2010 In Review

After falling just short of the 2009 MLS Cup Final, the Chicago Fire Soccer Club entered a new era in 2010 following the hiring of Mexican head coach Carlos de los Cobos in early January. The 2010 season also saw the addition of Generation Adidas signees midfielder Corben Bone and goalkeeper Sean Johnson in the MLS Super Draft.

Coming off three consecutive appearances in the MLS Eastern Conference Finals, the club saw its fortunes reversed during the course of 2010 as injuries decimated the 24-man roster for much of the season, with the end result seeing the Fire miss out on the MLS Cup Playoffs for just the second time in the club’s 14-year history.

A regular season of ups and downs saw the club start the campaign winless through its first three matches, including a 2-1 Opening Night home loss to San Jose on April 10th. The “Men in Red” rebounded exactly a week later, earning the first win of the season in a 2-0 victory at DC United, eventually climbing back to an even 2-2-2 record by May 1st.

Ironically, there was much to take out of a drab 4-1 loss at Toronto on May 8th as C.J. Brown, the last remaining “Fire Original,” recorded his 350th appearance across all competitions for the Fire – third most all-time among MLS players with one team. Veteran midfielder Logan Pause also tallied just the second goal of his career, hitting a 30-plus yard bomb that was eventually voted by Fire fans as the club’s Goal of the Year.

Following the trip north of the border, the club welcomed four world-renowned international clubs to TOYOTA PARK to end the month of May. The Fire welcomed Paris Saint-Germain, Red Star Belgrade and Legia Warsaw as part of the inaugural Chicago Sister Cities International Cup. The Fire fell 1-0 to PSG on May 19th before dropping a 3-0 result to Legia three days later. Just a week after, the “Men in Red” welcomed Italian giants A.C. Milan to TOYOTA PARK, dropping a 1-0 result to the Rosoneri in front of a sell-out crowd on May 30th.

Returning to league play, the Fire went undefeated in June, riding the goal-scoring wave of Guatemalan international midfielder Marco Pappa. The third-year midfielder tallied the winner in a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union June 5th before bagging both goals in the 2-2 draw with the Colorado Rapids on June 9th at TOYOTA PARK. With the league taking an 18-day break during the FIFA World Cup, the Fire returned to their league calendar with a visit to New England on June 27th, with Pappa striking the game’s only goal, his fourth of five Fire goals during the month.

Though a long World Cup break gave players a needed rest, a two-day turnaround was difficult for the side as they hosted USL-2’s Charleston Battery in the third round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup. Only able to dress 16 players, the Fire had a number of chances but played 120 minutes of scoreless soccer before eventually falling to the historic South Carolina-based side 3-0 on penalty kicks.

As June turned to July, the Fire dropped two narrow league results, first a 2-1 decision in Columbus on July 3rd before dominating but coming up empty in a 1-0 loss to defending MLS Cup champions Real Salt Lake at TOYOTA PARK. Sitting with a disappointing 4-5-5 record, the club began looking for reinforcements as the team shifted attention to the club’s second-straight SuperLiga campaign.

The tournament didn’t start off well for the Fire as they fell 5-1 to Monarcas Morelia on July 14th, with the lone bright spot being rookie defender Steven Kinney’s first professional goal in the 48th minute. The Fire followed up that performance with a 1-0 loss to the New England Revolution three days later. After the game, the Fire introduced Mexican international Nery Castillo as the second Designated Player in club history. Already eliminated, from the tournament, the Fire took on Pumas UNAM in the final group game, earning a 1-0 victory via a headed effort from defender Wilman Conde in the 35th minute.

While the Fire turned out less than favorable results in July, the Fire Academy found major success. On July 16th, the club’s U16 Academy became the first MLS Academy side to win a USSFDA National Championship as they dispatched Cal Odyssey on penalties in the final. A month later, Academy product Victor Pineda became the club’s first ever Home Grown player signing, rising all the way from the club’s Juniors program to the first team.

Marco Pappa was selected as a starter for the first time in the 2010 MLS All-Star game vs. Manchester United on July 28th at Reliant Stadium in Houston, while Conde earned his second straight selection. The MLS All-Stars dropped a 5-2 result to the Red Devils.

Just before returning to the league schedule, the club acquired Swedish midfielder Freddie Ljungberg from Seattle for a conditional selection in the 2011 or 2012 MLS SuperDraft on July 30, with the former Arsenal winger joining the club in Los Angeles the next day ahead of the clash with the table-topping LA Galaxy on August 1. The transaction was the first trade of a designated player in Major League Soccer history. At 21, rookie Sean Johnson became the youngest player in club history to stand between the nets as he made his first MLS start in the match. Behind goals from Pappa, Collins John and Mike Banner, the Fire ran out to a 3-0 lead inside the first 19 minutes. Meanwhile, Ljungberg entered the match as a 58th minute sub while Johnson stood tall between the sticks, only surrendering two penalty kicks from Landon Donovan, making four saves in the 3-2 win.

MLS history was made a week later when the New York Red Bulls came to TOYOTA PARK with their three Designated Players: Juan Pablo Angel and the recently signed Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez. All three started along with the Fire’s Ljungberg and as Castillo made his club debut in the 56th minute, the night marked the first time five Designated Players graced the field during an MLS game. Though the stars made their presence known, it was again the young Fire goalkeeper who stole the show, making eight saves and earning his first MLS clean sheet in a 0-0 draw with Red Bull on August 8.

Nearly a month after falling 1-0 to New England in SuperLiga, the Fire welcomed the Revolution back to Toyota Park to close out the sides’ season series. Falling behind early to a Marko Perovic strike, Fire midfielder Baggio Husidic equalized before the half. Returning from a six-month injury layoff, veteran striker Calen Carr scored the winner in the 85th minute to keep the side unbeaten in August.

While things looked up, the fate of the season likely came as the club dropped points late in the next three consecutive matches, falling 4-3 to Houston on August 21st, 2-1 to Seattle on August 28th and conceding a stoppage time goal in a 1-1 draw with LA on September 4th at TOYOTA PARK. The day before the match with LA, veteran striker and U.S. Soccer legend Brian McBride announced his intention to retire at the end of the club’s 2010 season.

Three losses and a draw in the middle of September put the Fire’s playoff hopes on the brink before a 3-0 win at San Jose rescued them if only for a few days after dropping the reverse score line at Dallas on October 2nd.

Despite the on field performance, the Fire made Major League Soccer history on September 16th with the naming of the club’s fifth president, Julian Posada. The former Hoy and Cafe Media boss became the first-ever Latino president in Major League Soccer.

September also saw the unprecedented spirit and support of Section 8 Chicago with an impressive Super Mario Bros. tifo. Inspired by the Seattle Sounders’ X-box themed jerseys, Section 8 created a viral video sensation with this tifo:

Though not mathematically eliminated, the Fire returned to TOYOTA PARK to celebrate the club’s 13th anniversary on October 8th. The “Men in Red” gave the fans their birthday wish when they downed regional rival Columbus Crew 2-0 that night as midfielder Peter Lowry scored the 600th regular season goal. The next day, San Jose officially eliminated the Fire from playoff contention with a 2-0 win over DC United.

The Fire would go 1-1-1 in the remaining regular season matches, paying tribute to outgoing striker Brian McBride in his final home match at Toyota Park, a 0-0 draw with D.C. on October 16th.

On October 22nd, a day before the final regular season match at Chivas USA, veteran defender CJ Brown announced that the match would be his last, bringing to end his 13 years of dedicated service to the club, in which the 1998 Supplemental Draft pick went on to play in 32,519 minutes across 371 matches.

In dedication to both Brown and McBride, the Fire closed out the 2010 campaign with one of the side’s best performances, downing Chivas USA 4-1 at The Home Depot Center in Carson, CA. McBride got the scoring started with a beautiful back heal in the 40th minute, tallying his 80th MLS goal and the final one of his career.

Postseason honors were awarded the next month as veteran midfielder Logan Pause was named Team MVP, while retiring defender C.J. Brown took his second Defender of the Year honors as well as Section 8’s Player of the Year award. With seven goals on the campaign Marco Pappa took the Budweiser Golden Boot and later won the 2010 MLS Goal of the Year for his strike against San Jose on April 10th. Long-time Fire defender Dasan Robinson earned the 2010 Humanitarian of the Year award for his charitable work with Urban Initiatives.