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

PAGE 2 FIRE 8 9 1

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.‘’




Fire analysis/notes: At least the team is terrific at Toyota

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



The Fire is unbeaten at Toyota Park in the last 10 games. The breakdown:


April 30 (MLS game)      Tied D.C. United, 1-1

May 21 (MLS game)      Beat Houston, 1-0

May 28 (MLS game)      Tied Portland, 1-1

June 15 (Hunt Cup)        Beat Indy Eleven, 2-1 (PK)

June 28 (Hunt Cup)        Beat Columbus, 2-1

July 1   (MLS game)      Beat San Jose, 1-0

July 13 (MLS game)       Beat Sporting KC, 1-0

July 20 (Hunt Cup)         Beat Ft. Lauderdale, 3-0

July 31 (MLS game)       Tied NY Red Bulls, 2-2

Aug. 14 (MLS game)      Tied Orlando City, 2-2





WHEN: 6:30 p.m., Saturday

WHERE: Stade Saputo, Montreal



LAST TIME: Montreal beat the Fire 2-1 on April 16 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. Ignacio Piatti scored the winner in extra time for the Impact.



In what has turned out to be a long, frustrating season for the Chicago Fire, there is a sliver of a silver lining.


Fire fans who have shown up for games at Toyota Park in Bridgeview in recent months have not been subject to watching the team lose.


The Fire has gone two years without a win on the road but at home, the team has not lost in 10 matches in either seven Major League Soccer games or in three rounds of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.


The streak reached double digits with a 2-2 tie with Orlando City Sunday afternoon. That shouldn’t come as much of a surprise as Orlando leads the MLS with 12 ties to go with five victories and six setbacks.


The Fire is 6-0-4 at home since losing to Montreal on April 16.


Razvan Cocis’s 78th-minute goal tied the game up. Although ties are not considered glamorous, his goal energized the announced crowd of 18,178, the biggest crowd of the season.


It energized the team, too.

As you saw, after we scored the second goal, we could've scored the third one,’’ Cocis said. “We kept the pressure and kept believing in turning back this game. It didn't happen, but hopefully, we don't have to deal with this anymore. I want to see a team that can play without conceding a goal, because we can score. We showed that we can score every game, and it's very important not to concede." 

John Goossens opened the scoring in the sixth minute for the Fire (4-11-7).

Fire sale?: Although Fire officials are not publicly saying the team is for sale, a speculative piece on the Fire Confidential website says three groups are interested in buying the team.

A group headed by Richard Levy, who is the CEO of a group that owns Giordano’s Pizza, another by real estate developer Majeed Ekbal and a Bridgeview group have expressed interest.

The article also said that this year that even though the Bridgeview facility is still known as Toyota Park, Toyota no longer owns the naming rights to the stadium.

Out of the Hunt


The Fire dropped a 3-1 road decision to New England Aug. 9 in the semfinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament.


David Accam scored his fifth goal in the tournament in the 40th minute but that was all the scoring the Fire would muster. Kei Kamara, Je-Waughn Watson and Teal Bunbury scored for the Revolution. Accam was also ejected late in the game for rough play.


With the miseries suffered by the Fire in the MLS, the team was hoping to win the Hunt Cup. Had it won, it would have hosted the championship game at Toyota Park in September.


“The whole locker room feels very, very bad at this point,’’ Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said after the game. "I would like to add that we did our best. This is the best we can do at this point, but we will work hard and we will come back next year.

“After the second goal and the third goal, we pushed hard, we tried to do some adjustments, but the team, I'm really proud of our guys. I think our team did a huge effort and, as I said, this is the best we can do at this point and we learn from everything. It was a great experience for us and we just expect and we work on improving and not making the same mistakes in the future."

The Fire had five shots on target in the game.