ve ever had playing. We didn’t win a lot in high school and this was great.’’

So far, bigger schools are not knocking on either star’s doors yet.

“We’re returning a lot of freshmen and I think we can really go far next year,” Borgen said. “I would rather play with a team that should have success rather than risk going somewhere else and losing.’’

Drynan has a method to her successful blocking.

“You have to stay on your feet and it helps that I have long arms,” Drynan said.

Speaking of long arms, she comes from a basketball family with some pretty long arms. Her twin brothers , juniors Patrick and Mike, play for Evergreen Park and were listed at 6-10 and 6-8 respectively at the beginning of the season.

“They are almost 7-feet tall,” she said. “I was always taller than them until they got into high school. I used to beat them all the time. Now, I usually always lose against them because they just dunk on me.’’

Their father, Tom, played at Brother Rice and was a walk-on at the University of Illinois in the Lou Henson era.

“Basketball was passed down to my brothers and me,” Erin said.

And she didn’t try to swat it away.

Photos by Jeff Vorva

Moraine Valley freshman Michelle Borgen had 22 double-doubles in 30 games this season and led the nation in number of free throws made.

Erin Drynan had 23 games where she recorded at least a double-double and six of those were triple doubles. 

Fire open season Sunday looking for that nifty 50

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



Photo by Jeff Vorva

Veteran Fire goalie Sean Johnson said the changes on the team are positive.


Preseason games are generally useless when trying to judge how a team is going to do in the regular season.

But for Chicago Fire fans, it’s the only body of work to base opinions on.

The team has a new general manager (Nelson Rodriguez), a new head coach (Veljko Paunovic) and a roster with a lot of new faces to get used to.

So when the Fire went through an unbeaten preseason of six matches – including a 2-0 victory Saturday over defending Major League Soccer champs Portland to win the Simple Invitational Championship – it gave followers a chance to dream about making it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

But now reality hits. The Fire opens the 2016 campaign hosting the New York City Football Club at 1 p.m. at Toyota Park in Bridgeview.

This will give people a clearer picture of what this team can do.

“Winning the first game is important but not crucial,” Rodriguez said. “We’re going to lose a game over the course of the year. The way we look at it is that 50 points is pretty much the barometer for getting into the playoffs. We have broken the season down in bytes and we will approach the season in that way. To win at home, would be an energizing moment.

“It’s two marquee teams in the league. It will be an interesting first game.’’

The veteran of the team, goalie Sean Johnson, has looked around the locker room and has seen a lot of new teammates trying to learn Paunovic’s system.

“It’s a positive change for us and we’re adapting to it,” Johnson said. “We’re trying our best to get up to speed.’’

Rodriguez is not making the rookie mistake of getting too giddy over the preseason.

“Winning is nice and it was especially nice to win Saturday night,” Rodriguez said. “But 24 hours later, it meant nothing. This Sunday will be the real first test that the team faces. We still have to get better. But I’m satisfied with the progress we have demonstrated so far and the team has the capability to improve.

“We haven’t been punched in the face yet. We haven’t lost four games in a row yet. We haven’t lost 4-0 yet. We haven’t had the media criticize us yet. The real test of that character will come when we face genuine adversity. But for the moment, we’re very pleased with how the character of the group has come together.’’

Paunovic was happy with the team’s 5-0-1 preseason.

“The players are trying to do what we are asking and demanding,” Paunovic said. “They are doing it and they want to do it. And they believe it. And it shows it with how we performed in the preseason. They can see how the system can work.’’

But the players and coach meshing is something that may not work as easily during the regular season.

“Pauno’s style and demands are great,” the GM said. “But there is no substitute for time and experience in that setting. Five weeks is plenty long enough for preseason but it’s not the same as five months. Or five years. One thing that will benefit us in more time together. Now keep in mind that when you add or subtract a piece, you stunt that timeline a little bit.

“We are looking at Sunday as a microcosm of where we are. We need to do better in possession. We gave the ball away a little bit too easily. Our back line is still getting to know each other and will get better. We will limit chances against us. And I think there is room for us to generate even more opportunities on the offensive side of the ball.’’

New York, only in its second year of play, also has a new coach – Patrick Viera – who took over for Jason Kreis after a 10-17-7 debut in the MLS. Spain’s David Villa is the team captain.

The New York squad finished 5-1 in its preseason and beat the Reykjavik FC 2-1 on Saturday with Andrea Pirlo and Mix Diskerud scoring goals.

Last year, the Fire beat New York City 1-0 and the two teams followed with a 2-2 tie.


Red Stars/Fire notebook: Red Stars roll out 2016 schedule

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

The Chicago Red Stars, which will call Toyota Park in Bridgeview their home in 2016, will open the season April 16 in Houston and will make their home debut at 6 p.m. April 23 against Western New York,

The first homestand will continue the following weekend when first-year NWSL club Orlando Pride and Olympic gold medalist Alex Morgan comes to Bridgeview at 5 p.m. May 1.
The 20 game schedule includes a four-game regional matchup against back-to-back reigning NWSL Champions FC Kansas City, with two slated at Toyota Park on May 13 and Sept. 7.
Things could get exciting toward the end of the season when the final four games feature playoff semifinal contenders Seattle Reign FC, FC Kansas City (twice) and te Washington Spirit. The top four teams in the standings qualify for a spot in the NWSL playoffs.

The NWSL will also be taking a majority of August off due to the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio.
The Red Stars begin their preseason in March with three matchups against Illinois State University, Notre Dame and Northwestern University.

United States Women’s National team members Christen Press and Julie Johnston return to Chicago in 2016 and are joined by U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher, who was acquired from the Boston Breakers during the offseason. Reigning NWSL Rookie of the Year Danielle Colaprico will enter into preseason with the Red Stars after earning her first call-up by the U.S. National Team during January camp. 

Season tickets and flex packs are currently on sale, with individual tickets going on sale at 10 a.m. today. Red Stars season ticket memberships allow fans to experience Toyota Park tours, invitations to season ticket member events with the Red Stars team and discounts on merchandise and camps.

For more information about becoming a season ticket member, call 773-697-8699.
 Fire faces champs

The Chicago Fire, which opened the Simple Invitational in Portland, Oregon, with a 3-2 victory over Vancouver on Saturday, faced Minnesota on Wednesday night and will take on defending MLS champion Portland on Sunday.

First-year Fire coach Veljno Paunovic said he wants his team to treat the Portland game like all of the others.

“Our approach for every game is that we want to win,” he said. “We have to be aware of what we want to achieve at this point in the preseason and meet our goals for the long term. For us, every game is special and every opponent is special.’’

Against Vancouver, John Goossens scored with an assist from Matt Polster while Gilberto and Kennedy Igboananike scored on penalty kicks.

 Discounted tickets available for opener

Premier tickets, usually $42, are available for $20 for the March 6 opener against New York at Toyota Park. Corner Kick tickets, which are usually $32, are available for $13 at

'Shocking and overwhelming' deal sends Shipp to Montreal

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

Page 2 SHIPP

Photo by Jeff Vorva

The Fire traded Harry Shipp for cash


The Chicago Fire shipped out popular midfielder Harry Shipp and he didn’t take the news well.

“When I was told out of the blue that I would no longer be a member of the Fire, I immediately broke down and started crying,” Shipp said in an open letter to Chicago. “It was totally shocking and overwhelming. This club and this city have meant everything to me. Not just for the past two years, but since I started following the Fire over 15 years ago.’’

The Lake Forest native was traded Saturday to Montreal for general and targeted allocation money.

"Harry is a homegrown player and an obvious fan-favorite, which makes this trade more emotional than most,” said Fire General Manager Nelson Rodriguez. “However, we believe this trade will prove to be beneficial for our club and for Harry's career." 

Shipp, 24, had 10 goals and 14 assists in 66 games for the Chicago Fire during his two years with the club. He also made eight appearances for the Fire during Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play, helping the team reach the semifinals both years. Shipp initially signed with Chicago as a Homegrown Player on Jan. 9, 2014.

During the first day of camp, he was asked by the media about taking a leadership role with the team since he was a second-longest tenured player on the team.

Now he will learn a new team and new system.

“With this door closing, I am so grateful to the Montreal Impact and the city of Montreal for giving me this next opportunity in my career,” Shipp said. “Fortunately, I have a new outlet to direct my energy/focus and I plan on making the most of it.

I can’t wait to get to meet my new teammates, get to work, meet some of the fans, and do my best to learn a little French.’’

He added that he wished he could have helped the Fire more.

“My passion in the past two years was to help make soccer relevant again in Chicago,” Shipp said. “This is what got me out of bed every single morning. I wanted to look back 10 years from now and be proud of how I was able to contribute to the growth of this club and its interaction with the city of Chicago.

I wanted to continue to be a role model for kids growing up playing soccer in Chicago. There was no single part of this job I liked more than being able to relate to these kids and give them a realistic end-goal to dream for.

“Unfortunately all I was able to contribute was two of the statistically worst seasons in Fire history, and that genuinely breaks my heart more than you could imagine. I’m sorry that I was unable to do more for the city, because if anyone understands what this city deserves in a soccer club, it is me.’’

Acclaim for Accam in preseason win

David Accam had two goals to lead the Fire to a 4-2 preseason friendly last Thursday in Clearwater, Fla. Nick LaBrocca and Gilberto scored in the second half for the Fire (2-0).

"We're very happy because when you're working on concepts and you see that the team believes, tries to play and give their best in every game, in every session, it's very good for us,’’ Fire coach Veljko Paunovic. “I think that playing an MLS opponent is very hopeful for us. We believe that our guys did a great job in terms of following the game plan that we had and then giving it their best, all requirements that we have for our team. They played, they enjoyed the game, they knew how to compete, also they were organized, which is very important, and they were passionate about the game." 

 It gets Simple from here

The team is in Oregon and will open play in the Simple Invitational in Portland. The Fire plays the Vancouver Whitecaps at 4:30 p.m. Sunday at Providence Park.