Chicago Fire Top Five Home Games: 2013

(photo: chicago-fire.com)

Toyota Park will rock you. (photo: chicago-fire.com)

Aside from the home opener on March 9th, OTF editor Scott Fenwick brings you the stories behind five can’t-miss MLS throwdowns at Toyota Park in 2013…

Chivas USA

Sunday, March 24th at 4pm

This team fascinates me. In the past, I could’ve cared less about the Goats, as they’re perennial bottom-feeders in the Western Conference. But then Jose Luis Sánchez Solá came to America. And as a result, I am very curious to see what “El Chelis” ball will bring to MLS.CD Chivas USA

This guy is pure showbiz and a colorful character to put it mildly. Chivas USA’s new manager doesn’t speak English, is consistently astounded by the way Major League Soccer operates (he’s not alone), and doesn’t think American sports medicine is worth a shit. Basically, he thinks soccer is all wrong north of the border and that we’re a bunch of pussies. Awesome. 

But his players seem to adore him.  

Of Chelis, young striker Juan Agudelo told MLS Extra Time Radio: “He speaks his mind. He gets the guys laughing. he’s just himself.” Moreover, despite widespread skepticism surrounding the club, the young forward thinks that his new manager’s “full on pressure” and “attack-minded tactics” are going to surprise the league and win a lot of games for Chivas “because of the way MLS is.”

On-field entertainment too? Surprises? Bonus! But what about Agudelo’s latter comment? Have the Chivas players drank the Chelis kool-aid already? Are other MLS squads truly ill-equipped or unprepared for an all-out Ataque Mexicano? Well, the proof, as they say, will be in the flan.

But hey, after a -34 goal differential in 2012 Chivas has only one way to go, and that’s up. Right?

Finally, I’ll leave you with this gem from El Chelis:

“This is a team that will wrestle and fight, a team that will launch itself from the top rope.”

I swear, if this guy trots out of the locker room and onto the Toyota Park sideline wearing a Lucha Libre mask, I will quit my job and sell everything I own to produce a documentary film about him. Any ideas for a title?

Columbus Crew

Saturday, April 20th at 7:30pm

Crew logo

Fire Nation’s “one true” rivalry match is obligatory to attend, both home and away. And there’s nothing it enjoys more than stepping on bananas.

Burning question: Will Dominic Oduro see the pitch at Toyota Park? The Crew’s preseason depth chart has him starting on the right wing in a 4-2-3-1. Does he really need a “Grazzini-like” CAM (Federico Higuain) to get the job done, or will he underperform and piss off hard-man coach Robert Warzycha, only to find himself riding pine by the time April rolls around? Perhaps we’ll have answers to all these questions and more when the yellowest team comes to town for an early season rumble. 

Argentine string-puller Higuain is always a pleasure to watch at the CAM position; unless you’re a sideline CAMera that is (sorry, bit of an inside joke). Rapid Bucharest alum (Hai Rapidul!) and big Brazilian defender Glauber brings some new strength to the Crew back line. He’s spent time at Palmieras, Der Klub (F.C. Nurnberg), and Man City. This man is quality. Plus, the addition of another Argentine midfielder, Matías Sánchez (via Estudiantes de La Plata), has Warzycha predicting big things for Columbus in 2013. MLS Cup-type big things.

Columbus was alive in the playoff hunt until the final weekend in 2012 and would have made the postseason if they had they been a Western Conference team. When it was all said and done, the Crew racked up a solid 52 points. This team is no slouch and has added some potential difference makers at multiple positions. Look for a very competitive match (and perhaps a lot of goals) when they come to town. Oh yeah, and don’t forget your nose plug.

Portland Timbers

Saturday, June 8th at 7:30pm

Portland TimbersHopes and expectations are high in the Rose City. After a dismal (and somewhat dysfunctional) 2012 campaign, anything less than a playoff appearance for the three year-old, re-tooled MLS club will be a major disappointment. As anticipated, Scottish striker Kris Boyd is gone. Owner Merritt Paulson bought out his contract over a lunch of haggis and Barr’s Irn Bru. 

New head coach Caleb Porter’s “beautiful style” has arrived from the collegiate ranks, where he amassed a 119-18-17 record and won a national championship at Akron. But this ain’t the NCAA folks. No timeouts in the pros. Is Porter truly, as many think and Avi Creditor pointed out, “U.S. Soccer’s next great mind?”

The starting XI is revamped and looks strong, especially up top. Playmaker and new Designated Player Diego Valeri looked dangerous this preseason quarterbacking Portland’s new-look diamond 4-4-2. A tasty 4-3-3 is on offer from coach Porter as well. Without a doubt, this will be an attacking team and they’ve got the stallions to run at opponents for 90 minutes.

New acquisition Ryan Johnson (formerly of TFC) bagged a hat-trick in a preseason friendly vs. San Jose. Darlington Nagby can simply shred a defense when he’s on. And Khalif Al-Hassan’s got the attacking moxie as well. Porter fancies his front four (Valeri, Johnson, Nagby, Khalif) as “dangerous” and potentially a “handful” for opponents. This team’s going to play hungry and hunt for goals. 

On-field activities aside, I’m wondering about some other important goings-on. Will the supporters group brethren and sisters from Section 8 and their Timbers Army counterparts further consummate their alliance? Will those scarf chicks show up? Will there be nothing but cross-club orgiastic merriment in the North parking lot? I don’t know, but bring your camera phone.     

Sporting Kansas City

Sunday, July 7th at 2pm (ESPN)

Whether Fire Nation likes it or not, everyone outside of it is trying to make this matchup into a “real” rivalry. And hey, why not? Aside from Cowlumbus, as the bus drives, Kansas City is Chicago’s closest opponent.sporting kc logo 

Furthermore, Fire fans should welcome an excuse to travel to CheatStrong Sporting Park. It’s a little gem of a stadium. Plus, exceptionally heated competition with a franchise committed to winning only makes things more fun. 

But this is a home game, and a nationally televised one at that. If last year’s tussles with SKC are any measure, this one will surely entertain. And aside from the play on the field, I always enjoy watching manager Peter Vermes stalk the sideline like the thug he is.

The team that finished top of the Eastern Conference in 2012 will have some questions to answer by July. Will Kei Kamara be back from Norwich City? What will the tactics look like? Still 4-3-3? Still high pressure? Is Benny Feilhaber an adequate replacement for Roger Espinoza, who’s now plying his trade in Wigan’s midfield? And what of Designated Player Claudio Bieler? Will his skill set translate from Ecuador’s Serie A to MLS?

It’s likely this squad will look to add reinforcements by the time this game rolls around in July. If Kamara keeps performing well and helps Norwich City finish in the top half of the Premier League table, it’s unlikely he’ll return as the Canaries have an option to buy. Plus, with a U.S. Open Cup title to defend and Concacaf Champions League fixtures to play, SKC will look to build more depth when the summer transfer window opens up in late June.

Lastly, the most important question of all: Will KC fans bring their flags to Toyota Park? Of course they will. You’re welcome.

L’Impact de Montréal

Saturday, August 10th at 7:30pm

Things are looking très bon in Canada’s sin city; if you don’t hail from the Western Hemisphere that is. Along with his 4-4-2, American coach Jesse Marsch is gone (who wants one of those, right?). That means bad boy forward Marco Di Vaio’s in a good mood now that he’s the lone wolf up top in a European-style 4-2-3-1.impact_montreal_logo_detail

Plus, Marco’s got another fellow Italian in the starting XI, Andrea Pisanu, who arrived from Serie A side Bologna during the off-season on a one-year loan to serve as a goal generator on the wing. The sideline looks more European too, and that’s what ownership wants.

Hatchetman Nelson Rivas is gone, so that’s a good thing for opponents’ health and well-being. After careers at the highest level of club soccer, the center backs Matteo Ferrari and Alessandro Nesta are old but apparently still serviceable, and European. Former stalwart Fire man Justin Mapp will be back in town, but he’s not European. Patrice Bernier and Davy Arnaud are stalwart veterans in the midfield who sound like they’re European, but they’re not.

So what does Cheese Don and all-around meddling owner Joey Saputo have in store for the paying customers in La Métropole du Québec? Will the fans actually see a vaunted, counterattacking European style of soccer – the kind that Saputo is so insistent upon – pay dividends? Joey wants a playoff spot come November. Anything less and new head coach Marco Schallibau is Swiss cheese (pun intended).

Last year at Toyota Park, Marco Di Vaio scored the first goal of the match and proceeded to give the ‘ol “fist up your ass” international friendship hand gesture to the Fire faithful. Chicago then proceeded to score three goals and send Montréal, one of the league’s worst road teams in 2012, packing. Will Di Vaio pull the same stunt again? If he does, he’ll be sure to get a “DI VAIO MERDA VAFFANCULO!” from me. I love to curse in Italian.

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