Fire analysis: All was right in the Fire's words for a couple of hours

  • Written by Jeff Vorva



Photo by Jeff Vorva

Chicago Fire players and coaches gathered around in a circle after Sunday’s win – the season finale at Toyota Park.


On a dreary day toward the end of a drearier season, Chicago Fire fans had some fun for a couple of hours on Sunday.

David Accam did a little dance after scoring what turned out to be the winning goal in the 80th minute of a 2-1 victory over New England in the final game of the season at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. After the game, the players gathered in a circle while Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” played on the stadium’s speakers. Then the team broke the circle and walked around close to the stands while fans cheered.

Few would have guessed that the announced crowd of 18,976 at Toyota Park would have had more fun on Sunday than 61,054 fans at Soldier Field (who watched the Bears piddle away a 13-0 lead in the third quarter to lose 17-16 to Jacksonville) and 42,384 fans at Wrigley Field (who watched the Cubs offense throw up nine zeros on the boards against Los Angeles in the National League Championship Series).

The Fire improved to 7-16-10 and has 31 points in Major League Soccer play. Chicago has the worst record in the league but could escape that fate if it beats Toronto in in a 3 p.m. road game Sunday in the season finale and Houston (7-14-12, 33 points) either ties or loses to Colorado.

“It was a great game and very important for us to win the game…our last game at home in front of our fans,” Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. “I know it was a hard season for everyone but at least we could grant them this, a good win. I also want to say thanks to our fans who are, during the whole year, with us and supporting team and we look forward to improving and get better for the next season." 

"I think it means a lot,’’ Accam added. “For me, the fans deserve much more than what we have given them this season. Today, it was all about the fans, about us giving everything we had in the pitch for the fans. That's what we showed today, we went in to win it for the fans, and we did it." 

Michael de Leeuw opened the scoring in the ninth minute of the game for his sixth goal of the campaign. The game ended with both clubs playing with 10 players after Chicago’s Luis Solignac and Revolution goalie Brad Knighton were kicked out after receiving red cards. The loss hurt New England’s shot at the playoffs.

The win for the Fire  helped erase a miserable showing at Toyota Park three days prior. The Fire allowed an 80th-minute goal to Columbus in a 2-2 tie.

"Yes, we failed,” Paunovic said after the game. “We failed to close, to win the game. Disappointed? Well, yes.’’

CAPTION – Photo by Jeff Vorva

Chicago Fire players and coaches gathered around in a circle after Sunday’s win – the season finale at Toyota Park.


Sensational soccer season for Spartans

  • Written by Aaron FitzPatrick


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Jose Lopez and Oak Lawn’s soccer team have enjoyed a historic season. Here, they celebrate winning the Windy City Classic tournament at Toyota Park in September.


The Oak Lawn Community High School soccer team is having one of the best seasons in school history.

The Spartans aren’t just winning; they’re absolutely rolling over the competition. They outscored their competition, 70-9 through their first 15 games. They posted seven shutouts, including back-to-back 7-0 scores. They won 11 of their 15 contests by more than a goal which is a sizeable advantage in the world of soccer.

After recently forging a 3-3 tie with Lemont and beating Argo, 3-1 Tuesday night to win the South Suburban Conference Red title, the Spartans head into the postseason with a 19-0-1 mark. Regional play in Class 2A and Class 3A opens Friday. Oak Lawn is seeded second behind Bradley Bourbonnais in the Class 3A Lincoln-Way Central Sectional.  

They’ve already passed a school record in wins. In 2008, the Spartans went 15-5-1 in the final year of former head coach Kevin Stowe.

 “The kids have just grown up,” said Oak Lawn coach, Nate Joiner. “We’ve got almost all seniors this year. Six or seven have been with me since their sophomore year and some have been with us since they were freshman.”

One of those seniors who has grown up is Michal Szaflarski. Szaflarski has been a team captain since his sophomore year. As a junior, Szaflarski was at the forefront of a high powered offense. This year, he’s anchoring one of the stingiest defenses in the state.

How is he adjusting the role change?

“He’s a team player,” said Joiner. “He’s just happy we’re winning. He’s still one of the most important guys on the team. He’s playing the same leadership role; he’s just not scoring as many goals. We want him back in this formation. We have enough firepower.”

That firepower is coming in the tandem of Giovanni Barragan and Mohammad Farraj. Barragan and Farraj are helping the Spartan offense average nearly five goals a game and are having a blast doing it.

“This has been the dream season so far,” said Barragan. “We want to keep it going and be undefeated the whole season. Since we’re seniors that’s why we’re playing every game as if it’s our last. Me and Mo (Farraj) -- I like our combinations.”

“We practice together, we play together and we play like a family,” said Farraj.

With ball rolling their way and the Spartans in the middle of a dream season, it might be easy for a group of teenagers to lose focus on the big picture. Not this group, according to Joiner.

“The boys are focused,” said Joiner. “I think that they do a go job of not letting their heads get big. We’re definitely trying to keep them humble and keep them working. They police themselves.”


RedHawks' D gets even after giving up 62 points in 2015

  • Written by Aaron FitzPatrick


Yes, they remembered.

Nearly a year after yielding 62 points to the Nazareth Academy Roadrunners in a Week 8 loss in La Grange Park, many of the Marist defensive players returned to the scene of the grime on Friday and gave up just two touchdowns in a 44-14 win on the Roadrunners home field last Friday night sending a Nazareth Academy homecoming crowd unhappy into the cold on the first chilly Friday night of the fall season.

This battle of East Suburban Catholic League powers has been high-scoring in recent years with Marist winning 45-37 in 2013, Nazareth winning 37-21 in 2014 and Nazareth winning 62-45 last year.

The Redhawk defense played as if the 2015 game was still fresh in their memory.

“I tell you what. Our guys remember that,” said Redhawk head coach, Pat Dunne. “I know that for a fact. It’s something that the guys talked about all week. A lot of those guys that were on the field were out there last year.”

One of those Marist players was senior linebacker, Matt Finn.

“It feels good. Especially after the 62 points they put on us a year ago,” said Finn.

So, last year was in the back of your mind?

“A little bit,” he said with a grin.

The 6-1, 5-0 Redhawks remain at the top of the East Suburban Catholic League standings along with fellow conference unbeaten, Benet. The two teams square off this Friday night at Marist in the Redhawks final regular season home game of the year.

Finn attributed the impressive defensive display against defending Class 6A champion Nazareth to a total team effort and excellent preparation.

“We had a great week of practice,” he said. “Everyone played together as a unit. And when we play together as a unit, that’s when we become tough to beat.”

Playing together as a unit may be an understatement considering the fact that the Redhawks took the ball from the Roadrunners six times on the night.

Finn was one of six Redhawk defenders to record a turnover. His early fourth-quarter interception set up the Redhawks for their fifth touchdown of the night and a 37-14 lead with nine minutes to play in the game. It also put to rest any momentum Nazareth built after scoring two touchdowns in the third quarter.

“We came out a flat in the second half,” Finn said of the two Roadrunner scores. “But then we regrouped and got it together and pulled it out.”

Again, maybe another understatement by the humble senior.

After Roadrunner running back Cameron Weems scored to cut what was once a 23-0 halftime advantage to 30-14, the Redhawk defensive players didn’t just get it together, they put it into overdrive. Marist picked off Nazareth quarterback, Andrew Rouse Jr. on the next three possessions. The Redhawks picked off Rouse four times total on the night. Other Redhawks with picks were Bobby Gorman, Robert McKenzie and Robert Topps III.

“What the defense is doing is helping the entire team,” said Dunne. “They’re sitting there creating turnovers and creating great field position for the offense. All of those guys are doing a tremendous job and everyone is feeding off of what the defense is doing.”

Oh yeah, Marist brought plenty of offense as well.

Redhawk quarterback, Morgan Taylor (204 passing yards and 64 rushing yards) accounted for five of the six Marist touchdowns, three through the air and two on the ground.

His 26 yard dash to pay dirt midway through the first quarter got the Redhawks offense off and running to a 23-0 halftime lead.

Nazareth fell to 3-4 overall and is in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. The Roadrunners visit St. Viator Friday and host Marian Catholic Oct. 21.


'A heck of a game'

  • Written by Aaron FitzPatrick



Photos by Aaron FitzPatrick

Brother Rice fans storm newly christened Tom Mitchell Field after winning a wild 49-42 victory over Mt. Carmel Friday night.

Fans who saw Brother Rice defeat Mount Carmel, 49-42, last Friday got far more than their money’s worth.

After a thrilling 21-20 overtime win by the Crusaders in the sophomore game, and prior to the main event varsity game, Brother Rice held a ceremony renaming the field after legendary head coach, Tom Mitchell. Mitchell, a Mount Carmel alum, coached the Crusaders from 1967 through 1993 and led Brother Rice to a state title in 1981.

In addition to the pregame ceremony, Rice also honored football alum from 1966, ‘76, ‘86, ‘96 and 2006 at halftime.

Head coach, Brian Badke, had one word to describe the game -- special.

“It was a special night,” he said. “And what a heck of a football game. Give credit to Mount Carmel. They played great. I tell you what. Our guys are special. They didn’t give in. They never gave up.”

Special nights are usually platforms for special players and few are as special as Brother Rice’s Ricky Smalling. The Illinois recruit collected over 170 yards receiving and two touchdowns. His 55-yard score late in the third quarter gave spectators a big taste of his special talent as he tip toed and danced his way through one Mount Carmel defender after another and across the goal line to tie the game at 35-35.

“He’s a guy you definitely want on your football team,’’ Badke said. “He can do anything. He’s a great football player. He’s been here four years and we’re lucky to have him. And he’s not done yet.”

Quarterback Dino Borrelli accounted for five touchdowns--four through the air and one on the ground--and 389 passing yards.

Smalling’s third quarter touchdown capped a wild and 12 minutes of play. The two teams combined for 42 points, six touchdowns, two turnovers and a successful onside kick.

Mount Carmel’s Michael Kennedy showed off some of his special talent as well in the back-and-forth third quarter. Kennedy ran for a 24 yard touchdown and threw for one, a 70-yard pass to Jordan Cousert on a half back option.

In a game that featured 13 touchdowns, 91 points and close to 1,000 yards of total offense, it was a defensive play that saved the day.

Aarion Lacy picked off Alek Thomas’ pass inside the five-yard line with less than 20 seconds to play to end Mount Carmel’s last chance to at least tie the score.

“Big time players make big time plays,” Lacy said. “Our offense had bailed us out all night but we made the plays when we needed it.”

In fact, Lacy made nearly the same play twice. One play prior to his game-deciding interception, Lacy picked off Thomas’ pass but the play was nullified because of a roughing the passer penalty.

“I was pissed,” Lacy said. “I just knew I had to go out and get another one."

With the win, the Crusaders stay perfect at 6-0 (2-0 in the Catholic League Blue) and are a lock in qualifying for the Illinois High School Association playoffs while the Caraven dropped to 3-3, 0-3  an lost three in a row to Brother Rice.

So, what would coach Mitchell think of this game?

“I could tell you, definitely, I don’t know if we’d have scored that many points,” quipped Badke. “But I know he would have been happy with the result.”


Brother Rice enjoys life in the fast lane

  • Written by Phil Arvia


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Brother Rice’s Brendan Houston break’s Providence’s Joe Markasovic’s tackle attempt during a 56-yard touchdown reception Friday night in New Lenox.

After a display like the one put on Friday by Brother Rice in its 45-21, Chicago Catholic League Blue win at Providence, there was really only one question to ask the Crusaders:

Who’s the fastest guy on this football team?

There was a crowded field of candidates on an evening in which the Crusaders authored more big plays than Rodgers and Hammerstein. 

In an incredible three-minute stretch at the beginning of the third quarter, Rice (5-0, 1-0) had its offense on the field for just  19 seconds, yet scored three touchdowns to snap a 14-all halftime tie. 

The Crusaders scored six touchdowns, none shorter than Aarion Lacy’s 28-yard interception return to cap that third-quarter burst. He also went, untouched, 70 yards around left end for another score on his only carry of the evening.

“He’s amazing,” quarterback Dino Borrelli said of Lacy. “He’s a beast. He’s a savage.”

Sure, but is he the fastest? After all, Branden Houston also had two touchdowns, turning a pair of short Borrelli tosses into 56- and 33-yard touchdowns; Illinois recruit Ricky Smalling had a 30-yard scoring grab; and star running back Xazavian Valladay highlighted his 13-carry, 183-yard game with a 72-yard dash to the end zone.

“It’s between me, Xazavian, Ricky and Branden,” Lacy said. “OK — it’s Ricky. He’s the fastest.”

Of course, Lacy did note that Houston’s 40-yard dash time was the same as Smalling’s (4.4 seconds), just a tick ahead of Lacy and Valladay.

“I’ve got to say it’s me,” Houston said. “But we never raced or anything. That’s just what I think.”

Crusaders coach Brian Badke added another name to the list of speed merchants — wideout Michael Butler-Kindle — but he was happy not to have a clear-cut winner.

“Speed kills,” he said, smiling. “We’ve got, obviously, a lot of weapons. We can get you either way, running or passing — but it all starts up front.”

The offensive line — Friday’s starters were center Brian Gannon, guards Dan Sullivan and Brendan Hosty and tackles Nick Marozas and John Farano — was especially impressive on Lacy’s run, Valladay’s touchdown and Houston’s second scoring catch. Providence (2-3, 0-2) never touched the ball-carrier on those plays.

“All glory goes to the o-line,” Houston said. “That’s just blocking. Those guys were opening up huge holes up front.”

The unbeaten Crusaders host Mt. Carmel (a 31-28 victim to St. Rita) Friday night.

Early, the Celtics’ line was doing it better.

Providence marched 80 yards in eight plays on the game’s opening possession. Five of those were Richie Warfield carries, the last a burst up the middle for a score from 28 yards out.

Warfield finished with 132 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries, but he was held out of the end zone and had just 15 yards on eight runs in the second half.

“In the first half, honestly, we just weren’t executing,” Badke said. “The kids really dug deep in the second half.”

First, Houston (four catches, 98 yards) got them back in the game, answering the opening score by taking a short Dino Borrelli pass and breaking several tackles en route to a 56-yard score.

Rice made it 14-7 at the 9:57 mark of the second quarter, when Valladay, needing only a slide step left at the line, went untouched for 72 yards up the middle.

Providence tied it 2 1/2 minutes later. Warfield capped a 60-yard drive with a seven-yard scoring run off right tackle.

The Crusaders put the game away quickly in the third, starting with Lacy’s 70-yard scoring dash on the first play from scrimmage. He entered the game with just three receptions and one carry, totaling 42 yards, in Rice’s first four games.

“Lacy, he’s one of the most explosive players in the state of Illinois,” Badke said. “Other than (UConn recruit Ian) Swenson from Loyola, I think he’s the best DB in the Catholic League — and he’s definitely a guy we’ve got to use on both sides of the ball.”

Three plays and a shanked punt after Lacy’s score, Borrelli (12-of-19, 196 yards, 3 TD) hit Smalling (6 catches, 69 yards) with another short pass turned into a long score by a shifty receiver. And two plays after the ensuing kickoff, Lacy broke in front of a Jared Drake pass for his fourth interception of the year and took it to the house.

Houston added his second touchdown at 2:33 of the third, patiently waiting for blocking up the sideline on a swing pass to the right side. John Richardson capped Rice’s scoring with a 37-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.

Borrelli conceded his offense’s big-play propensity surprises him almost as often as it does opposing defenses.

“We’ve just got great athletes,” he said. “You never know when they’re going to break one.”