Fire could sure use these seven points

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


While the Chicago Fire’s wafer-thin chances for the playoffs continue to evaporate, the players can look back at a handful of wasted opportunities – including Friday night’s 2-2 tie against D.C. United at Toyota Park in Bridgeview – in which they played well but left points on the table.

An announced crowd of 13,807 seemed to enjoy itself when David Accam’s goal at the 29th minute gave the team a 2-1 lead. That lead held up for most of the night until D.C.’s Bobby Boswell scored in extra-time – the 92nd minute – to cost the Fire two points.

Couple that with previous late-game meltdowns:

 --On April 16, Montreal’s Ignacio Piatti scored in extra time of a 2-1 victory over the Fire, costing Chicago a point.

--On May 11, Vancouver’s Blaz Perez scored in the 88thminute of a 2-1 victory over Chicago, costing the team another point.

 --On June 18, Colorado’s Marco Pappa scored in the 89th minute for a 2-1 victory, costing the Fire another point.

--On July 31, the New York Red Bulls’ Bradley Wright Phillips score in the 90th minute for forge a 2-2 tie, costing the Fire two more points

Add Friday’s lost two points and that’s seven points that the Fire (6-13-9, 27 points) could have dearly used as they open this week’s action nine points behind sixth-place New England for the final playoff spot in the Major League Soccer Eastern Conference with  six more matches (18 potential points). The problem is that it needs to leap five teams to get there.

"I think, there is always a reason but we are not looking for excuses,’’ first-year Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said Friday after another lost opportunity. “Like I said, we never give excuses. There is no reason to fail even when you have the result today.

“It's tough for us but small defeats lead to great victories. That's how we look at this game -- something that we learn from because that will make us better in the future if we have that approach and that's something that I just can't wait to happen. I'm just going to continue working hard, encourage these guys who are committed 100 percent and doing their best and I really enjoy working with them. Until we get there, we'll push hard we will continue fighting." 

Recently acquired David Arshakyan made his first start for the Fire and thought the team should have pocketed three points.

"I feel good that I got my first starting game here but unfortunately we played a draw,’’ he said. “I thought we deserved to win this game and in the last seconds unfortunately we concede a goal so we'll keep pounding and I hope next game we'll win. I think everything's going to be okay." 

Razvan Cocis scored the Fire’s first goal in the first half.

The Fire visits New York City FC at 7 p.m. Friday at Yankee Stadium.

Look out for the December draft

Major League Soccer announced details for the Expansion Draft as Atlanta United and Minnesota United FC prepare for their inaugural MLS seasons in 2017.                 

The Expansion Draft will be held on 1 p.m. Dec.13 at and consists of five rounds, allowing Atlanta and Minnesota to select up to five players each from the list of eligible MLS players. 

The 20 current MLS clubs will have the ability to protect 11 players from their rosters. These 11 protected players, in addition to Generation adidas players who do not graduate from the program at the end of the season and Homegrown Players on a club's Supplemental or Reserve roster, will not be eligible for selection in the Expansion Draft. All remaining MLS players will be available for selection by the two expansion clubs. 

Each MLS club may lose a maximum of one player in the draft. Once a player is selected from a club's unprotected roster, that club is removed from the draft process and may not lose any further players. 


Fan-tastic match for Niego, Mighty Macs

  • Written by Phil Arvia


Photos by Jeff Vorva

Marist fans heckle Mother McAuley’s Charley Niego as she waits for the ball to drop for a pass Tuesday night. The junior was a target all night but her 12 kills helped lead the Macs to a two-set victory over their neighborhood rival.


Charley Niego may be committed to Notre Dame, and she may be descended from Mother McAuley volleyball royalty, but when she’s in the Marist gym, the Mighty Macs junior is simply a target.

Or maybe, because of all the aforementioned, she’s the main target.

That’s why, though she’d already put down five kills midway through Tuesday’s first set, the fans in the Marist student section leaped at the chance presented by her first miss, a cannonading blast that went long to pull the RedHawks within 16-14.

“Overrated! Overrated!” they chanted.

Niego, daughter of McAuley legend Therese Boyle, whose number was brought out of retirement so Niego could wear it, heard. 

"Yeah, it was funny,” she said.

Of course, that was easy to say once Niego had the last laugh.  She responded with a team-high 12 kills as the Macs, extending a streak dating to 2012, won their sixth straight over their neighborhood rivals, 25-19, 25-18, in front of a standing-room crowd estimated at 1,800.

“Great players block that stuff out,” Niego said. “Then they prove (the hecklers) wrong. It’s awesome to play in front of this big of a crowd."

Though Central Michigan-bound junior Savannah Thompson had four kills in a six-point span immediately after Niego’s miss to tie the opening set at 18, Niego had kills for the final three points — knocking a Marist defender off her feet with the first swing, blasting through a block for the second and going soft down the line to close it out.

McAuley’s power — Kaitlyn O’Connell, another 6-footer and heavy hitter, finished with eight kills — was the difference in a match where the hitting errors were few and digs plentiful.

O'Connell had 45 kills in five matches at last weekend's Louisville (Ky.) Invitational, where the Macs went 4-1.

“I think I was able to kick it up to another gear,” O’Connell said. “The team got on me early because I wasn’t doing so good.”

In the second set, O’Connell had two solo blocks and a kill in a 7-0 McAuley run to put the Macs up 12-10. They never trailed again.

“There was a lot of good defense being played on both sides,” McAuley coach Jen DeJarld said. “It makes for an exciting match.”

And a tight one.

McAuley’s biggest lead of the night came on match point, in a set in which Marist managed its biggest advantage, at 10-5.

“We just didn’t finish the points,” first-year Marist coach Jordan Vidovic said. “It’s frustrating. If we could finish off some of that defensive effort with kills …

"We couldn't get out points in big enough bunches, like we're used to doing."

Thompson finished with six kills, all in the first set, and added 13 digs. Maggie Meyer led the RedHawks (9-3) with eight kills and six service points, while Grace Green had 16 digs and Molly Murrihy had 23 assists.

Libero Emma Reilly and Niego led McAuley (10-1) with 12 digs each, while sophomore setter Nancy Kane had 27 assists and matched O’Connell with seven digs.

“We were a little tentative tonight playing in front of the neighborhood crowd,” DeJarld said. “Big matches in full gyms like this will prepare us for state. It’s a great atmosphere.”

Tell it to the Marist student section — last heard chanting, “Let’s play football …” 


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

  • Written by By Phil Arvia and Jeff Vorva


PAGE 1 BR 6  9 8



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.