Chicago Fire: Sebastian Grazzini

Fire wrap training, focus on retaining roster

November, 11, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire capped off their final training session on Thursday, and now the focus squarely shifts toward head coach Frank Klopas' club making the necessary moves to improve their fate for 2012.

The Fire, who posted a 9-9-16 record and put together a winning record in the final third of the season, anticipate that a bulk of this year's team will be retained for next season. That would be a big change of pace considering how hectic the player movement was after the 2010 campaign.

"We did a lot of that last year," Klopas said of the previous personnel changes. "Obviously we have to look to get better. With the expansion draft (Nov. 23, Montreal Impact) there's a possibility that you might lose a player there. Like any team you're looking to get better. I think we feel very good with the base that we have. Now we've got to continue to build on that, and that's the important thing."

Klopas spent much of Thursday's post-training fielding questions regarding whether key players within the 2011 roster will definitely be back next season.

As of now, midfielder Marco Pappa is under contract through the 2012 season, and midfielder Sebastian Grazzini's one-year contract goes through July of next year. The same tone remains with midfielder Pavel Pardo, who wants to return and the organization wants to see return. But an extension is not set at the moment.

Klopas said that Ghanaian forwards Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro were set with the team for the 2012 season, though the players have not echoed that sentiment.

"It will be up to management to see if I'm coming back or not," Oduro said on Thursday.

"I have another team option for next year that hasn't been picked up," Nyarko said last week. "They have to let me know by Dec. 1, so I'll wait on that."

So there clearly is plenty of work needed in solidifying the pieces for next year, but the overall feeling among the organization is that it wants the core group intact.

"I would love it if management keeps the team because as you saw in the last 10 games we had a great record," Oduro said. "We lost only two games out of those 10, which is pretty impressive. We had it together. So it would be nice to have everybody back. At the same time, you always need one or two players to fill in some gaps, and I think we should be fine."

Reports have recently surfaced regarding the possibility of goalkeeper Sean Johnson going on a trial with Manchester United and forward Orr Barouch heading to Maccabi Haifa (Israeli Premier League). While Klopas did not confirm the validity of those potential moves happening, he does anticipate Fire players in the future training elsewhere to maintain an active offseason.

"In the future, we're going to be doing more things like this because we do have relationships now with other clubs," Klopas said. "With some of the players I think it's important for their growth to be in an environment where they continue to train. We'll be looking to do more things like that with some of our players who want to, because it is a long break."

Fire cap off season with win over Crew

October, 22, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire wanted to end their season on a high note, and they did so by reaching the .500 mark for the first time since April 9.

Fire forward Diego Chaves scored his second game-winning goal in as many games and Fire defender Jalil Anibaba had two goals as Chicago topped the Columbus Crew, 3-2, on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 20,237 at Toyota Park.

The Fire completed the season with 9-9-16 mark (43 points), but Chicago missed the postseason for a second straight year and the third time in the team's 14-season history.

"Obviously we're disappointed not to be in the playoffs because that was our goal from the beginning," Klopas said. "But I feel very good at this point of the season where we are as a team. There's a lot to build from this."

As the Fire move into next season, the first major question is whether they will remove Klopas' interim tag and have him continue as the team's head coach.

"In the next couple weeks we're going to sit down as an organization and make the best decision going forward for the Fire," Klopas said. "But I've enjoyed every single second of my professional job, especially what I did now as the interim coach. I really enjoyed it with this group, because I've always believed in this group."

On Saturday, Chaves provided another game-winner following his dramatic stoppage-time goal against D.C. United the previous week. In the 81st minute against the Crew, Chaves provided a tally one minute after Columbus' Dilly Duka netted an equalizer on a botched defensive clearance.

Following the Crew goal, the Fire's Dominic Oduro was on the attack and ripped a shot from the right side, forcing Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer to dive to the right for the save. Chaves ran on in and tallied the unassisted score for the 3-2 win.

Anibaba had a solid day on the offensive side with the first two goals of his young MLS career. Anibaba gave the Fire a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute off of a Pavel Pardo assist, cutting in front of Crew defender Julius James and heading the ball past Hesmer.

Anibaba then netted his second goal in the 30th minute, coming up with a difficult header that was redirected toward the far right corner of the goal for a 2-0 lead. Fellow defender Cory Gibbs assisted from the left side.

"It was a good service out wide from Cory," Anibaba said. "I pointed to the spot and he literally put it right there. It was just a matter of me getting on the end of a good service."

Columbus fell to 13-13-8 (47 points), but the Crew prepares for the postseason.

The Fire put together a strong second-half run. Still, there were quite a few of those league-high 16 draws that could have turned into additional points.

"We made as hard of a push as we could have," Fire captain Logan Pause said. "Obviously it's a little bittersweet because we want to continue to play. You want to put yourself with a chance to make the playoffs and compete, and try to win a trophy. That was one of our goals that we didn't succeed with. But I think it is a silver lining and it feels as good as it can."

Analysis: The Fire's playoff fate already was sealed heading into Saturday, but Chicago made a strong enough statement in improving to .500. The Fire also improved to 6-3-8 at Toyota Park this season, a home mark that is an improvement from recent years.

Going forward, there is the sentiment that Chicago has the bulk of its plan in place, which was a complete reversal from the previous offseason. The next few weeks should be interesting to see what decisions the Fire make about keeping Klopas, retaining the likes of midfielders Pardo and Sebastian Grazzini (who was out Saturday with his hamstring injury) and going elsewhere to find some other pieces -- perhaps another striker and more midfield depth.

The Fire progressed well during the second half of the season, but they need to establish the postseason standard that was a given year in and year out. Missing this year's playoffs certainly is a bitter pill to swallow, especially considering this year's playoffs expanded to 10 teams.

Fire 'playing for something' against Crew

October, 21, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire's postseason hopes were erased Thursday night with the New York Red Bulls clinching the final playoff spot. But that does not mean there is little value to the Fire's home finale when they host the Columbus Crew.

Chicago (8-9-16, 40 points) has come a long way during the second half of the season to even be a part of the postseason dialogue over the past several weeks. So the Fire would like to maintain that trend with one final positive result heading into 2012.

"The most important thing, and our focus, has to be on making sure we finish the season strong," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "We're playing at home against a very good team -- a big rival of ours. It's just important to continue to be building and getting better every game."

"I feel like we're playing for something," Fire forward Patrick Nyarko said. "We're playing for three points, playing for a win, playing for our fans who have been with us all year through torrid times."

Toyota Park will have a sellout crowd on hand, and the Fire for the most part had found some life on the home front over the past couple of months. The Fire had a four-game winning streak at home to get into the postseason picture, but they hit a roadblock during their 2-1 home loss to FC Dallas on Oct. 12.

"Against Dallas, we didn't come out sharp mentally and physically, and they punished us," Nyarko said. "If we go out there like we did against Dallas, it'll be a long night. But we know how we played against D.C. and we know we can get the wins. The guys are mentally ready to close the season on a bright note."

The Fire are fresh off a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over D.C. United last Saturday at RFK Stadium. Diego Chaves scored the winner and Sebastian Grazzini had the equalizer -- both goals coming in stoppage time. But Grazzini is a question mark heading into this weekend with a lingering hamstring injury.

Some reinforcements that were not in D.C. will be back this weekend. Midfielder Pavel Pardo (red card) and defenders Cory Gibbs (yellow card accumulation) and Dan Gargan (yellow card accumulation) return from their suspensions. Defender Josip Mikulic, who replaced Gibbs in the D.C. match, will be suspended for the season finale because of yellow card accumulation.

Columbus (13-12-8, 47 points) is coming off a 3-0 victory at the New England Revolution last Saturday. Team scoring leader Andres Mendoza posted a pair of goals to increase his season total to 13.

The Fire defeated the Crew, 1-0, in Columbus on June 12. Cristian Nazarit tallied a stoppage-time goal as Klopas earned his first win at the helm after taking over for former head coach Carlos de los Cobos. That victory also ended an 11-game winless streak (0-4-7).

Oduro, Gibbs earn team awards: Though the season has one final game remaining in the books, the Fire felt that it was clear-cut in naming forward Dominic Oduro the team MVP and Cory Gibbs the Defender of the Year on Friday. Oduro leads the Fire with 12 goals in 33 games. Both players will receive their awards before Saturday's match. The team said that Gibbs narrowly beat out goalkeeper Sean Johnson for the defensive honor. Both awards were voted on by local media and the team's technical staff. Defender Steven Kinney, who did not play on the pitch this season because of an Achilles injury in 2010 and had various setbacks during his recovery process, was named Fire Humanitarian of the Year.

Draft takes place on Jan. 12: Major League Soccer announced Friday that the 2012 MLS SuperDraft will be held on Jan. 12 at the Kansas City Convention Center in Kansas City, Mo. ESPN2 will broadcast the first round, starting at 11 a.m.

Fire's Grazzini still hampered by hamstring

October, 19, 2011

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Chicago Fire midfielder Sebastian Grazzini's hamstring problems continue to persist. Heading into the Fire's home finale against the Columbus Crew on Saturday at Toyota Park, Grazzini's status could change day by day.

Sebastian Grazzini
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesSebastian Grazzini's hamstring could impact the Fire's playoff chances.

Grazzini netted a stoppage-time equalizer during the Fire's dramatic 2-1 come-from-behind win over D.C. United on Saturday. But on Wednesday he cut his training short because of the left hamstring injury that has plagued him off and on for nearly a month.

"He was out here earlier running, jogging, but when he tries to open up a little bit, he still feels it," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said following Wednesday's training. "We'll see how he feels. He's day-to-day."

The Fire are in wait-and-see mode regarding the importance of Saturday's match, which will include a sold-out fan base at Toyota Park. Three other teams are involved in the hunt for the last remaining wild card spot, though the odds of Chicago sneaking in are incredibly small. The New York Red Bulls currently hold the final postseason position with 43 points, and the Fire need them to lose Thursday's match to the Philadelphia Union, among many other factors.

"Obviously we're going to watch and see what happens," Klopas said. "But what I talked about with the group is just the things that we can control. It's great if some things go our way. The most important thing is our focus on Saturday, making sure we finish the season strong."

The Fire are coming off a victory over D.C. that seemed improbable after Dwayne De Rosario's penalty kick in the 90th minute. Grazzini's equalizer and Diego Chaves' winner created a moment that still is buzzing among the Fire locker room.

"I've never been in games like that, ever," Klopas said. "It's great when you're at the end of something like that because there's so much for team spirit, for morale, for the guys who put so much into it. The game's never over until the final whistle. It's great when you're on the winning side of that."

"We were absolutely in shock," Fire forward Patrick Nyarko said. "I didn't know what the hell was going on those last couple of minutes, but it shows the character of this team. We didn't keep our heads down. We just kept fighting till the end. It was one of the most incredible games and comebacks I've been a part of, and it was amazing to be on that side and not on the other side."

Kinney undergoes surgery: Fire right back Steven Kinney underwent sports hernia surgery on Wednesday. Though Kinney had performed some light training in recent months, the team was not expecting him to return for the end of the season. Kinney has not played in an MLS game in the past year, rupturing his right Achilles tendon on Oct. 23, 2010, against Chivas USA. He had surgery in the offseason, but then a groin strain set Kinney back during his return.

Expansion draft on Nov. 23: Major League Soccer announced Wednesday that it is holding the 2012 MLS Expansion Draft on Nov. 23 of this year. The league's 19th team, the Montreal Impact, will select 10 players during the 10-round draft. Former Fire midfielder Jesse Marsch is the Impact's head coach.

Fire net dramatic comeback win over D.C.

October, 15, 2011

The elements were not in the Chicago Fire's favor.

They had three suspended starters. They were playing on the road. They were playing down a goal heading into stoppage time. And anything less than a win would have officially spelled the end to Chicago's small, but lingering, playoff hopes.

Fire midfielder Sebastian Grazzini tallied an equalizer and second-half sub Diego Chaves netted the winner three minutes into stoppage time as Chicago posted a miraculous 2-1 come-from-behind victory over D.C. United on Saturday at RFK Stadium.

"It was an incredible five minutes, first for D.C. and then finally for us," Chaves said. "It was really, really intense."

Chaves' goal was his first since April 23, when the Fire played to a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo. Chaves tallied four goals in the Fire's first six games to lead the team at the time, but he got out of his scoring funk at the right time as defender Gonzalo Segares assisted the game-winner.

"He was at the right place at the right time, and I'm glad he was there," Segares said of Chaves. "He's been working hard for a long time and I'm just happy that he got that goal. I'm sure that's going to motivate him."

With the victory, the Fire (8-9-16, 40 points) move to within three points of the New York Red Bulls in their fight for the final wild card spot. New York (9-8-16, 43 points) kept Chicago in the postseason picture when it fell to host Sporting Kansas City, 2-0, earlier on Saturday.

The playoffs still are a hefty task for the Fire as they need more elements to fall into place next week.

The Fire need the Red Bulls to also lose their final game of the season on Thursday when New York faces the Philadelphia Union (7 p.m., ESPN2). Chicago needs to win next Saturday's home finale against the Columbus Crew at Toyota Park. The Fire need the Portland Timbers and D.C. to earn minimal points during their final two games -- preferably a draw when Portland and D.C. face each other next Wednesday. And to top it all off, the Fire need to make up a five-goal differential with the Red Bulls (Chicago is even and New York is plus-five).

During Saturday's game-winning sequence, Segares timed his run perfectly to where he was even with D.C.'s back line when he received Orr Barouch's pass. Segares crossed the ball in from the left side and Chaves converged for the winner.

"I was worried about [being offside]," Segares said. "Orr's pass, I started screaming at him and it took a little bit longer. I took a glimpse and saw the linesman didn't have his flag raised, so I knew I was going to be able to get to the ball. I knew the ball was going to slow down and that I could catch up with it. After that, my only thought was to get the cross in."

D.C. looked like it minimally had a draw wrapped up. And then in the 89th minute, things turned toward United's favor when Santina Quaranta was fouled in the box by Segares. League scoring leader Dwayne De Rosario took the subsequent penalty kick in the 90th minute and gave D.C. a 1-0 lead. De Rosario shot toward the left side of the goal while Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson guess the opposite direction.

However, Grazzini pulled the Fire level one minute into stoppage time. Segares also assisted Grazzini's tally as the shot was struck toward the upper left corner of the goal.

The Fire entered the match with plenty of setbacks. Midfielder Pavel Pardo was serving a red card suspension after he was ejected during Chicago's 2-1 loss to FC Dallas on Wednesday. Right back Dan Gargan and center back Cory Gibbs also missed the D.C. match because of yellow card accumulation.

Michael Videira filled in for Gargan on Saturday, but he had to leave the match in the 19th minute because of a groin injury. Fire center back Josip Mikulic replaced the suspended Gibbs, but he picked up a yellow card and will be suspended for next Saturday's match against Columbus (yellow card accumulation).

Analysis: One thing is for certain -- Chicago is not going to go away as long as this miniscule postseason hope hangs around.

The final minutes of Saturday's match were almost unthinkable, but the Fire pulled off the comeback to make the upcoming week pertinent in their schedule.

People had every right to question when Chicago would make its desperate last-minute push against D.C. While the Fire did create some pretty good scoring opportunities, particularly in the first half, there just was not that swarm-the-goal burst in the final 10 to 15 minutes of regulation.

Segares said that the Fire were exhausted with about 15 minutes left. Chicago found just enough of a burst in stoppage time to force the boo birds to start chirping at RFK.

A postseason still is a long way off for Chicago considering the number of factors involved, but this team showed a tremendous amount of fight at D.C.

Fire's playoff odds nearly erased

October, 12, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire missed out on the Brimstone Cup yet again. But even worse, their postseason hopes virtually have been eliminated.

Sebastian Grazzini's late goal for the Fire was all Chicago could muster as FC Dallas gained a two-goal lead and held on for a 2-1 victory on Wednesday in front of 10,362 at Toyota Park. Dallas' Jackson and Daniel Cruz netted goals as the team retained the Brimstone Cup, which has been in its possession since 2002.

The Fire (7-9-16, 37 points) still are mathematically in the playoff picture, but they would need to win out, a couple of teams would need to lose out and Chicago would have to make a jump in goal differential.

Dallas (14-11-7, 49 points) was in control for the entire match, creating its share of scoring chances, while minimizing the Fire's attack. Chicago did not register a shot on goal during the first half, while Dallas lingered around the goal for many stretches, especially in the first 45 minutes.

"We were flat from the beginning," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "We weren't sharp. We were just a step behind everything. Give credit to Dallas. They came out and made it difficult for us."

The Fire eventually registered three shots on goal, but their offensive impact was minimal. Dallas contained forward Dominic Oduro and the rest of the Fire by dropping back so they would not get burned by Oduro's quickness.

"It was really hard for me to get behind the defense," Oduro said. "I think they just dropped back the whole time, so we had to change tactics and play on the right. I was able to get a few balls on that side. But technically they did well by just sitting back."

"I think we were just too naive," Fire defender Gonzalo Segares said. "We've got to be smarter. I think they definitely knew what our strength was and that's our speed and getting behind defenses, and from the beginning they went back and dropped and made us play. That's when we tried to force balls and lost them in tough places. That's how they got so many chances in the beginning. We'd lose the ball easily and they'd counter with really fast guys, and it gave us a lot of trouble."

The Fire's lone offensive contribution came from Grazzini, who netted a goal in the 86th minute off of an Orr Barouch assist.

It took Dallas some time to get on the board, and Jackson finally provided the offense in the 41st minute with a shot aimed toward the right side of the frame past Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson for a 1-0 lead.

While Johnson should have done better on defending against Jackson's goal, he did come up with three saves in the first half, including a clutch stop in the 24th minute against Jackson. During that play, Jackson had a step on Fire defender Jalil Anibaba and looked like he had a sure goal, aiming to the left of the frame. But Johnson reached to his right and was able to corral the shot.

Dallas padded its lead in the 53rd minute with Cruz's volley for a 2-0 advantage. Ricardo Villar took the corner kick from the right side, and Dallas' Zach Loyd headed the ball to Cruz, who shot with his back turned to the goal.

The Fire will try to move forward in their final two matches, beginning at D.C. United on Saturday. But they will be without three of their starters. Defenders Dan Gargan and Cory Gibbs will be out because of yellow card accumulation. And midfielder Pavel Pardo was shown a straight red card on Wednesday in the 79th minute for harshly fouling Villar.

"It was a play where I was a little bit late," Pardo said. "I know it was a foul. But this is the referee's decision. There's no excuse. I got a red card and I apologize because of course when you are with 10 players it's difficult to play to try to win."

Analysis: After posting a four-game home winning streak and working their way back into the postseason picture a bit, the Fire played their worst match since falling to the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps.

Whether or not they just did not fully recover from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup loss to Seattle Sounders FC, Chicago was completely out-played by Dallas in every area on the pitch.

Klopas did not use the absence of Marco Pappa as an excuse. The Fire did not use their schedule as an excuse. Dallas was the team with far more energy and movement and better decision making than Chicago.

Two games remain, and while the Fire claim they will try to field the best team available, it really is time to start taking a look at the rest of their roster in gearing up for next year. Having three starters out for D.C. will assist that process to some degree.

Fire's Grazzini vital during Pappa's absence

October, 7, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Chicago Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas was cautious from the get-go when the team brought in midfielder Sebastian Grazzini.

Klopas limited Grazzini's minutes at the start to integrate him with the team by midseason. But even still, Grazzini has endured setbacks -- the latest being a hamstring injury that kept him out of a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo on Oct. 1 and limited him to the final minutes of Chicago's 2-0 loss to Seattle Sounders FC in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on Tuesday.

"We pushed him the day before [the Open Cup], I talked to him and he said, 'Coach, I think I can give you 10 minutes,'" Klopas said. "My thought was, at that point, if we get to the second overtime to put him in and have him ready to take a PK, because he's one of our guys who's very good on dead balls.

"I want to put the guy on the field more than anything because he's a special player," Klopas said. "But you've also got to respect what the guy says, how he feels and the injury."

Chicago (7-8-16, 37 points) certainly needs Grazzini to be close to 100 percent with three matches remaining.

Plus, midfielder Marco Pappa will be absent for the Fire's upcoming match against FC Dallas on Wednesday at Toyota Park. Pappa joined the Guatemala national team as it prepares for a match against Belize on Tuesday. Pappa had an offensive awakening on Sept. 28 with a hat trick during the Fire's 3-0 road win over Real Salt Lake.

The Fire are six points behind both the New York Red Bulls and Houston Dynamo in the final gasp for a wild card spot. Grazzini's presence will be vital as clearly the team missed him during the majority of the Open Cup match.

"Not having a guy like Sebastian hurt us because he can get the ball in the final third and break the other team down individually, or with his passing," Klopas said. "Having another guy who can get the ball and hold it in situations would have been nice, but things happen. We can't dwell on the past. We've got to move forward and refocus our energy on making the playoffs."

"His creativeness, how he draws players and tries to free up other players, that was missing in the Seattle game, obviously," Fire forward Patrick Nyarko said. "We could have used him, absolutely. The coaching staff didn't want to risk it. He wasn't fit, and we thought other guys could step up. Unfortunately, that day it didn't work for us. But we're happy to get him back for the remainder of the season and hopefully help us for a playoff push. He's been huge for us."

Ferdinand just chatter: During the past several days, rumors were circulating about the possibility of Manchester United's Rio Ferdinand being linked to the Fire, particularly with his contract coming to a close soon.

The Fire have dismissed the validity of these reports and rumors, though Klopas will be screening for any phone calls from Man U.

"Ferdinand and Sir Alex [Ferguson], they have my number if he wants to come," Klopas said. "They can call me, but they haven't yet. That's all I can tell you. The door's open."

Beckerman headbutt costs two more: Real Salt Lake's Kyle Beckerman was handed down an additional two-game suspension by the MLS Disciplinary Committee for headbutting Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini on Sept. 28. Beckerman was issued a straight red card and served a one-game suspension during Salt Lake's Oct. 1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy.

Fire's Klopas vying for Open Cup as coach

October, 3, 2011
Chicago Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas will be a part of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in a different light this Tuesday when his Fire take on two-time defending champion Seattle Sounders FC at CenturyLink Field.

Klopas capped off the Fire's inaugural 1998 MLS season with the game-winning goal during Chicago's Open Cup win over the Columbus Crew.

Now Klopas will be on the sidelines, where Sounders head coach Sigi Schmid on Monday made a ringing endorsement, saying that "Frank has to have a conversation with his boss, his technical director, who I think is also named Frank, and get that 'interim' removed from his title."

George Frey/Getty ImagesFire coach Frank Klopas was part of the franchise's first U.S. Open Cup win, scoring the game-winning goal for the 1998 champs.

Klopas' '98 game-winner against the Crew was a banner moment in a banner season. But if the 2011 Fire manage to unseat Seattle in front of its home faithful of 30,000-plus, Klopas said that as a coach it would carry more enjoyment than the '98 Open Cup team.

"If we were to win this, I think the feeling would be different," Klopas said. "It would probably be better to be able to do it also from this side because I know what these players go through every day, their commitment, and the focus. And I think it would be a great feeling to be on this side. It would be a better moment than doing it as a player. It's hard to say. I know it would be different for me. I would enjoy it more."

With the Sounders and Fire both winning this tournament during their MLS expansion seasons (Seattle in 2009), clearly Klopas and Schmid have put plenty of stock into the Open Cup. The Fire and Sounders have six Open Cup titles between them entering Tuesday's game.

"We've been an MLS team that has won it more than any other -- four times," Klopas said. "So we are very much looking forward to playing against a very good team, in an atmosphere that is second to none, other than Chicago, I would say, for me. The players are looking forward to the match. I'm looking forward to the match. The atmosphere is going to be fantastic."

"I'm a big fan of history and tradition, and this is a competition that has history and tradition within U.S. Soccer," Schmid said. "It's a competition that I, myself, have been able to play in years and years ago. I know my friends in L.A. who played for a club there called Maccabi AC, who ended up winning like five U.S. Open Cups."

Seattle's 2009 run both in the Open Cup and during the regular season certainly brought back the talk of the Fire's '98 season because no other MLS expansion team had been able to make such a strong early statement.

Now the Sounders have a chance at a third crown after beating D.C. United in '09 and the Crew last year.

"I think as an expansion team, as a young club in MLS, winning the first two Open Cups were tremendous in terms of our club's recognition, and in terms of our fans, and in terms of the confidence of our team and our players, to realize that they can win a competition and that they can get through it. Our philosophy is, even though there are other 'fish to fry,' if you're not going to try and win it, let's not enter it."

From the Fire's standpoint, their season has dual importance once again now that they are hanging around the outskirts of the playoff picture.

Chicago is playing in its third game in a week, coming off a 1-1 draw at the Houston Dynamo on Saturday, preceded by a 3-0 road win over Real Salt Lake last Wednesday.

One person the Fire might be getting back is midfielder Sebastian Grazzini, who missed both of those matches with a hamstring injury.

"If he's OK [Tuesday morning], I think he'll be available on the 18-man roster," Klopas said of Grazzini. "But we just have to see how he reacts to [Monday night's] session. We pushed him [Sunday] a little bit with our fitness coach. ... With a hamstring, you never know until you actually go out there and do some kind of fitness test and some sprinting."

Grazzini likely out as Fire face Salt Lake

September, 27, 2011
The Chicago Fire have won four of their five past matches, but they will likely have to continue pushing on without midfielder Sebastian Grazzini.

Grazzini, who injured his hamstring during the first half of Chicago's 3-2 win over the New England Revolution, is expected to miss Wednesday's match at Real Salt Lake.

The midseason acquisition had a goal and an assist before his departure. Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas told this week that Grazzini would not play against Salt Lake, which is coming off its worst loss of the season, a 4-1 defeat at D.C. United. Grazzini is listed as questionable on the MLS Injury Report.

Klopas likely will return to Baggio Husidic in the midfield for the Fire (6-8-15, 33 points). Husidic replaced Grazzini during Sunday's win over the Revs, and it will be a tough task to match Grazzini's skill set and activity.

"Baggio came in and my message to him was he's got to get the ball and make those passes like Sebastian," Klopas said. "At first he was looking to get behind more and left a little bit of a gap."

Fire defender Cory Gibbs will return from his one-game suspension. For the first time since Chicago's Aug. 27 win over the Colorado Rapids, the Fire will have all of their available defensive options.

On offense, Chicago has tallied five goals and benefited from an own goal in its past two matches against Chivas USA and New England. And for the first time this season with the Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko pairing up front, each forward netted a goal against New England. Oduro's rolling right along with a team-high 11 goals, and for Nyarko it was his first of the season.

Everyone already is familiar with Nyarko's ability to set up players, as evidenced by his team-leading seven assists. But Klopas wants to see Nyarko become more proactive in attacking the goal.

"I've told him at times that he needs to be more selfish, especially now that he's playing on top," Klopas said. "When he gets opportunities as a forward, he's always looking to make that pass. But sometimes he needs to be selfish and finish plays off himself. I was happy for him. Whether he gets assists or getting a goal, that's great for his confidence."

"As a striker you've got to do that," Nyarko said. "But that's not my personality. That's not how I play. I look to play, I look to find people -- the easiest spot to get us a goal and to help the team win. Maybe sometimes I could be [more selfish], but I don't look at it from that standpoint. Especially like I missed a goal [Sunday] that I could have passed to Dom. But I think he was offside. If he wasn't, I would have passed it. That's my game. That's unselfish."

RSL's offense is lead by Alvaro Saborio, who has 10 goals and has scored in Salt Lake's past two matches.

Salt Lake (15-8-6, 51 points) has stamped a playoff spot, and it will take a dominating run and a Los Angeles Galaxy collapse for RSL to think about earning the Supporters' Shield. The Galaxy has a 10-point lead on Salt Lake and a seven-point lead on Seattle Sounders FC.

The pressure is all on the Fire this Wednesday. Chicago sits six points behind the New York Red Bulls who own the final wild card spot at the moment.

The Fire and Salt Lake played to a scoreless draw on June 22 at Toyota Park.

Early surge helps Fire edge Revs

September, 25, 2011

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire made an early push on the offensive end, and they needed every goal to overcome a late lapse on the defensive end against the New England Revolution on Sunday. Chicago tallied three first-half goals and edged the Revs, 3-2, in front of 14,576 at Toyota Park.

Fire midfielder Sebastian Grazzini had a goal and an assist before leaving the match in the 25th minute because of left hamstring tightness. Dominic Oduro netted his team-leading 11th goal, and Patrick Nyarko's first goal of the season proved to be the game-winner as the Fire took a 3-0 lead into halftime.

It was a much needed victory for Chicago in order to stay within reach of the bottom of the wild card pack. The New York Red Bulls moved back into the final wild card position on Saturday with 39 points after posting a 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers.

Sebastian Grazzini
David Banks/Getty ImagesThe Fire's Sebastian Grazzini celebrates his goal with teammates Marco Pappa and Logan Pause on Sunday.

"There was a lot on the line -- do or die, I think, for both clubs," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "We came out and we had a very good start to the game."

The Fire (6-8-15, 33 points) still have to make up a six-point deficit over five games, and they will not have much time to rest as they travel to Rio Tinto Stadium to take on Real Salt Lake. As for the Revs (5-13-12, 27 points), their hopes for the postseason have just about faded, though the last-place Eastern Conference squad has not mathematically been eliminated just yet.

Grazzini was having a strong match with a goal and an assist. But he was replaced by Baggio Husidic after he hurt his hamstring.

"I just got a little stiff," Grazzini said. "The same as the [Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup] game against Richmond. I feel all right, but I'm going to try to work hard to get back as soon as possible."

It is hard to say if Grazzini can make a quick enough recovery in time for the Fire's Wednesday match at Real Salt Lake.

"I'm not sure because I haven't been looked at by the doctors yet," Grazzini said through a translator. "But hopefully [Monday] we'll be able to get that taken care of, and then hopefully be back by Wednesday because I would like to play."

"I don't know the extent or how serious the pull is," Klopas said. "But we'll have to see how he feels [Monday]."

On Sunday, Grazzini netted a penalty-kick goal in the fifth minute for a 1-0 lead. The Fire earned the opportunity after Revs goalkeeper Matt Reis tripped up Nyarko in the fourth minute. Grazzini then assisted an Oduro goal in the ninth minute for a 2-0 advantage. Grazzini had a couple of chances to slot the ball to Oduro as the Revs' defense broke down in tracking Oduro.

Nyarko then got into the scoring column in the 30th minute with an open-net goal after Reis made a poor attempt to clear the ball with his foot. That gave the Fire a 3-0 halftime lead for the first time at home since a 4-0 victory over the Revs on April 3, 2008.

The Fire maintained their three-goal cushion for most of the second half, but Revs midfielder Ryan Guy tallied an unassisted score in the 90th minute, followed by his second goal a couple minutes into stoppage time.

"We're kicking ourselves a little bit because we made it a little tougher on ourselves at the end," Nyarko said. "But it's a win. We set the tone early and we got ahead early. That was the key in this game. We still had a couple of chances to put the game away, but that's how it goes."

Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson actually was tested pretty regularly, but he had a beat on most of New England's scoring chances, coming up with a game-high eight saves. His counterpart, Reis, made three saves.

Analysis: The Fire will take the closing minutes to heart, but this match clearly was in Chicago's control. Chicago had its most productive first half of the season, while the Revs looked every bit like a non-playoff team that they are about to become.

The Fire should be concerned that Grazzini has not had a healthy stretch with the Fire. While Husidic did not have a poor performance on Sunday off the bench, it is not even fair to compare him against what Grazzini brings to the pitch with his control and the ability to create scoring opportunities.

Klopas smartly gave Oduro and Nyarko some rest in the second half in gearing up for Salt Lake this Wednesday. RSL will be eager to erase its horrific 4-1 loss to D.C. United over the weekend.

Fire's Grazzini, Oduro to miss friendly

September, 13, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire more or less are approaching Wednesday's international friendly against Chivas de Guadalajara as a high-profile training session. Midweek typically marks Chicago's hardest training to prepare for a weekend match, and Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas plans to use his lineup significantly when it hosts Chivas at Toyota Park.

"You get better by playing," Klopas said. "You can do certain things out here [in training]. The stuff we want to do out here, it's better to be doing against a very good opponent."

There will be plenty of caution thrown into this match. Fire forward Dominic Oduro hurt his ankle during the Fire's 2-0 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday, and Sebastian Grazzini's hamstring still is tight, Klopas said.

"I don't see them playing," Klopas said.

Pretty much everyone else will get some time on the pitch. Klopas said following Tuesday's training that he wants to get everyone about 45 minutes of playing time. One unknown is forward and Chicago Fire Juniors-Mississippi product Kellen Gulley. Gulley will not play in a league match for the first team until 2012, but he has been training, playing for the reserve squad and is an eligible option if Klopas decides to put Gulley on his 10-player bench for Wednesday.

Chivas certainly is a team that Fire midfielder and Guadalajara native Pavel Pardo is familiar with. Pardo played for Guadalajara-based Atlas and Club America -- the latter being the bigger competitive rival.

"When I went to America, it was huge because the whole country and everybody knows about America-Chivas," Pardo said.

Pardo also will face one of his former coaches, Jose Luis Real Casillas, who briefly headed Atlas during Pardo's tenure.

"Their coach was in Atlas when I was there, and he built the youth system in Atlas that is working -- U-17, U-16, U-15, and all the young players," Pardo said. "Chivas has developed its youth [players]."

Fire defender Gonzalo Segares returns to the pitch after serving his one-game suspension (yellow card accumulation) against San Jose. Chicago had to play without its left back against the Quakes, moving Dan Gargan into Segares' position.

"I definitely wanted to be there to help my team, especially because it was such an important game," Segares said. "The motivation was high and it was a good opportunity to keep climbing up. Unfortunately we couldn't get the points, but now for me [Wednesday] on the field, I can get some minutes to try to be in a rhythm for Saturday, which is going to be a key for us."

Saturday's Chivas USA match is the ultimate focus as Chicago needs to make up some further ground as it sits in a three-way tie for last place in the Eastern Conference with 27 points and a 4-8-15 record.

"It's always exciting to play in situations like this for sure," Klopas said of Wednesday's match. "For us, we have a big game against Chivas USA -- not Chivas Mexico -- coming up on Saturday, and this is going to be an opportunity where we're still continuing to build and make sure everyone gets a good run so they're staying sharp."

Fire top Kickers to reach Open Cup final

August, 30, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- It was not the smoothest of performances for the Chicago Fire. But the home side did its job on Tuesday in topping the USL Pro's Richmond Kickers, 2-1, in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup at Toyota Park.

"It was a scrappy one, but we got it done," Fire defender Jalil Anibaba said.

Sebastian Grazzini netted a first-half penalty-kick goal and Dominic Oduro tallied a second-half game-winner as Chicago advanced to its sixth Open Cup final appearance. The Fire have won the Open Cup four previous times (1998, 2000, 2003 and 2006) and were the runners-up in 2004.

"Opportunities like this, you can't let them slip away," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "It was a special moment for the team, for our fans obviously, to put ourselves in this situation now in the final, to have an opportunity to win something. We knew what was at stake."

Chicago faces Seattle Sounders FC in this year's title match. Seattle defeated FC Dallas, 1-0, in Tuesday's other semifinal, and the Sounders host the Fire for the championship on Oct. 4. Seattle won the 2009 and 2010 Open Cups and is vying for a three-peat.

The third-division Kickers came out with energy and moments of possession in the early going, but a defensive foul swung the match in the Fire's favor. Fire forward Patrick Nyarko was tripped up in the box by Richmond's David Hertel, and in the 32nd minute Grazzini capitalized with the penalty-kick goal for a 1-0 lead.

A few minutes earlier in the 28th, Nyarko fell down in the box against Henry Kalungi, but referee Jasen Anno did not feel there was enough contact to merit a penalty shot.

Oduro gave the Fire a 2-0 cushion in the 61st minute. Nyarko had the setup and Oduro did the rest to elude his defender and strike the ball toward the right side of the frame.

"I thought it was a world-class goal," Klopas said. "Just bended it up and in. Just fantastic."

But the Kickers' William Yomby responded quickly in the 68th minute as his header hit the crossbar and bounced just over the goal line to cut Chicago's lead to 2-1. Michael Callahan had the assist as the Fire defense wasn't alert on the sequence.

"They had two guys, actually, unmarked and they got the ball into the back of the net," Anibaba said. "I think we just weren't ready and we were unorganized. It was just a lack of focus on our part."

Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson made one save in the ninth minute and did not face another shot on goal during the rest of the match. Richmond goalkeeper Ronnie Pascale made three saves.

Grazzini injured his hamstring in the first half and was unable to go in the second half. Klopas substituted midfielder Baggio Husidic into the match for the final 45 minutes.

"He tweaked his hamstring, so we have to evaluate (Wednesday)," Klopas said. "Hopefully it's not too bad."

Fire midfielder Pavel Pardo, who left Saturday's game against the Colorado Rapids because of a calf strain, did not suit up for Chicago on Tuesday.

Richmond's David Bulow, who entered Tuesday scoring a tournament-leading six goals in Open Cup action, was ineligible for the match because of yellow card accumulation.

During the Fire's upcoming week and a half break from action, Chicago forward Orr Barouch will be representing Israel's U-21 squad for a match on Monday against England. Fire midfielder Marco Pappa will be playing for Guatemala when his side faces St. Vincent/Grenadines on Friday and Belize next Tuesday.

Fire in dire need of win against Toronto

August, 20, 2011

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire have reached a double-digit winless streak for a second time this season. They are in dire need of a positive outcome when they host Toronto FC on Sunday at Toyota Park.

The Fire are in the midst of a 0-3-7 stretch -- the longest winless streak since they posted a 0-4-7 record from April 9 through June 9.

Chicago is coming off a 1-1 draw against D.C. United, establishing an MLS record with its 15th draw after conceding a second-half lead.

"We've got to keep coming back. I don't think it can get any lower than this," Fire defender Gonzalo Segares said. "We've just got to get up and keep pushing."

Chicago faces a Toronto team that is tied for the second-worst points total on the road with six, posting a 0-7-6 mark away from BMO Field. But the Fire have not earned a win at Toyota Park since their home opener on March 26 against Sporting Kansas City.

Chicago has not lost complete hope on this season as long as the mathematical playoff possibility continues to linger. Besides, the Fire's rostered players have plenty to play for regarding their own futures within the organization.

"We've got to be realistic -- at the point we're at, right now we're all playing for jobs next year," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said.

As the Fire (2-7-15, 21 points) prepare for their final 10 games of the season, many eyes will be on midfielder Sebastian Grazzini, who tallied Chicago's lone goal against Toronto on Thursday.

Grazzini was brought in to be the stable presence in a center midfield position that has needed an able body all season. Following Thursday's draw, the focus was on why Grazzini was taken out in the 72nd minute. One minute after Grazzini's exit to the bench, D.C. tallied its equalizer.

Klopas and Grazzini had contradicting remarks regarding the substitution. Klopas said it was because Grazzini was tiring, but Grazzini said to reporters that the move was purposely made so he could rest up for Toronto.

The Toronto match is now here, and Grazzini has yet to play in a full match with the Fire. Grazzini has two goals and an assist in four games, but he has averaged only 65 minutes per appearance. Defensive midfielder Pavel Pardo, on the other hand, has played the full 90 minutes in all four matches since his midseason arrival.

The substitution should have been a non-issue, because like most Fire matches this season, Chicago could not capitalize on its scoring chances against D.C.

"It all has to do with us building the mentality of not conceding goals when we're up, and trying not to fall behind and having to fight back," Fire midfielder and forward Patrick Nyarko said. "It's been like that throughout the season, and I don't think we're that kind of team yet. ... We need to concentrate and play a 90-minute game for once."

Two defenders are going up against their former teams Sunday. Fire right back Dan Gargan goes against his former Reds, while Evanston-born Dasan Robinson is on the Toronto side after being traded in late July.

Toronto (4-11-11, 23 points) is coming off a Thursday match, but not in league play. The Reds posted a 2-1 victory against Tauro FC in the CONCACAF Champions League Group C opener for both squads in Panama City, Panama. Ryan Johnson and Julian de Guzman netted first-half goals for Toronto.

Toronto has started to turn things around since its four-game losing streak in July. The Reds are in the midst of a 1-0-2 stretch in MLS action, posting a 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake on Aug. 13.

Fire set record 15th draw against D.C.

August, 18, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire enjoyed a lead for less than 15 minutes against D.C. United on Thursday. Then in typical Fire fashion this season, Chicago allowed a second-half equalizer and played to a 1-1 draw in front of 15,818 at Toyota Park.

The Fire established an MLS record with their 15th draw of the season, surpassing the previous mark of 14 draws set by FC Dallas last season.

"It's not a record we're proud of," Fire defender Gonzalo Segares said. "We've had plenty of chances to win those games and be in a different position."

Fire midfielder Sebastian Grazzini gave Chicago a 1-0 lead in the 59th minute. But D.C.'s Josh Wolff netted an equalizer in the 73rd minute as the Fire tried to push up to get Wolff in an offside position.

Replays showed that Wolff was in fact offside, and Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas was not hesitant to point that out following the match.

"Unfortunately it comes down to an offside goal that the referees missed to tie the game," Klopas said. "... It's frustrating sometimes when you put so much into it. I've never said anything about the refs on a call like this that's been missed. It's disappointing."

The Fire dominated pretty much every phase of the match. Chicago in fact held D.C. without a shot attempt until Dwayne De Rosario's shot attempt in the 57th minute. The Fire had a 14-6 shots advantage and a 7-1 shots on goal advantage. Wolff's goal was United's only shot on goal.

Despite Grazzini's goal and his strong play on the pitch, Klopas took him out in the 72nd minute and inserted Daniel Paladini, who has not scored a goal this season. Klopas said he made that move because Grazzini was tiring.

"I wanted to push him more today, but he couldn't go," Klopas said. "He told me that he needed to come out."

However, Grazzini expressed a different sentiment afterward, stating that Klopas wanted him to rest up for Toronto FC this Sunday.

"Game after game I'm feeling better," Grazzini said. "I'm getting back in rhythm and I think I did better tonight, and the coach had told me he would take me out so I'll be available for the next match."

With the match even in the 86th minute, Klopas made two more subs, putting Orr Barouch in for Patrick Nyarko and Diego Chaves for Marco Pappa. Nyarko particularly had a strong match and created regular chances, and he was surprised that he did not go the whole way.

"I wanted to play through," Nyarko said. "Once the first 20 minutes passed in the second half, I thought I was going to go the full way. When I was being substituted, I didn't even realize it. I didn't think I was coming off. Logan [Pause] kept yelling at me to run [off the field]."

The major setback for Chicago was scoring leader Dominic Oduro, who had four strong chances to garner a goal -- three high-percentage opportunities in the first half, including a 14th-minute shot that hit the right post.

"I'm not really happy right now," Oduro said. "Those are chances that I should have put away. It's just an unfortunate part of the game. It happens. I just have to keep my head up. I should have done better."

Analysis: The missed opportunities are nothing new. Chicago has been doing this all season. What was surprising was the revelation that Grazzini was purposely being rested for Toronto.

For what purpose does that serve? The Fire's season is on the brink and they need maximum points the rest of the way.

It is clear-cut to everyone watching this Fire team -- Grazzini needs to be out there for a full-game contribution, or awfully close to a full match. The Fire do not have a midfielder who matches his repertoire.

Even if Klopas stands by his claim that Grazzini was tiring, wouldn't a Grazzini at 60 percent be more valuable than some of his other bench options?

Klopas' use of player personnel in this match was confusing, only adding to the frustration and struggles of this 2011 campaign.

Fire match MLS draws record, tie Red Bulls

August, 13, 2011
The Chicago Fire had a rare halftime lead on the New York Red Bulls. But as the trend has been all season, Chicago had to settle for a 2-2 draw on Saturday as the Fire tied an MLS record with their 14th stalemate of the season at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.

The Fire (2-7-14, 20 points) matched the record set by FC Dallas last season, when Dallas posted a 12-4-14 mark in the regular season and advanced to the 2010 MLS Cup against eventual champion Colorado Rapids.

Chicago continues to lag behind in last place in the Eastern Conference, and in the grand scheme of things, the Fire clearly are disappointed that they could not hold onto their 2-1 lead in the second half.

"If we're being honest, coming into Red Bull Arena and getting a point is a positive," Fire captain Logan Pause said. "We'd only be doing ourselves a disservice if we had our tails between our legs and started writing games off. But tonight we needed three points."

The Fire are now one point behind the eighth-place New England Revolution, which fell to the East-leading Columbus Crew on Saturday. Toronto FC moved up to seventh in the East standings with a surprising 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake.

As for Chicago, Dominic Oduro and Sebastian Grazzini netted back-to-back goals in response to Thierry Henry's early tally to garner a 2-1 lead into the second half. But the Red Bulls' Joel Lindpere equalized in the 63rd minute to salvage a 2-2 draw.

New York had a clear possession advantage in the match, but the Fire orchestrated a strong run in the first half.

Oduro netted his team-leading seventh goal of the season in the 16th minute to tie the score at 1-1. Patrick Nyarko, who had an effective first half with some crisp passing and movement, dished the ball to Oduro from the left side to overcome Henry's ninth-minute goal.

Then in the 24th minute, Grazzini notched his first goal for the Fire, rebounding the ball from Red Bulls goalkeeper Chris Konopka. Konopka became the fifth Red Bulls player to man the net for New York (6-6-13, 31 points) this season.

It was a promising situation for the Fire to head into the second half with a one-goal lead, especially following their 4-2 loss to the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps the previous week. But Chicago could not hang on at Red Bull Arena.

In the 63rd minute, the Red Bulls players were fuming that a hand ball was not called on defender Dan Gargan, who made his Fire debut. Lindpere was able to respond seconds later as he redirected a Dane Richards cross to the left side of the net to tie the match at 2-2.

A pivotal moment for the Fire came in the 56th minute. Forward Orr Barouch was brought into the match for Nyarko. The Fire said that Nyarko left the match because of a migraine.

The Nyarko and Oduro pairing up top, with Grazzini behind them, was effective on the offensive end. Oduro was dropped to the midfield when Nyarko was subbed out, and the match changed from that point on.

"When you lose a guy like Patrick, it definitely changes the dynamic of the game. He's such an effective and dynamic player. It's never an easy move [to make that type of substitution]."

"I think things changed when Patrick Nyarko came out," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "We had to change the way we play. Later in the game, we got tired a little bit, we dropped a little too deep and gave them space to operate. We gave away a lot of set pieces from corners."

Analysis: The Fire abandoned their one-forward formation at the start of the match, and pairing the two Ghanaians was effective in the offensive third. Nyarko's injury certainly affected the team's approach the rest of the way.

The Fire defense once again gave up multiple goals, so clearly some improvement can be made on that end. Chicago gave New York too much space to work with during stretches. At times, the Fire's back line compensated with some key deflections. Yamith Cuesta did not have a perfect match, but compared to the Vancouver game he had a remarkable difference.

Jalil Anibaba's play also was steady, and there really was not much he could do trying to get to Henry's goal. It was a solid, bending strike. However, the buildup of that play was a defensive setback because New York worked the ball with relative ease to set up Henry.

If the Fire were in the thick of a chase for the playoffs, this might have been a satisfactory outcome. But Chicago is in desperate need for victories, and nothing else.

The Fire have a three-game homestand in MLS play, though they have not posted a home win during Klopas' tenure.