Chicago Fire/Philly review and a look ahead to NYC FC

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

PAGE 2 FiRE 9 Philly 12 snow

Photo by Jeff Vorva

The Fire’s Gilberto, right, tries to get around Philadelphia’s Keegan Rosenberry during one of several snowy moments in Saturday’s 1-0 Fire victory.


To be sure, Philadelphia’s Warren Creavalle getting thrown out of the game in the second minute of the second half and the Chicago’s Fire Kennedy Igboananike’s goal four minutes later were the keys to the Fire’s 1-0 victory over the Union.

But another factor that the Fire had to face was the sometimes snowy, sometimes sunny and always windy conditions at Toyota Park in Bridgeview on Saturday afternoon. The weather was worse in the first half and the Fire had to also survive a blizzard of shots (12, including a pair of C.J. Sapong attempts that hit the crossbar and post) and still came away with a 0-0 draw.

That was the third element of the game that brought a pro soccer victory to the south suburbs. If the Fire defense didn’t keep the Union off the board, it would have likely been another afternoon without collecting three points.

Goalie Matt Lampson, who racked up his second straight shutout, said it wasn’t easy for him or the defense as the Fire improved to 1-1-2 and earned its first win in the Veljko Paunovic era in front of an announced crowd of 12,073.

“It was probably the harshest conditions I’ve ever played in,” Lampson said. “It was very difficult for both teams so it’s a testament to our guys came out with three points in conditions like that. I’m incredibly proud of our team. Every single guy played his heart out. I think we deserved three points today.

“That first half, honestly, was absolutely brutal. We needed to get out of that half without conceding and that’s exactly what we did. In soccer, luck always has something to do with it. Whether it hits the post or not doesn’t matter. We came out with the result that we wanted. We were resilient. We suffered through and got out of it the way we wanted to.’’

Philadelphia game into the game with a 2-1-0 mark and tied for first with Montreal in the Eastern Division of Major League Soccer.

“This win means a lot for me and everyone in the lockerroom,” Paunovic said. “We will have more confidence now and that’s very, very important. We beat a very good team. This win helps us to grow.’’

The team played its second straight game without leading scorer David Accam and after managing just three shots in the first half, the Fire took advantage of the 11-on-10 situation that Creavalle’s red card provided and had seven second-half shots including Igboananike’s second goal of the season (Michael Harrington assisted) to tie Accam for the team lead.

“To play in this weather was difficult – you never knew what you were going to get,” Igboananike said. “You have to be mentally strong to play through that and we did that and picked up a win.’’


WHEN: 6 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Yankee Stadium, New York



LAST TIME: NYC opened the 2016 season with a 4-3 victory over the Fire on March 6 at Toyota Park. Both teams combined for 37 shots. Mix Diskerud scored what turned out to be the winning goal in the second half for NYC.


Fire looks to regain its honor


The Chicago Fire won its first game since Oct. 5 when it beat Philadelphia, 1-0, on Monday – a streak of five games.

The next challenge is to win on the road.

The Fire visits the New York City Football Club Sunday at Yankee Stadium. Chicago has not won a road game since topping New England, 1-0, on July 12, 2014 -- a streak of 26 games.

The Fire has gone 0-18-8 in that span.

The Fire has one more reason to want to win. Its 4-3 loss to NYC to open the season at Toyota Park is still stinging.

“We had our honor hurt,” first-year coach Veljko Paunovic said. “We feel like we have some payback. There is something special about this game.’’

The coach said earlier this week midfielder David Accam is in the “final phase of recovery” from an injured left knee but is not sure if he will be able to play against New York. Accam missed the past two games.


Coming soon?

Fire General Manager Nelson Rodriguez said two new international players will be heading to the team in May during the team’s Saturday morning Chicago Fire Weekly radio show. He wouldn’t give out names but said one player is a midfielder.

"We won’t make that announcement for another week-to-10 days and that’s at the request of the team from whom the player is coming, which is involved in some important matches. It’s a central midfielder who we believe will complement our existing group and give us a little bit more size in there,” Rodriguez said.

The Fire Confidential website speculates the players will be Senegalese midfielder Khaly Thian (who plays for MTK Budapest) and Dutch striker Michael De Leeuw (who is playing for FC Groningen).

Showing some style

The Fire Soccer Club hosts the fourth annual Soccer & Style fashion show atROOF on theWit (201 North State Street, 27th Floor,) from 6 to 8 p.m. May 5.

Fire players will walk the runway in this season's hottest looks provided by Banana Republic. Tickets start at $50 and includes entry into the event and two drink tickets. VIP ticketsare$75 and include event entry, three drink tickets and a commemorative gift.

All proceeds from the event benefit the Chicago Fire Foundation. In 2015, the fashion show raised over $11,000.

The models scheduled to appear are Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic, goalkeeper Patrick McLain, defenders Jonathan Campbell, Eric Gehrig, Michael Harrington, Joao Meira and Brandon Vincent, and midfielders David Accam, Arturo Alvarez, Joey Calistri, Razvan Cocis, John Goossens, Matt Polster and Michael Stephens.

For tickets, visit


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Wait 'til next year one more year, Cubs fans

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


The pitching staff is great.

The lineup is darn near perfect.

The manager is one of the best in the business.

So why won’t the Cubs win the World Series this year?

I can’t give a good solid reason except my gut says this is not the year.

And I have a big gut.

Look, I think the Cubs are good enough to win 100 games this year, even in a division that has two strong teams in St. Louis and Pittsburgh.

I like the fact that so many young stars got a taste of the postseason last year and shouldn’t be awed by the experience this year.

On paper, this team is dynamite.

But on paper, the 2004 Cubs were built for the World Series, too, and that didn’t happen.

On paper, the Washington Nationals were supposed to mash all of the other baseball teams into the ground. That didn’t happen.

For some reason, I think the Cubs need one more year to win that ultimate prize. To steal a gimmick from the late Ernie Banks, the Cubs will be mean in 2017.

I think they will win the division and get knocked out by, gasp, Dusty Baker and the aforementioned Nationals. Like him or hate him, Baker has been pretty good lately on his first year on the job.

So, my predictions are:

NL Central champ: Cubs

NL East champ: Washington

NL West champ: San Francisco

Wild card teams: Pittsburgh and the New York Mets.

NL champ: Washington

AL Central champ: Kansas City

AL East champ: Toronto

AL West champ: Texas

Wild card teams: Boston, Tampa

AL champ: Toronto

World Series champ: Toronto

(subhead) What about the Sox?

I like, but don’t love the Sox and I think they will be in the mix with Cleveland and Detroit for second place but probably won’t qualify as a wild card team.

Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon combined for 38 wins last year and if all three bump those totals up to 15-plus each, the team should be OK.

A lot of people love the signing of Todd Frazier and I am somewhat excited about it but I am always a little skittish when a lifetime National Leaguer comes to the Sox.

The Sox spent a lot of money during the offseason between 2014 and 2015 and the team finished with 76 wins. They tried to spend a little more wisely this past offseason and we will see where that will get them. I’m guessing 89 wins but no playoffs.

Catledge, Parker, Shimko earn Player of the Year honors

  • Written by Anthony Nasella


The Reporter/Regional picked co-Players of the Year in boys basketball and one in girls. Here are the tremendous three for 2015-16:


Photos by Jeff Vorva


As far as impact players go for boys’ basketball teams in the area, some view Richards junior forward Jaylan Catledge as a can’t-miss talent.

And to hear Bulldogs’ head coach Jevon Mamon tell it, as Catledge goes, the team goes.

That was evident for the second-year varsity player, who averaged 20.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per contest this season, while his improving his shooting percentages from a year ago in leading Richards to success.

It’s those accomplishments and general impact that led to Catledge being named the Reporter/Regional co-Boys Basketball Player of the Year. He was the first sophomore to win Player of the Year last year and his numbers have gotten bigger this season.

“The guys all rally behind Jaylan,” Mamon said. “He has the ability to change games. He’s done a tremendous job and is an exceptional player who continues to open eyes.

“In the last off season, we gave him a goal to improve his shooting, and he shot 35 percent from 3-point land and 50 percent in conference. That was something that he worked on over the course of the summer, and it paid off this season.”

In addition to leading the Bulldogs in scoring and rebounding while improving his shooting from behind the arc, Catledge displayed versatility and value to his teammates by adding 1.7 assists, 1.6 steals, and 1.5 blocks per contest to help his team win the South Suburban Red Conference. He was named the conference’s MVP.

“He probably had about five double-doubles,” Mamon said. “He’s just so tough to guard. He can score multiple ways off the dribble – on the glass while also making his opponents also respect his jump shot.”

Catledge said he was aware of the challenge to step up and be an impact player, and he expressed some satisfaction with his play this season. But he also knows he has his work cut out for a big senior campaign.

“I knew I had to step up my game and carry our team from time to time, and I also knew I had to make better decisions,” Catledge said. “I think I could have played a little bit better. I still need to work at my jump shots off the dribble.’’

Catledge will get plenty of chance to sharpen that part of his game when he plays for the Example Sports AAU team in Bourbonnais for a second season.

“I’m looking forward to some summer ball,” he said. “I’m excited about the challenges of next season.”

Mamom is said he’s looking forward to seeing Catledge take his game to another level next season.

“Jaylan is a good player, but he’s far from maxing out his potential,” he said. “When he plays to his potential, he’s definitely one of the better players in the area. Work is far from over.

“There’s multiple things he can do offensively and defensively. He’s quiet, which can be challenging. But he’s taking steps to lead vocally. He gets it done pretty much on a nightly basis for us.”





When Chicago Christian boys basketball coach Kevin Pittman handed the point guard responsibilities to Marist transfer Malik Parker at the beginning of the season, he was hopeful that the newcomer could blend in and lead the team to success.

Parker was able to accomplish that as he was a key in helping the Knights become the only area team in the past three years to win a regional title when they beat the hosts to claim the Class 2A Illiana Christian Regional. Under his watch, the team also won the Metro Suburban Conference East title and won 22 games on the season. The junior was named the Reporter/Regional co-Boys Basketball Player of the Year.

The first hurdle was to win over his teammates. Sometimes new players are not welcomed with open arms by veteran members of the team.

But Parker’s experience on Marist’s varsity last year and commitment to the game enabled him to lead a team that featured established three-year varsity players such as Anajuwon Spencer, Daylon Washington and Trevor Wolterink.

“For Malik to lead the way he was able to with the strong senior leadership we had, and to gain their trust, speaks volumes,” Pittman said. “He’s already talking about what he’s planning to do over the summer: A full AAU schedule and team camps. That work will make him an even better player next year

 “As the year progressed, he started to also relax in the offense that we ran. He found people in spots we wanted him to find them in. He’s a well-rounded player. To do all that as junior is saying something about the talent level that this kid possesses.”

For the season, Parker averaged a team-high 13.5 points per game, 2.5 assists, two rebounds, and two steals per game. He canned 45 three-pointer baskets on 108 attempts for a solid percentage of 41.7 percent. He scored 24 points in the team’s 68-65 sectional semifinal loss to Reed-Custer. He was also named his conference’s Player of the Year.

Proudly called a gym rat by Pittman, Parker’s versatility has allowed him to transcend his point guard functions and help in several different ways, according to his coach.

“Malik really grew into the point-guard position as the season went on, but he’s a definite scorer,” Pittman said. “He’s more of a hybrid – a one-guard and two-guard mixed into one body. He just loves to play and is always in the gym the moment it’s opened."

Parker defers his accomplishments to the hard work and talent that was put in by all of his teammates.

“The success I achieved would have been impossible without my teammates and coach,” Parker said. “They all pushed me on and off the court to be the best player I could be. There was a little pressure at the beginning of the season, but I knew we had a lot of talent and we could have a great season.

“The honors and accomplishments have all been very humbling. It was a fun season.”





In the spring and summer, basketball was not Kara Shimko’s top priority.

Beating a cancer scare was.

The junior-to-be at Queen of Peace received the frightening news that she needed a phyllodes tumor that measured at 4.5 centimeters removed from her left breast. She had the surgery performed in June and was relieved that it benign.

When the procedure was over, the first thing she asked was “When can I play basketball again?”

She was back on the court soon enough and ready to help Queen of Peace finish 19-12 and to win a Class 3A regional title.

She raised her scoring average from 13 as a sophomore to a team-high 17 points per game, led the team in 3-point baskets (66) and free-throw shooting (91 percent) and has been named the Reporter/Regional Girls Basketball Player of the Year. Since the award was given out in 1994, she is the first Queen of Peace athlete to win it.

For Shimko, this was a season that was more than about basketball. When word of her story came out in December, it was shared by a ton of websites from to

Her father, Queen of Peace coach George Shimko, said he is just as proud of her off the court as he is on the court.

 “I received a text regarding Kara that said as much as Kara is as a great player, what is great about her is how much of leader she is to her teammates,” the coach said. “That is such nice recognition to have because we tell the players all the time that if you want to be recognized as a good player you have to genuinely want you teammates to do well.

“And that’s Kara – every day at practice and in school. The way she carries herself is all about wanting everybody else to do well. That’s her mantra and how she approaches life. That’s the thing I’m the most proud about Kara. Work hard on individual skills and team skills, but her concern about teammates speaks a lot about the kind of individual she is.”

Kara said her approach to hers and team’s success was basic.

“We just wanted to go out and have fun this season, and that’s exactly what we did, she said. “We as a team were able to turn things around from when we lost all those games two seasons ago to be able to win while still having fun.

“It was great seeing my teammates, especially, having fun. The way we did it was so fun, and I was most happy when we were all doing well together.”

The Pride has gone from two wins two seasons ago to 19 this year and a bigger season could be in store next year and beyond. The team had no seniors on the roster and freshman Jovannna Martinucci became a force in the lineup.

With one more season with Shimko and her scoring and leadership abilities, it could be huge year in Burbank.




Fire preview: $2 hot dogs and other notes

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva

The Fire and Kennedy Igboananike (left) hope to get off the ground and score a win against Philadelphia on Saturday.


WHEN: 4 p.m. Saturday

WHERE: Toyota Park, Bridgeview



LAST TIME: The teams tied, 3-3, on Aug. 16 in Philadelphia. The Union’s Sebastien Le Toux scored in the 90th minute and Chicago’s Kennedy Igboananike scored seconds later for the tie.



If the soccer doesn’t bring them in, maybe the hot dogs will.

The Chicago Fire resume play Saturday against Philadelphia at 4 p.m. Toyota Park in Bridgeview and there will be $2 hot dogs on sale as a promotion. Maybe that will help bring a few more fans to the place.

The first two home games have seen vastly different results. The home opener, a wild 4-3 loss to New York City, drew 17,768 on March 6.

On a cold March 19 afternoon however, the Fire drew an announced crowd of 12,605 in a 0-0 draw against Columbus and some speculated that the actual attendance was closer to 5,000.

Regardless, the official figure of 12,605 is the lowest in Major League Soccer this year as the league is averaging 22,537 per game. The Fire is in 17th place out of 20 teams with an average of 15,186 and the list includes Toronto, which hasn’t played a home game yet.

First-year Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said he wasn’t disappointed in the puny crowd against Columbus.

“The people who came, supported us very well,” he said. “We also know that once this team starts to perform well and win games we will attract more people to come. We are very grateful to the people who come to the stadium and we can assure everyone we will always give our best. I’ve said this many times before, we are in a process of building a team that they will like and enjoy.’’

On paper, opening the season with five of the first seven games at home sounds good but from a fans standpoint, having those games played under frosty conditions will likely keep the numbers in the stands down.

Paunovic said he is not worried about the weather during the early part of the season because it’s something he can’t control.

Meanwhile, the Fire (0-1-2 and ranked last in the recent EPSN FC power rankings) heads into the game with some question marks.

Top player David Accam (two goals in the first two games) may miss his second game in a row with a knee injury and John Goossens and Arturo Alvarez rested their nagging injuries last week and participated in a full workout on Monday.

Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent, who have been playing for the United States men’s under-23 national team, are likely to play against the Union but that could change if they are not at 100 percent.

Philadelphia is tied with Montreal for first place in the MSL East with 2-1-0 records.

The Union opened the season with a 2-0 loss to FC Dallas but came back and beat Columbus, 2-1, and New England, 3-0. MLS named the Union its Team of the Week after the New England whitewash.

Goalie Andre Blake is first in the MSL with 16 saves and seven catches. His save percentage of 83.4 ranks third in the league. 

“Soccer is about the moment,” the Jamaican star told, “And right now I’m having a great moment.”

C.J. Sapong and Chris Pontius each lead the team with two goals.

Sapong’s pair came against New England on March 19 and he said after the game he wanted more.

Feels good to open the account – I’m always extra critical, I could have had four today,” Sapong said. “It’s a good statement at home and we feel like we can do better but we showed a lot of team camaraderie on the field.”


Chicago Fire goalie Sean Johnson – the longest tenured player on the team – has not played a minute of action in the team’s first three games and with the play of Matt Lampson (two goals allowed in 225 minutes after allowing three in the first 45) it may be awhile before Johnson sees the field again.

There are rumblings the team could trade Johnson but coach Veljko Paunovic said “I don’t know anything about it.’’

When asked if Johnson is seeking a trade, Paunovic said. “I don’t know anything about that either.”

The coach said Johnson is playing the good soldier in all of this.
Johnson made his Fire debut on Aug. 1, 2010 and was the youngest player to appear in the net at age 21 and has been a mainstay with the team ever since.

“He’s handling it very well,’’ Paunovic said. “He’s a very good guy and he works hard. He’s someone who always helps teammates and we appreciate that. He’s a really, really good teammate and a good player.’’

The Fire picked up Lampson on Feb. 26 and he was inserted into the starting lineup for an exhibition game against defending Major League Soccer champ Portland and hasn’t come out of the lineup since.

Paunovic said he has talked with Johnson on a couple of occasions about his role.

“From my point of view, I understand and know what he’s going through,’’ Paunovic said. “I’ve been through that and I know that every player wants to play. But we really count on everyone. That’s a very important value. At some point you have faith that everyone can help the team when they are called on.’’


The Fire loaned midfielder Drew Conner and defender Patrick Doody to USL affiliate Saint Louis FC on Friday.

"Patrick and Drew need games to remain game fit and sharp," said Fire general manager Nelson Rodríguez. "In addition, we know they will receive excellent training as well as a warm reception from the great fans of Saint Louis FC." 

Conner signed a homegrown contract with the Fire on Dec. 17 after a successful collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin. He earned All-Big Ten Second Team honors as a sophomore in 2013 and made the All-Big Ten Freshman Team in 2012. The Cary native had six goals and 12 assists in his collegiate career. He also helped lead his squad to an NCAA Tournament berth in 2013. 

Doody, a second-year defender from Naperville, joined the Fire as a homegrown player on Dec. 22, 2014. In his rookie season, Doody started six of the seven MLS games in which he appeared, and tallied an assist on Gilberto's 78thminute goal against the New York Red Bulls on Oct. 25. Doody additionally made 21 appearances while on loan to STLFC and was tied for the team lead with four assists. 

Paunovic said Monday the club is also planning on sending defender Eric Gehrig to St. Louis as well.


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Could SXU athlete become the best NAIA pitcher ever?

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



I know there are more important things to ponder in life.

Will the Blackhawks win another Stanley Cup?

Will the Cubs win the World Series?

Will the White Sox survive the loss of Drake LaRoche?

Will our next president be (gasp) Trump?

Or will our next president be (gasp) Hillary?

So much to think about.

But my mind is a little odder than most. I’m thinking about something else.

See, for years I kept hearing about all these great things that St. Xavier University softball pitcher Nicole Nonnemacher was doing.

The wins.

The strikeouts.

The no-hitters.

The perfect games – one of which she struck out every batter she faced.

Now that I am the sports editor and she is a senior I began to wonder…could Nonnemacher become the greatest pitcher in NAIA history?

First, I needed to figure out who the best pitcher in NAIA history is.

After a careful examination of the NAIA softball record books, I came up with a name – Rachel Murray.

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 ranks fourth. Because you are dying to know, Oklahoma City’s Lily LaVelle had 1,411 from 2009-2012 for first in that category.

Murray, originally from way downstate Herrin, was just 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.

That’s who Nonnemacher has to beat out.

Nonnemacher already has her beat in one category. The SXU pitcher was named NAIA Pitcher of the Year twice and Murray just once.

But Nonnemacher has some catching up to do in other categories.

Through the Cougars’ first 20 games this season, she had 81 wins, 41 shutouts, 10 no-hitters and 1,073 strikeouts in her career.

There were 32 more games left on the regular-season schedule and who knows if they will all get played or not because of our predictably unpredictable weather. Plus, there will be the CCAC Tournament and NAIA postseason tournament games that could be played.

Nonnemacher is not going to start all those regular-season games. She will probably start half or a little more than half.

She doesn’t have a shot at the 126 wins or 68 shutouts.  She needed six more no-hitters and 184 more strikeouts to catch Murray which is a steep climb.


If Nonnemacher wins another NAIA Pitcher of the Year award, that would give her a 3-1 edge over Murray in a pretty significant category.

And if Nonnemacher can lead the Cougars, ranked third in the nation, to a national championship, that will build her case up as well. Then you can have a really good argument.

Now, about Trump and Hillary…