USA Tour: Opposition view as Chicago Fire preview Villa clash
In the midst of the club's milestone 15th season, the Chicago Fire remain one of the most historically successful clubs in Major League Soccer, having claimed six domestic titles since the team's inaugural season in 1998.
With their name the club pays homage to "The Great Chicago Fire" of 1871, which destroyed nearly four square miles of the city.
On the 126th anniversary of the event, the club was unveiled as the "Chicago Fire" on October 8, 1997, marking the club's anniversary on that date.
The Fire found almost immediate success in the inaugural 1998 MLS campaign, going on to become the first and only expansion side to win MLS Cup, defeating two-time defending champions D.C. United 2-0 in front of 51,350 fans at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., on October 25, 1998.
Five days later, the expansion side clinched the "American Double", utilizing current head coach Frank Klopas' 99th minute "Golden Goal" strike to defeat the Columbus Crew 2-1 to win the 1998 U.S. Open Cup (the American version of the FA Cup) at in front of the home support at Soldier Field.
Over its 15 year history, the club has appeared in two more MLS Cup finals, falling 1-0 to Kansas City Wizards in 2000 and 4-2 to San Jose Earthquakes in 2003 but has found the most success in the Open Cup, holding the MLS record for most tournament titles (1998, 2000, 2003, 2006).
The club also finished as runner's- up in the tournament in 2004 and 2011.
In 2003, the team won the MLS Supporters Shield, given to the side that finishes with the best record during the regular season.
Over the years the Fire have had 17 FIFA World Cup veterans on their roster, ranging from the likes of international stars Hristo Stoitchkov (Bulgaria), Cuauhtemoc Blanco (Mexico) and Freddie Ljungberg (Sweden) as well as U.S. internationals Brian McBride, Carlos Bocanegra and DaMarcus Beasley.
ONES TO WATCH
Looking at the squad, you'll see a good mix of young and veteran, American and international players.
The team currently feature two high-profile World Cup veterans in former German international defender Arne Friedrich and former Mexican international Pavel Pardo manning the midfield.
Speedy Ghanaian forward Dominic Oduro led the team with 14 goals across all competitions in 2011 and is joined in the attack by fellow countryman and one of the best one-on-one players in MLS Patrick Nyarko.
The attack is further bolstered by the club's second all-time leading goal scorer Chris Rolfe [pictured], who returned to the Fire in April after a two-year stint with Aalborg BK in Denmark as well as Guatemalan international Marco Pappa.
In defense, U.S. international goalkeeper Sean Johnson has been a solid backstop since his rookie season in 2010.
With Friedrich out of the lineup for some of the season, rookie center back Austin Berry has teamed with second-year defender Jalil Anibaba to form a powerful partnership in the middle while full backs Dan Gargan and Gonzalo Segares provide a lot on the wings going forward.
The Fire are coached by former U.S. international striker and Fire player Frank Klopas [pictured].
Born in Prosimna, Greece, Klopas emigrated with his family to the United States at age eight during the 70's and grew up in Chicago.
"Kid Klopas" became a soccer legend in the city when he signed with the NASL's Chicago Sting whilst still attending Mather High School on the city's north side.
Klopas played for the Sting through 1988 before heading to Greek giants AEK Athens where he helped the club to six domestic titles through 1994.
That summer, he was named to Bora Milutinovic's 22-man U.S. roster for the FIFA World Cup but didn't appear in a match at the tournament.
After a two-year spell with Apollon Athens, Klopas returned to help launch Major League Soccer, signing with the Kansas City Wizards in 1996 before moving to Chicago via trade ahead of the 1998 season.
Klopas would end his professional career where he began it, playing two seasons with the Fire from 1998-99.
He's best known for scoring the club's first two goals at Soldier Field, tallying a brace in the team's first home match, a 2-0 victory over Tampa Bay on April 4, 1998 as well as scoring the aforementioned "Golden Goal" to win the 1998 U.S. Open Cup.
Named the club's Technical Director in 2008, Klopas became interim head coach in May 2011 after the club parted ways with Mexican manager Carlos de los Cobos.
Despite a dismal start to the 2011 campaign, Klopas rallied the team, helping the side to a 7-2-1 regular season finish and coming within three points of the MLS Cup playoffs.
He also led the team to the 2011 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup final where they fell 2-0 at Seattle.
In recognition of the way he turned the team around, Klopas was named full-time head coach last November.
FIRE VIEW OF VILLA
Believe it or not, the Chicago Fire have two ties to Aston Villa.
Defender Eric Lichaj hails from the Chicago suburb of Downers Grove and played briefly for the club's U23 side in 2006.
Villa keeper Brad Guzan is also from the Chicago suburbs and was a key player on the Fire's amateur team in 2004.
With Americans most familiar with the English Premier League, Fire fans should be well accustomed to Aston Villa.
It is well known that Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner is the chairman at the club.
Fire fans are knowledgeable about the likes of Irish internationals Shay Given, Richard Dunne and Stephen Ireland, Frenchman Charles N'Zogbia and English players Marc Albrighton, Gabriel Agblonlahor and Darren Bent, who was a teammate of Fire defender Cory Gibbs while with Charlton Athletic.
PLACES TO GO
When visiting Chicago, there is a whole slew of things to see and do.
Visit the Field Museum, hang with animals at Lincoln Park Zoo or the Shedd Aquarium, learn about the amazing buildings in the city on the Architectural Boat Tour, and feed your appetite with Chicago-style deep dish pizza at Lou Malnati's, Giordano's or Gino's East, hot dogs from Portillo's or Italian beef sandwiches from Al's.
During the summer there are a multitude of street festivals to visit.
Make sure and check out www.choosechicago.com for all of the latest information.
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