Chicago Fire: Yamith Cuesta

Gargan, Chaves among Fire's unprotected

November, 21, 2011
The Chicago Fire and other Major League Soccer teams submitted their 11-player protected lists Monday in preparation for Wednesday's MLS Expansion Draft for the Montreal Impact.

Among some of the Fire's noteworthy players left unprotected are forward Diego Chaves, midfielder Daniel Paladini, and defenders Dan Gargan, Josip Mikulic and Yamith Cuesta.

Fire's 11-player protected list: Sean Johnson (GK), Cory Gibbs (D), Jalil Anibaba (D), Gonzalo Segares (D), Pavel Pardo (M), Logan Pause (M), Marco Pappa (M), Sebastian Grazzini (M), Orr Barouch (F), Patrick Nyarko (F/M), Dominic Oduro (F)

Unprotected list (available for Impact selection): Jon Conway (GK), Alec Dufty (GK), Yamith Cuesta (D), Dan Gargan (D), Steven Kinney (D), Josip Mikulic (D), Pari Pantazopoulos (D), Mike Banner (M), Michael Videira (M), Daniel Paladini M), Baggio Husidic (M), Cristian Nazarit (F), Gabriel Ferrari (F), Diego Chaves (F)

Exempt from selection (Generation adidas or homegrown status): Corben Bone (M), Kellen Gulley (F), Victor Pineda (M)

Impact head coach and former Fire midfielder Jesse Marsch certainly will have his share of player options to choose from.

Chaves came to the Fire with high expectations, but it is not too surprising that he was left unprotected heading into the expansion draft. Chaves had a good start and decent finish to the 2011 season with six goals. But Chaves went through a long goal-less stretch and saw his playing time dwindle.

Gargan was a key midseason acquisition for the Fire during the 2011 campaign, adding stability to a back line that was short on outside back options. His name typically was third on the midseason hierarchy mention, with midfielders Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo grabbing most of the attention. But Gargan filled the right back role quite well. His absence from the Fire's 11-man list probably stands out the most, so it would not be out of the question to see the 28-year-old Gargan bound for Montreal. Gargan has become a bit of an MLS journeyman since the Colorado Rapids drafted him in 2005.

There are a number of ways that Montreal could look upon the Fire's roster, and it appears that Chicago is most willing to part with someone on the defensive end. Along with Gargan, center backs Mikulic and Cuesta both posted plenty of starting minutes for the Fire this past season. The 22-year-old Cuesta had 18 starts and 1,681 minutes, and the 25-year-old Mikulic had 12 starts and 1,038 minutes.

Last year the Fire lost a pair of midfielders in John Thorrington (Vancouver Whitecaps) and Peter Lowry (Portland Timbers), and Montreal could go in that direction this year. Paladini is a viable option, having earned 16 starts this year for Chicago. University of Illinois-Chicago product and 2009 draft pick Baggio Husidic also was left unprotected. The third-year midfielder is coming off a season that included zero goals and two assists, but Montreal might see some potential if Husidic returned to the five-goal, three-assist performance that he logged in 2010.

Fire look to turn tide against Whitecaps

August, 6, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The theme around the Chicago Fire locker room during the midweek was toward forging ahead in the midst of a disappointing outcome.

The players certainly have had to cope with quite a few, and their most recent effort was out-playing the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday, only to manage a 1-1 draw.

Now the Fire hit the road to take on the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps on Sunday at Empire Field.

"We cannot dwell on it," Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "We've got to look forward. Every point dropped hurts, but we've got to move on."

"It seems like it's been a little bit of a recurring theme this year," Fire captain Logan Pause said. "We don't have enough time to hang our heads and get upset and worry. ... At this stage, ties aren't really helping. We know we need to get three points."

The Fire have not fared well against MLS's two expansion sides this year. Chicago's best result was a scoreless draw against Vancouver on May 7. The Fire dropped both matches against the Portland Timbers -- a 4-2 loss at Portland on April 14, and a 1-0 home defeat on July 16.

The Fire (2-6-13, 19 points) are in the midst of a seven-game winless streak (0-2-5) and in last place in the Eastern Conference. The Whitecaps (2-11-9, 15 points) are in last place in the West. Both of Vancouver's victories have come at home.

Vancouver is in the midst of a six-game winless streak (0-5-1) and is coming off its worst defeat of the season -- a 4-0 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy last Saturday.

The Fire defense has represented one of the few bright spots on the team this season, and the match against Philadelphia represented Chicago's depth in the back.

Pause dropped to right back with the debut of Pavel Pardo at defensive midfield. Typical right back, rookie defender Jalil Anibaba, was brought into the match after center back Cory Gibbs got injured in the opening minutes. Josip Mikulic also stepped in at center back for Yamith Cuesta, who had to sit out Wednesday's match for a red card suspension.

Mikulic and Anibaba both had solid efforts teaming up at center back.

"We've got a deep team," Pause said. "Josip is more than capable and played a fantastic game. You see a young and up-and-coming player who's hopefully here for a long time in Jalil step in and do a great job. You just hope that Cory has a quick recovery. That's one of the reasons why you have to count on all 30 players."

Cuesta returns, but Gibbs will miss Sunday's game with a left groin strain. As for Pause, he has adjusted to his new defensive duties.

"It's just a completely different role," Pause said. "Playing holding mid, you're kind of just the anchor. Right back allows me to get up and down a little bit."

The ongoing problem for Chicago is the inability to finish chances this year. The Fire have netted only six goals in their past 10 matches. Chicago's leading goal scorers Marco Pappa and Dominic Oduro have been sitting on five tallies apiece for more than a month.

The Whitecaps' offense clearly rests with Frenchman Eric Hassli, Vancouver's first designated player. Hassli leads the Whitecaps with eight goals this season. He has three multi-goal games, and his most memorable performance was a two-goal effort against Seattle Sounders FC on June 11. His second tally was a superb right-footed strike from the right side that was driven past Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller and just inside the left post to salvage a 2-2 draw.

Fire get back to grind against Union

August, 2, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire face four Eastern Conference foes over their next five matches. Four of their six regular-season matches in August are on the home pitch at Toyota Park.

It goes without saying that this is crunch time for the last-place Fire (2-6-12, 18 points).

Chicago hosts the Philadelphia Union (8-5-7, 31 points) on Wednesday at Toyota Park, and the Fire need to achieve maximum points to try to salvage their season.

The entire Fire organization truly had an All-Star break, with no Chicago players taking part in the midseason match between the MLS All-Stars and Manchester United last week. Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas sees an energized group heading into this stretch.

"The team has come back with a very good attitude and is eager to get things going again," Klopas said. "We all understand what's at stake right now. Mentally and physically, we have to put everything into these next 14 games."

All eyes will be on the Fire midfield to see if their new signings play prominent roles in this second half of the season. Sebastian Grazzini got some minutes during the Fire's 3-1 loss to Man U on July 23, and Klopas plans to roll with the Argentine midfielder the rest of the way.

"He's worked very hard and we've worked on different things with him," Klopas said. "It is my intention to put him in for these last 14 games. Grazzini's job is to get the ball into the final third, closer to the goal, and create the final pass. That's where he's dangerous."

Defensive midfielder Pavel Pardo signed with Chicago last week. While Klopas did not pinpoint how much time Pardo could see right off the bat, the Fire head coach wants to get him onto the pitch as soon as possible.

"He has a lot of experience and has played for many years, so it doesn't take a lot for him to find a rhythm," Klopas said. "He might not be 100 percent, but he's looked good in this short week."

The Fire face a Union team that will have a different look up front. Philadelphia head coach Peter Nowak announced publicly that scoring leader Carlos Ruiz no longer is part of the team. That puts the offensive focus on Sebastien Le Toux, who has not found his form of a year ago, and 2010's top draft pick Danny Mwanga.

"Le Toux is always a threat," Klopas said. "He has a great work rate and is a very busy player -- someone you have to be aware of. That kid Mwanga has a lot of good qualities. He's strong, fast, and when he has open space he can beat you. It's going to be a different look for them. Ruiz was more of an inside-the-box threat."

Philadelphia dropped to second in the East standings with a 2-1 home loss to the Colorado Rapids on Friday and sits three points behind the East-leading Columbus Crew (9-6-7, 34 points)

The Fire will be without defender Yamith Cuesta, who is suspended for Wednesday's match. Cuesta picked up two yellow cards in a six-minute span during a 1-0 home loss against the Portland Timbers on July 17. That means Josip Mikulic should be the fill-in to team up with Cory Gibbs at center back.

The Union is in a similar boat on defense with Sheanon Williams also suspended for the match after receiving two yellow cards during Philadelphia's loss to Colorado.

The Fire hold the league's worst home record, posting a 1-2-6 mark at Toyota Park. That lone win was their home opener on March 26.

Klopas will need to manage his players accordingly this week with two games in a five-day stretch. The Fire travel to Vancouver to take on the expansion Whitecaps on Sunday.

"We're looking at this one because it's important to make sure we take care of this game first," Klopas said of the Philadelphia match. "We'll see where the guys are physically Sunday because it's a long trip [to Vancouver]."

Fire roll into Open Cup semifinals

July, 12, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire brought the bulk of their best personnel and the New York Red Bulls did not.

That was the clear-cut difference in Tuesday's Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal match, and the Fire took advantage of the situation. Orr Barouch led the way with two second-half goals, and Dominic Oduro and Yamith Cuesta also added tallies as the Fire prevailed, 4-0, at Toyota Park.

"Games like this sometimes are never easy," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "I think it was important more than anything was the attitude we came out with."

The Fire will host the USL Pro's Richmond Kickers for an Aug. 30 semifinal match. Richmond defeated host Sporting Kansas City, 2-0, late Tuesday night. The Kickers are the last remaining non-MLS team involved in the tournament.

The Fire's Open Cup road has looked promising. Chicago now has a USL Pro team on the docket and had an easy path getting past a Red Bulls organization that rested the majority of its key players Tuesday.

"Regardless of whoever they brought out there, I thought we played well," Oduro said. "That's what we're looking for is confidence going forward into the semifinals. I think we did well out there. We controlled the whole game."

Oduro got the Fire going with a seventh-minute goal for a 1-0 lead. Marco Pappa slotted the ball in and Cristian Nazarit got a quick touch to get the ball to Oduro. Oduro cut to his right a little bit to take the shot. Red Bulls goalkeeper Bouna Coundoul did get a piece of the ball, but Oduro's shot clipped the bottom of the crossbar and went into the back of the net.

Cuesta gave the Fire a 2-0 lead in the 48th minute with a header goal off of a Daniel Paladini cross from the left side. The setup came after Paladini took a short corner kick to Fire defender Gonzalo Segares. Paladini wrapped around Segares to an onside position to receive the ball, then crossed it to the far right post where an unmarked Cuesta timed his leap perfectly to head the ball into the net past Coundoul.

Chicago broke the match wide open when second-half sub Barouch tallied a goal in the 51st minute for a 3-0 cushion. Segares set up Barouch, whose shot took a deflection off of a Red Bulls defender and Coundoul could not adjust as the ball deflected off of the left post and went in.

Barouch pushed the Fire lead to 4-0 with his second goal in the 69th minute. The Fire's Diego Chaves played a through ball to Barouch, who then eluded his defender and shot the ball past Coundoul for a four-goal advantage.

The Red Bulls dressed only 14 players, with a bulk of the big guns such as Thierry Henry, Tim Ream and Joel Lindpere not traveling with the squad.

The Red Bulls did show some occasional stretches of possession in the first half -- mostly in the midfield. When it came to creating an impact in the offensive third, New York was quiet. In the defensive third, the Red Bulls made errant passes and allowed the Fire to have plenty of space to work with.

The only scoring chance that the Red Bulls developed in the first half came from Mehdi Ballouchy in the 43rd minute. John Rooney set Ballouchy up, and Fire defender Cuesta was not able to track Ballouchy closely. Ballouchy had only Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson in the way of the goal, but his rolling left-footed shot missed wide right.

New York's Corey Hertzog took a couple of shots in the second half, but his strikes were over the crossbar and wide right.

Fire's defense salvaging regular points

June, 24, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire offense has not regularly produced over the past month, but the team's defense has turned into a saving grace for points.

Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas has been at the helm for five matches. Chicago has allowed only one goal and has garnered at least a point per game and a 1-0-4 record since the firing of Carlos de los Cobos.

One of the most apparent adjustments that Klopas made was moving to man marking versus zonal marking on set pieces. The Fire have yet to allow a set piece goal under Klopas.

"Set pieces have been a key," Fire defender Gonzalo Segares said. "Since we changed to man marking, that is one of the big reasons why we're doing better."

"That's just one area where we had given up goals, and we needed a change," Klopas said. "Obviously it was something that wasn't working. We changed it. We put guys on the post and stuff like that to make it comfortable for our goalkeeper when he comes out. Man marking suits us better."

The Fire (2-4-10) are preparing for a home match against the New York Red Bulls (5-3-8) on Sunday at Toyota Park. New York is coming off a 4-2 loss to Seattle Sounders FC. Of the four goals the Red Bulls allowed, one was directly off of a set piece and two were generated shortly after a set piece clearance.

"In set pieces, man marking is crucial," former Fire defender and current Real Salt Lake assistant coach C.J. Brown said last week. "You need a body on people, and unless you have 11 guys who are fully focused and good in the air and good at attacking the ball, it is hard to play zonal on set pieces."

The Fire's defensive numbers have certainly changed since De los Cobos' departure. The Fire gave up 19 goals in their first 11 games, and in seven of those matches they allowed two or more goals.

Defending on set pieces is just one element. In the first third of the season, the Fire briefly tried a three-man back line, they switched goalkeepers, and injuries also played a part in the everyday defensive lineup.

Now, sophomore goalkeeper Sean Johnson has been back at the helm, and his form continues to improve. The combination of Yamith Cuesta and Cory Gibbs at center back has been steady enough that a healthier Josip Mikulic could have a difficult time getting back into the starting role. Right back Jalil Anibaba has endured some early pushes from opposing offenses in the past couple matches. Segares has had some ups and downs, but he's certainly improved from last year. Segares had a difficult game against New England's Sainey Nyassi, but rebounded well in this past match against Real Salt Lake.

"I think the product overall has improved," Klopas said. "We have urgency when we lose the ball and we stay compact and put pressure and close things down to win the ball back."

The defense has kept opposing teams to a limited goal output, but the front line and midfield have regularly come up short in the offensive third. Wednesday's match against Salt Lake has turned into the norm for Chicago over the past several weeks. Three of the Fire's past five matches have resulted in scoreless draws.

"We were sluggish, not very good with the ball, especially in the middle of the field," Klopas said after the Salt Lake match. "We need to be quicker because they are a team that overplays the ball, and the minute they lose it they put tremendous pressure on to win it back.

"I felt the second half was better for us," Klopas said. "We moved the ball better, we were looking to switch the point of attack, to attack the ball from wide spots. Gonzalo made a lot of runs forward to help [Patrick] Nyarko on that side and create some 2-vs.-1 situations. We pushed the game, and unfortunately in the end we only got one point. We've got to keep working and building."

Fire settle for draw against Dynamo

April, 23, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- With the pressure mounting on the Chicago Fire to produce a positive result following three straight defeats, the home side held a late lead but could not hang on en route to a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday in front of 12,473 at Toyota Park.

Dynamo defender Bobby Boswell scored in the 83rd minute off of a corner kick to tie the score late at 1-1. Chicago did end its losing streak, but the Fire (1-3-2) missed out on a good opportunity to grab three points against a fellow Eastern Conference side that is known for capitalizing on its set pieces.

"We knew that one of the things that makes that team successful is set pieces," Fire captain Logan Pause said. "Giving up a goal on a set piece, it's just a bummer. We worked on it. It was actually my man who scored."

"They have big guys, big players," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said of Houston (2-1-3). "It's a shame, because it was one of the last minutes of the game again."

Diego Chaves tallied his team-leading fourth goal for the Fire for a 1-0 lead in the 18th minute. The Fire took advantage of Houston defender Corey Ashe coughing up the ball to Chicago midfielder Marco Pappa. Pappa took the Fire the other way and found Chaves inside the box, as Chaves slotted the ball past Dynamo goalkeeper Tally Hall.

De los Cobos made some significant roster adjustments, whether it was by choice or because of injury. As expected, Yamith Cuesta took the place of the injured Cory Gibbs (hamstring). Midfielder Baggio Husidic started instead of Michael Videira. And forward Dominic Oduro started against his former Dynamo squad, replacing Uruguayan Gaston Puerari.

Of that grouping, Cuesta had the most notable performance. He had the defensive stop of the match in the 23rd minute when he cleared a likely Will Bruin goal near the goal line. Fire defender Josip Mikulic was out-muscled by Bruin, and Bruin shot the ball over Fire goalkeeper Jon Conway and toward the goal. But Cuesta converged and cleared the ball away for a Dynamo corner kick.

The Fire defense held the Dynamo offense at bay until the 83rd, when Boswell rose up above a flurry of players and headed the ball toward the inside of the right frame past Conway to salvage a road point.

"We had that 1-0 lead, and we just kind of played not to give away a goal instead of just continuing to play the way we did," Husidic said. "Unfortunately that's what happens. They got a goal late off of a corner kick. We are very disappointed that we didn't get three points today."

For the most part, the Fire produced better scoring opportunities than the Dynamo. One of the most glaring was in the 66th minute, when Oduro was one-on-one against Hall and hit the crossbar. Patrick Nyarko had a stellar pass from the left side, stretching for the ball to beat his defender on the left side to get the ball to Oduro. A few minutes earlier in the 62nd, Husidic missed a great chance in the middle of the box as his shot sailed well over the crossbar.

"My options opened up, and I think I just got too excited," Husidic said. "I couldn't believe it and whiffed on it. I wish I could have it back again."

Analysis: It was not a pretty game for either side on Saturday. The Fire and Dynamo both lacked fluidity in their passing and movement. Chicago escaping with only one point when the team had a lead and potentially three points for most of the match completely soured the opportunity.

Cuesta had a positive match, whether it was the clutch first-half clearance on Bruin or a multitude of other clearances in the box. But as far as De los Cobos' lineup changes, he really was the only addition who had an impact on the pitch.

Giving the nod to Oduro over Gaston Puerari was a surprising move. Oduro did have the lone goal in the Fire's 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy the previous week, while Puerari missed a big scoring chance in that match. But the Puerari and Chaves pairing felt much more in sync. Nyarko, on the other hand, seemed to mesh with Oduro's movement, but the finishing has been an issue for Oduro.

A point is better than nothing, and the Fire climbed out of the cellar and moved into eighth place in the East. But the Fire's choppy play on the pitch will not cut it next week against the defending MLS champion Colorado Rapids.

Fire add Oduro, Cuesta, trade Carr

March, 23, 2011
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire added some new pieces to the puzzle on Wednesday with the acquisition of forward Dominic Oduro and Colombian defender Yamith Cuesta.

The Fire sent a 2012 MLS Supplemental Draft selection to Chivas USA for Cuesta's rights. And Chicago sent forward Calen Carr, a 2006 draft pick who spent his first five MLS seasons with the Fire, to the Houston Dynamo for the 25-year-old Oduro. Carr missed last weekend's 1-1 draw against FC Dallas because of a concussion.

Oduro, a native of Accra, Ghana, tallied five goals last year for the Dynamo. He is expected to join the Fire for Thursday's training session.

"His most important quality is speed," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said of Oduro on Wednesday following training. "He's very fast. This is a quality that makes the difference sometimes in the game. He's coming to strengthen our front line of attackers."

"It depends on how Carlos wants to play him, but I think he can play out wide because he's got a lot of pace, and he can also play up top," Fire technical director Frank Klopas said. "It just depends. It gives you some different options."

The Fire focused heavily on securing a strong defensive back line during the offseason, and they bring in another young player, 21-year-old Cuesta, who already has MLS experience and debuted for Colombian First Division side Santa Fe in 2007. Cuesta also played for the Colombian U-20 national team in 2009, netting a goal in three games.

"Cuesta really, really surprised me because he's a young player, but with a strong personality," De los Cobos said. "I like this guy because even if he's very young, he showed how he's maturing in this moment. He's very strong, he's good with the ball, and I'm happy with Cuesta because I'm sure that he can help us during the season. We are trying to create a very solid block on defense, and I'm sure he will be part of this block."

"He's a young player that has good feet for a big guy," Klopas said. "He's fast, and technically he's very good. He's someone that our coaching staff knew very well, and we knew him because he was in the league. ... He's another guy who provides a lot of depth for us in the back line -- a guy that's young, that you can keep him around for a while."

With Cuesto being either a center back or right back, it creates a logjam of players on that side of the pitch. Rookie Jalil Anibaba started at right back and had a successful preseason and opening match against Dallas, and Josip Mikulic plays at center back on the three-man back line and right-center on a four-man line.

The left side of the defense is a different story. Veteran Cory Gibbs has been on the outside in the three-back formation, and Gonzalo Segares drops back from the midfield in a four-back setup. But beyond that, the Fire are thin. Bratislav Ristic has played at left back, but his health is in question heading into Saturday's home opener against Sporting Kansas City because of a quad injury following the Dallas match. Midfielder Mike Banner, who also has dropped to left back on occasion, missed last Saturday's opener with Achilles tendinitis.

"He's on the treadmill a little bit, so it's been a good sign," Klopas said of Banner's progress. "It's just a tough [injury] because it's an area that you just don't know. It's just day by day with him getting better. We're all hoping for the best, but I couldn't tell you if he's starting to train next week. I couldn't say that."

The Fire (0-0-1) host K.C. (1-0-0) on Saturday at Toyota Park, and it is early to determine if there are other specific areas that the Fire technical staff wants to address further. The potential addition of a forward continues to be a major talking point.

"We've been talking about that. The one thing we're going back and forth is forward," Klopas said. "We saw Diego [Chaves], and he's going to be a very good player in this league. We have a lot of options now on top. Do we bring in another guy up top, or do we look to see if there's a need somewhere else? We do have some options everywhere. We just have to see what the best option for the team is."