International Friendly Melt

Fire Players Johnson, Pappa, Barouch Talk National Team Calls

The Chicago Fire announced Sunday that goalkeeper Sean Johnson, midfielder Marco Pappa and forward Orr Barouch have been called up for the United States, Guatemala and the Israeli U-21 teams respectively for friendlies to be played on this Wednesday’s FIFA international date.

Perhaps the biggest call was for Johnson who earns his first call from U.S. Soccer since the U-23 side missed out on qualifying for this summer’s London Olympics back in March. The third year keeper will be part of Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster set to face regional rival Mexico at the vaunted Estadio Azteca Wednesday night in Mexico City.

“I’m definitely excited,” Johnson told prior to Sunday’s match at Philadelphia, “It’s always a great opportunity to get to represent your country and this game is a very special one with us going to play Mexico at the Azteca. It’s the type of game that doesn’t come around that often, so something that not everyone gets to experience.”

With both of Johnson’s two national team caps having come during the team’s previous two January camps, the midseason call is undoubtedly a reward for the ‘keeper’s impressive run of form of late.

“Since the start of the season I’ve focused on just improving everyday in order to help this team get results. I think I’ve had a strong few months and day-in, day-out I’m feeling good about training and the people I’m working with.”

With wins over the United States in the past two CONCACAF Gold Cup finals and their recent dominance at the youth levels, Mexico clearly holds the advantage. Add to that this game comes just days after the nation won its first-ever Olympic Gold Medal in soccer and Wednesday’s friendly will certainly continue the historic stadium’s reputation for great atmosphere.

Pappa to join Guatemala

Along with Johnson’s call, Fire midfielder Marco Pappa will rejoin the Guatemalan side for a friendly against Paraguay. The match comes on the heels of Pappa’s late equalizer in a June World Cup qualifying match against the United States – a goal that resurrected his nation’s hopes of advancement after dropping their first match to Jamaica 2-1.

“It’s always important to score but I think that goal meant a lot for us,” Pappa said from Philadelphia Sunday. “We had lost to Jamaica in the first qualifier and we could have come out of the U.S. game with zero points after two matches. We still have life, we can keep fighting because of it and for me it’s a very special goal for my country to help us push for the next round.”

Sitting with just one point from two games, Pappa pointed to Wednesday’s friendly against Paraguay as important preparation for the team heading into September’s do-or-die qualifying matches with Antigua & Barbuda.

“It’s an important game for us right now to help prepare for our next qualifiers. We need to take points in the matches in September to keep us in the fight for the World Cup and it’s good to get ready for that with a match against a quality opponent like Paraguay.”

Barouch joins Israeli U-21s

Orr Barouch will not be available for selection Sunday night after the forward was allowed to join Israeli U-21 camp ahead of their Wednesday match at Russia.

Barouch received his first U-21 cap for Israel last September and has gone on to make four appearances scoring one goal as the team builds towards hosting the 2013 UEFA U-21 Championship.

“Playing for Israel is always an honor and the match against Russia will be a good test for us. We’re continuing to grow as a team as we build towards next year’s UEFA tournament.