Coldplay_Mylo_Xyloto_Tour_@_Wells_Fargo_Center

Monday Musings, Episode III – Revenge of the Greek

Here is my third installment of “Monday Musings.”  As always, it’s a mix of insight, analysis and fluff.

Part I – Fired Up Friday

First off, after some notable snipping on Twitter among Fire fans, it’s a relief to see everyone happy after the Fire got its third victory of the season on a cold and blustery Friday night.  While not quite a sell out in terms actual attendance, the crowd was very loud, and truly into this match.  It has been a long time since we’ve had this type of atmosphere at Toyota Park.  Section 8 was very active and there was even stereo effect between Section 8 and Sector Latino during goal kicks.  You all know the irksome chant.  Someone did their best to translate it when Montreal’s Evan Bush was subjected to this “friendly greeting.”

Here are my performance summaries.

David Accam improved yet again, scoring his first goal of the season and made the MLS Team of the Week.  His pace was blistering, and he’s only going to get faster as he approaches his peak fitness.  Although his goal was largely a gifted howler by NYCFC’s keeper Ryan Meara, I’ll give him credit for seeing the opportunity and calmly following through on it.  Here’s a clip of the “howler”.

At other times he deftly dribbled around the NYCFC defense to showcase his DP status.  He also gave a glimpse of Gareth Bale where he effectively “passed” the ball to himself when he motored by a defender with ease.  Had he scored during his three man dribble fest, it would have made the Friday night highlight reel.  Unfortunately, he was taken down from behind in a brazen two-footed challenge in the 24th minute which led to a well-deserved red.

It’s still early in the season, but if David continues at this pace, his acquisition will showcase the scouting skills of Frank Yallop and his staff.  Moreover, David may demonstrate that a team does not have to spend silly money (I mean “Dempsey Money”) to acquire great talent.  Don’t take my word for it.  David’s recent play has caught the attention of the Guardian’s Graham Parker Graham Ruthven (scroll to the bottom of the article).

http://www.theguardian.com/sport/2015/apr/27/red-bulls-shine-against-galaxy-as-tenor-of-1-derby-changes?CMP=share_btn_tw

Sean Johnson had a better game in terms of distribution.  Instead of punting the ball up the pitch, he rolled the ball out to his fullbacks and midfielders.

At times I felt like we played three fullbacks with Eric Gehrig playing as a right centerback next to Jeff Larentowicz, when Joevin Jones pushed up.  Having said that, Jones is speedy and I hope that his probing attacks will lead to more assists or goals.  Adaliton dos Santos Filho had a good game, and appears to be a much more reliable centerback than the much maligned Bakary Soumare.  That said, Soumare has played far better with Montreal as evidenced by his blocked shot late in the game:

But just don’t take OTF’s word . . .

Matt Watson was a surprise start, and played with a sense of purpose as if he was trying to show the coaching staff that he deserves a weekly start.  Watson was robbed of a goal when Ryan Meara stretched to save his header in the 84th minute.

Matt Polster had one hell of a match and almost scored from distance on an ambitious, long range strike.  Matt also gets credit for keeping his head and not earning an unnecessary card.  If he keeps this up, he should be on the short list for rookie of the year.

Guly du Prado started the match over Quincy Amarikwa and looked improved but tended to drop back wide and deep.  “Play like a forward” shouted my follow season ticket holder Brendan Carr.  Whether dropping back was by design is unknown.  His first half was much better than his second, which may explain why he was subbed out in the 65th minute.  Whether he is going to be paired up top next weekend or whether Kennedy Igboananike gets a chance may rest on what happens this week during practice.

Shaun Maloney had another good match, with more than a few exciting dribbling moves from his fleet feet.  We’ve been waiting for some set piece magic to appear, but alas, it was not to be this week.  I sense that Shaun will be working a bit harder on set pieces this next week before the Fire heads to Sporting KC on Sunday.

Harry Shipp had an excellent match.  He’s not fast, but he’s efficient as hell.  He’s always in the right place at the right time.  He also knows where his teammates will be.  Harry has “vision”, which is something you can’t really teach a player.  Harry’s vision allows him to see opportunities and effortlessly direct the ball towards those opportunities.  To quote the late Albus Percival Wulfric Brian, “it is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”  Harrison Shipp makes all of the right choices.

With more time, Harry and Shaun Richard Maloney will link up with numerous goals this year.  I’m not the only one to say this, but I’m pleased to see that the Guardian agrees with my analysis:

Shaun Maloney is proving a creative and dangerous force up front and once he starts linking up consistently with the latest populist shout for a national team look, Harry Shipp, the goals should start coming from that axis.

Last on my list is Quincy, who appeared to have earned the scorn of the crowd at the end of the game when he needlessly held on to the ball and attempted to barrel his way into the goal without passing the ball:

My guess is that Quincy is going to be relegated to a late match substitute.

Towards the end of the game, I grew worried that Fire might concede and I wasn’t the only one in Toyota Park have that nagging feeling.  I’m glad my worst fears were not realized, but the Guardian article echoed my thoughts on this point:

But the other is a more general issue for Chicago continuing to allow teams to stay in games. Eighteen draws last season tell their own story, and despite the changes, including Accam, and despite their sometimes exhilarating approach play, the Fire, as they showed on Friday, are still struggling to kill off games, even against a depleted and dejected 10-man NYC team.

Tying would have been a tragedy given the amount of shots which either hit the posts or were saved by NYCFC’s keeper Ryan Meara, who may have had the match of young his career.

Moving into next weekend’s game versus Sporting KC, the Fire need to bury those shots early because they will be playing to a full house of hostile KC fans.

Part II – Do Keepers Dream of Electric Sheep?

In addition to Ryan Meara’s howler, another MLS keeper had a semi-howler. Ghanaian keeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey blew a fairly routine save in 77th minute of the hyped up Seattle Portland match.

Every the poacher, Clint Dempsey walked onto the goal line unmarked and tapped the ball.  While I like Clint Dempsey when he plays for the United States, I find annoying as a MLS player.  His scrappy, poorly defended goal didn’t win me over.

Despite my feelings about Dempsey’s theatrics and constant stink-eye face, I have to admire his bravery in his post-game interview where he amassed a considerable amount of eye contact with Fox’s Julie Stewart-Binks.

In contrast to Dempsey, David Accam didn’t back off Meara’s bungled attempt to avoid a corner kick, stripped the ball from Meara and calmly slotted it in from an angle with approaching defending in his way.

Brad Guzan also had an embarrassing howler in his all-important relegation battle – though it didn’t change the outcome of the game:

While people questioned whether Brad’s gaff should void his USMNT status, I tweeted a link which shows that even Manuel Neuer has a bad day:

Either way, all of these keepers must have tossed and turned all last night, dreaming of their respective howlers.

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[“Like Tears in the Rain” by Salvador Trakal]

Part III – Fluff Time, “Garbage Time”

Katie Nolan’s show “Garbage Time” on Fox Sports 1 is pretty funny.  This was the first time I had ever watched her show and lucky me, she discussed soccer!  Well sort of.  Unfortunately for Nike, it was a funny, four minute rant against the new USA Women’s kit.  Catch the video here:

http://www.foxsports.com/watch/garbage-time-with-katie-nolan?vid=434855491598

In response to Nike statement that the “volt yellow” socks and “blue lagoon” shoes are paying homage to Canadian lakes (yes LAKES), she retorted “Holy [bleep] we are honoring a different nation with our national uniforms?  That’s nice of us.  That’s actually such a Canadian thing to do that we have out Canada’ed (sp?) Canada!”  If you’ve never encountered a Canadian tourist, Katie was taking a dig at how annoying nice they try to be.

She then cut to clips of several players repeatedly saying how “clean” the jersey, suggesting to me, that the players resembled characters out of Karel Capek’s classic, “Rossum’s Universal Robots.”

In fairness Nike, not every country incorporates their national flag.  According to Charlie Brooks, Nike’s VP of North America Communications:

Take Germany’s kit for example, world champions. The German flag is yellow, red and black. The kit is white with black trim on it. I understand people asking about the colors, but there’s also that level of not all national teams have to represent the flag.

Translation?  If it’s good enough for Germany, it’s good enough for the Good Ole USA.

My take is that Nike borrowed from the Bauhaus Movement, where form follows function.  After all, it’s just a kit, right?  And if the USA women win the World Cup, then the kit may immortalize the ’15 generation and distance them (as they often desire) from the ’99 generation.  At the very least, the players won’t have to worry about grass stains on the Canadian “tundra” (turf).

Part IV – “Tweet of the Week”

It’s only Monday but Tweet of the Week should go to Austin Berry who tweeted that he had made the inside of a South Korean woman’s magazine:

You’ve got to wonder who Berry ticked off to end up playing in South Korea.  At least he’s not in North Korea.

Runner up for Tweet of the Week goes to Sean Johnson who is apparently brushing up on his French – touché SJ to the horror or another fan:

Part V – ICYMI

In case you missed it, the Sean Johnson to Montreal Impact rumor exploded and burnt out quicker than a supernova as these tweets book-ended by Jeffrey Carlisle demonstrate:

Even Ted chimed in:

Part VI – Revenge of the Greek

I trust that Frank Klopas won’t let North America down by collapsing at home after surprising many people (but not me) with an early goal during “Greek Time” in last week’s CONCACAF match in Mexico City vs. Club América.

In case you missed it, this the crap that Montreal Impact keeper Evan Bush had to deal with in his remarkable game.

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[Lianak409 on Flickr ]

Unfortunately for Montreal, it had no ability appeal Evan Bush’s yellow card card at the end of the game.  Evan’s yellow card accumulation prohibits him for Wednesday’s match (presuming he can even see).

In a nutshell, the appeal rules don’t allow a team to appeal the yellow card and Montreal arguably wasted its time filing an appeal.  Section 6.5 (a) of the Champions League states:

The following decisions of the CONCACAF Disciplinary Committee shall not be subject to appeal: a. Cautions and censures imposed on players, Referees, Assistant Referees, fourth Officials, team staff and officials, other persons or national associations.

Similarly, Section 6.8 specifically states that suspensions from yellow card accumulations are not appealable:

any player cautioned or sent from the field of play by the referee shall be subject to the punishments specified in 6.28, 6.29 and 6.30. Such punishments are automatic and are not subject to appeal.

The operative Section, 6.29 provides that a second yellow in a consecutive match applies to the next match.  This is pretty unfair given how Evan was treated, but the rules are the rules.   You can only image how upset Frank Klopas is right now:

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[Franziskakessler.com , Artist: Melli Ink]

Without Sean Johnson to save the day, the Impact have other options – notably Jeff Crandall has offered to play:

Alternatively, I’m willing to pitch in.  When Frank saw me play during a media match a few years ago, I made a pretty great save (IMHO), low to the corner or my goal, which caused Frank (who was watching from the stands) to jump to his feet, clap and yell “Hellas” (I was wearing a Greek National Team jersey).  Ignore the knee braces, they are just for show and to trick opposing players into thinking I’m too old and crippled to play:

Friendly_3

[Chicago Fire]

If the Impact score another early goal and successfully parks a Trojan bus, the Impact could win this match.

Trojan1b_2

[webspace.webring]

And if the Impact wins, this will be the new Malort:

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[thewhiskyexchange]

Good Luck Frank!

@Jvlaha’s Monday Musings – Episode II

Here’s my latest “Monday Musings” contribution on various topics:  a weekend without the Fire; #scrimmagegate; fitness; Aston Villa vs. Liverpool; Wrigley Field and “Tweets of the Week.”

Part 1, What’s a Fire Fan to Do Without a Fire Game?

With the Fire not playing this weekend, what’s a Fire fan to do?  Many Fire fans made the trip to Lisle see the Chicago Red Stars play.

This upset one person in particular:

But led to snickers and a thank you to Fire fans:

If you want a game recap, check out this excellent piece by OTF’s Lucas Hammer, who happens to have the second coolest name of the writers on OTF.  http://otfsoccer.com/2015/04/19/dispatch-chicago-red-stars-3-vs-seattle-reign-fc-2/

Hands down, Brian Battle wins with his use of the double B and an epic sounding name.  If Lucas and Brian had a love child, I would think it would be called “Battle Hammer.”  Of course, Hope Solo was true to form, but you’ll have to read Luca’s piece and the comment section to know what I’m talking about.

The Red Stars and the Fire will team up for a double header on May 9th with the Fire playing at 2 pm. and the Red Stars at 4 pm.

http://www.chicago-fire.com/news/2015/02/chicago-fire-soccer-club-and-chicago-red-stars-host-doubleheader-may-9-toyota-park

Part 2, #Scrimmagegate – To Have a Fit or Not Be Fit.

“If a team plays a scrimmage in a stadium and no one is around to watch it, does it make a sound?” The answer to this philosophical question is open to considerable debate, but Twitter was ablaze with debate over the closed door “scrimmage”:

One fan (I mean raccoon) felt like “he” was being left in the dark by the FO:

And there was this clever exchange with Atul Khosal:

In the end, “logistically” speaking, it was not possible to simply unlock the doors to Toyota Park to accommodate fans, despite the best efforts of one fan:

In the end, the scrimmage was more of a training session so the fans didn’t miss much:

As noted above, everyone has an opinion regarding whether it was good for the TEAM (not the fans) to be off for so long without a game.  I’m of the opinion that time off will help the team “gel” and work on fitness.  Earlier today, Coach Yallop mentioned fitness during his weekly press call.

Part 3, Fitness; How to Avoid a Dreadful “15-15-15.”

In case you missed it, Adrian Lamb is the Fire’s new strength and conditioning coach, and if I were a betting man, I think we’re going to have one of the fittest teams in the league in the near future.  Here’s a piece on Adrian when he was with Aston Villa; notably Villa outplayed Liverpool on Sunday as I discuss below.  http://www.avfc.co.uk/page/NewsDetail/0,,10265~2420407,00.html

Fitness is a key component to the long MLS season and semi-arduous travel schedules during weeks filed with weekday and weekend games.  We’ve all see certain players look rather gassed at certain points in matches, and we’ve also seen (more so in the past), that tired legs lead to defensive lapses in the final 15 minutes of games.  And it’s not just the Fire.  The US Men’s National Team conceded 15 goals in the last 15 minutes of the last 15 games.  Think about that stunning stat for a second.  No wonder Klinsi gets all worked up about fitness.

From a motivational standpoint, I’m also confident that Assistant Coach Marc Bircham has whipped the team into shape during the team’s down time.  Who wouldn’t be motivated by Marc with the gems contained in this brief clip.  http://www.chicago-fire.com/video/2015/04/13/marc-bircham-micd  I wonder if there’s footage that was not postable on the internet?

Packing a one-two punch, Bircham and Lamb may very well transform this team to perform better on the pitch.  Here’s a summary about their backgrounds from the Fire’s website.  http://www.chicago-fire.com/news/2015/02/chicago-fire-announce-two-additions-technical-staff

If the Fire wins the next couple games, will the Twitterati call it luck? Will the coaches and the FO get some credit for “taking one for the team” when they were asked to move the Montreal and Revolution games?  Stay tuned.  Either way, it’s going to be an epic match on Friday, with a capacity crowd.

Word to the wise, buy your tickets now, unless the Empire Strikes Back (again):

Part 4, Aston Villa Move on to the FA Cup Final – Woe is Stevie.

Sunday’s FA Cup Semi-Final between was an epic battle between to underachieving teams.  It was a tough match for me, as I support both teams.  Historically I’m a Liverpool fan, but I started following Aston Villa because of local boy wonder Brad Guzan and the wonderful supporters and a former Villa player that I played against during our “friendly match” on July 21, 2012.

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(Author)

I’ve always admired Steven Gerrard, but I think the past 12 months have not been kind to him.  I hope he returns back to his former self when he plays for LA later this year, but I believe that he’s going to have a difficult time dealing with the LA heat and MLS travel schedule after playing  a full EPL season.

Liverpool was outplayed by Aston Villa, despite having almost equal possession and Liverpool having more shots on goal.  Horrid defending on Aston Villa’s first goal was representative of Liverpool’s season.  Despite his many years with Liverpool, Gerrard has not received his fair share of victory.

If the “Soccer Gods” within MLS get their way (again), it would be an exciting start for the MLS phase of his career to help turn around LA’s season, and hoist (sigh) another MLS Cup.

Of course, a better story would involve the Chicago Fire winning the MLS Cup with goals from Maloney and Accam, goals that were first forged on during a blustery midday scrimmage in an empty Toyota Park.

Part 5, How to Chug a Baseball – Thoughts on Wrigley Field

With the Fire not playing this weekend, what’s a Fire fan to do?  Many fans made the trip to Lisle see the Chicago Red Stars play.  If you want a game recap, check out this excellent piece by OTF’s Lucas Hammer, who happens to have the second coolest name of the writers on OTF.

http://otfsoccer.com/2015/04/19/dispatch-chicago-red-stars-3-vs-seattle-reign-fc-2/

Hands down, Brian Battle wins with his use of the double B and an epic sounding name.  If Lucas and Brian had a love child, I would think it would be called “Battle Hammer.

Without anything to do other than coach AYSO soccer on Saturday and play Sunday league soccer at the crack of dawn, I decided to feed my soccer starved mind with a trip to Wrigley Field.  It seemed like ages, since I’ve been there, and the place is still a dump.  I was a season ticket holder when I used to live in the City, having dropped the tickets after too many dismal seasons.  I witnessed the horrific “Bartman game”, watching the drama unfold from a good vantage point in the upper deck.  I gave up on the Cubs, long ago and I don’t own a “Cubs Til I Die” mug.  That’s because I can’t imagine a scenario where the Cubs win a World Series.  In contrast, the relative “parity” offered by MLS gives almost every team a reasonable shot at winning the MLS Cup. So yes, I’m going out on a short limb and declaring that the Fire will win the MLS Cup before the Cubs win the World Series.

A few reflections on my Wrigley experience.  Fire fans have pushed hard for a “First in, Last Out” campaign at Toyota Park to help support the team.  That doesn’t always work out, as I’m often stuffing my car with tailgating materials and racing to the gates in time for the National Anthem.  And for others in the Section 8 tailgating area I understand that micro/craft beers must be shared before entering Toyota Park.  All the cheering can make you thirsty.

In contrast, Wrigley has never never had a “First in, Last Out” campaign.  I arrived late due to traffic and I was amazed by the amount of inebriated people milling around outside the stadium, looking as if they were not worried in the least that they were missing part of the game.  And then it dawned on me, Wrigley is “World’s Largest Outdoor Bar.”

Having said that, I was reminded of what a “snooze fest” a baseball game can be.  There’s not much to cheer about until someone actually hits a ball and someone makes a semi-dramatic catch or a double play.   I’m a soccer snob and the constant flow of the game and the roar of the fans is what gets me excited.  A good example of this was how well the Aston Villa match was mid’d up.  You could almost feel the roar of the crowd after each goal.

Of course, Wrigley does have a certain level of charm, for where else will you find a fan who catches a foul ball in her beer cup and then proceeds to chug the beer.

Ironically, this woman was sitting a few seats away from my former season tickets.  Someone needs to find this woman and buy her a ticket to a Fire game.  I will buy her beer, including a pre and post-game beer in the Season Ticket Holder Lot.  Find her!

Her epic “catch n’ chug” would not happen as Toyota Park based upon this simple non-mathematical/physical equation:  when a large ball meets a beer, beer will always lose, as this clip from a rugby match shows.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICIYWSQl0Cc

For the fans who were actually paying attention, the Cubs won the game in the 11th inning.

Part 6, Tweets of the Week

It’s only Monday, but this tweet from a Columbus Crew fan punking Toronto is noteworthy.

And finally, David Beckham shows up his son Brooklyn in this smack down moment over Twitter followers.

Until next week…..

Dispatch: Chicago Red Stars (3) vs. Seattle Reign FC (2)

The Breakdown

It was a chilly night that just kept getting colder as the sun set in Lisle Saturday night. The Red Stars were set to welcome Megan Rapinoe and Seattle Reign FC for the first match in Chicago’s 2015 campaign. It felt like a quiet night at the start, but as soon as the cobwebs fell off, it quickly turned into a shootout.

Red Stars Home Opener

Red Stars Home Opener (Courtesy of Joy Hammer)

The first 30 minutes were mostly in the midfield with no real chances at either end, but shortly after, the game opened up in a big way. Seattle hit the scoreboard  in the 31st minute first with Rapinoe sending in a corner that Chicago keeper Karina LeBlanc would see sail past her fingers (unfortunately a theme on the night) and would then be directed in by Beverly Yanez. The Red Stars answered almost instantly when Christen Press was fed after a strong run and the shot was slotted coolly past Hope Solo in the Seattle box for the equalizer.

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“Dos a Cero”, Remember the Alamo, But Don’t Forget Your Raincoat

True to the mission statement of OTF, my recap of last night’s United States vs. Mexico match will be a mix of analysis, insight and fluff.  I’ll mix it up by starting with some insight, followed by some fluff and a snippet of analysis.

Insight:  Is a “Friendly” Ever Friendly?

The term “friendly” is a misnomer of sorts when the term involves United State vs. Mexico.  Regardless of where played or what’s at stake, a “friendly” match between the US and Mexico can be anything but friendly. As the highlights of the pre-game show demonstrated, shoving matches and stare downs are common place:

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(MLS.Com)

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The First Fan: Reflections on 10 Years Without Peter Wilt

Cf97_ChicagoFire_PeterWilt_OTF_USopencup

Ten years ago last week, news broke that the first President and General Manager of the Chicago Fire was leaving the club. Despite Peter Wilt’s departure from Major League Soccer, his influence in the North American game remains.  

In an age of “Circle the Wagon” franchise mentality, Wilt is a champion of fan culture, corporate accessibility, and organizational transparency.  Among other accomplishments, Wilt has plied his trade as CEO of the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars, established the Milwaukee Wave soccer club, and is currently President of NASL’s Indy Eleven.

Some of OTF’s favorite soccer personalities were kind enough to answer the prompt:

“What are your reflections on Peter Wilt ten years after he left the MLS?”

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#cf97withdrawls: Red Stars Home Opener Edition

Red Stars Logo

UPDATE: According to this tweet from Chicago Local 134, there will be pizza and beer at the tailgate with a suggested donation of $5.

Well, the Fire just started getting it together, and suddenly we have a have a couple of bye weeks. No need to fret though, because the Chicago Red Stars will be opening their campaign this weekend and we have the answers to your questions in order to make your first trip just as enjoyable as visiting beautiful Bridgeview (if not more). Continue reading

@Jvlaha’s Monday Musings, Episode 1

There’s a new editor in charge of “On The Fire”, and with that, I’ve decided to step up and write a new column. Without further ado, here is the first episode of “Vlaha’s Monday Musings”.  Today’s piece comes in four parts…

Part One, “The Empire Strikes Back”, #Schedulegate

The-empire-strikes-back-soccer

First stop on today’s installment is #Schedulegate. Fire fans are justifiably upset about recent schedule changes which apparently were going to happen whether or not the Front Office was going to go along with them.

Although I can’t say that the Fire was a team firing on all cylinders during the team’s 3-2 Ping-Pong victory against Toronto, the team looked vastly improved over recent games. As a result of this win, the Fire could have strutted into our scheduled games Foxborough Massachusetts (this Wednesday) and Montreal (this weekend) with a bit of a “we can do this” swagger…

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