The reliance on Fire connected players and coaches will be an important factor to creating a unified team chemistry that will give the US its best chance of success.
Here are the XI. players and coaches that give the Fire even more influence on the 2010 US roster than Simpkins-Ford did on the 1950 US roster. Listed after each name is the position with the US World Cup squad and the years affiliated with the Chicago Fire:
XI. Michael Bradley, Central Midfielder, 1998-2003: He was only eight years old when he began kicking the ball around with the likes of Piotr Nowak, Frank Klopas, Ante Razov and Chris Armas on the Chicago Fire training field. Before he left the Fire for New Jersey at age 13 with his dad, Michael’s list of training partners included Eric Wynalda, Hristo Stoitchkov, current US teammates DaMarcus Beasley and Carlos Bocanegra and current US coaches Mike Sorber, Lubos Kubik and Jesse Marsch. The son of the Fire’s first Head Coach and the current USMNT Coach, Bob Bradley, never played a game in a Fire uniform, but he shined the players shoes, helped with equipment, discussed the team every day with the head coach and trained with the Fire before and after practice sessions throughout the team’s first five seasons.
The next four players never played for the Fire’s first team, but they were recruited by and played under current Chicago Fire Assistant Coach Mike Matkovich with the Fire’s PDL team, the Chicago Fire Reserves.
X. Brad Guzan, Goalkeeper, 2004-2005: Guzan grew up in suburban Homer Glen, IL and starred with the Chicago Magic under Matkovich. Matkovich annually assembled one of the top collections of college stars in the country and for two seasons his goalkeeper was Guzan. He was very well regarded as a youth goalkeeper and I recall the first time I saw him play for the Fire Premier, aka Reserves, as a gangly 19 year old in a US Open Cup tie against SAC Wisla, a local amateur team. While the Fire Reserves won the match 5-1, I was disappointed by Guzan’s play. Just as the peasant-turned-newt did in “The Holy Grail”, however, he got better. His 0.388 goals against average was the best in the PDL in 2004. He went on to star for Chivas USA where he earned MLS Goalkeeper of the Year honors in 2007 and currently is Brad Friedel’s backup at Aston Villa where he has shown his knack for saving penalties.
Matko’s Memories: “Brad Guzan, he’s like my son. I’ve known him since he was 11 years old. I knew he was going to make it because he’s a tough guy. He’s got a lot of talent from a young age. You know how you can tell when a guy’s young, you know he’s going to make it because his head is on right? He’s the perfect guy for that.”
IX. Jay DeMerit, Central Defender, 2001-2002: The Green Bay, WI native and former University of Illinois-Chicago defender played two seasons with with the Fire Reserves where he was mainly ignored by then Fire head coach Bob Bradley and me. His rags with English seventh-tier club Northwood to riches with Watford story has been well told and now he is on the cusp of making a real difference on the soccer world’s biggest stage. This time, he wasn’t ignored by Bradley.
Matko’s Memories: “He’s super athletic kid, good guy, good willingness to work. It’s interesting to see how he ended up where he is because he ended up just going overseas on a walkabout with this other guy named Kieran, who was an English guy. And he ended up sticking England. Ever since then, it’s been nothing but successful. When we had him, he was a very good defender. We were able to play 3-5-2 with him on the field. I remember him marking Pat Noonan and taking him out of the game; Pat didn’t have a shot at goal. He was just so good athletically. He’s one of the best defenders we’ve ever had in the Fire Reserves. I can see why he’s where he’s at.”
VIII. Jonathan Spector, Right Back, 2003: The second most famous soccer player from Arlington Heights, IL, Spector played briefly with the Fire Reserves, before signing with Manchester United. I saw the highly touted Spector play in one of his few appearances with the Fire Reserves and it was in the midfield. A few months later, he was moved into the back by Sir Alex Ferguson and was training with his new club, Manchester United.
Matko’s Memories: “We only had Jonathan one year. We got him out of the Residency program. We actually played him outside/left mid. He was only 16 when he played for us, he was very young. But he was a special guy. He had the profile to make it. When he was in with us and to start him it was a good experience for him playing with us in the PDL because he played with older guys. I think it really helped him when he was back down in Residency.”
VII. Ricardo Clark, Central Midfielder, 2002: I certainly didn’t spot future stardom every time while scouting Fire Reserves games, but Clark’s talents were obvious as a 19 year old in his only season with the PDL club. His loping strides and deft touch reminded me of a young Manuel Lagos. The following winter, he turned pro early and was selected second overall by Bob Bradley and the MetroStars. Bradley was pleased that DC United used the first pick to take New Jersey native and local favorite Alecko Eskandarian as he preferred Clark for his new club’s needs. The Fire picked third overall and were disappointed, but not surprised, when Clark was taken leaving us with Nate Jaqua, whom we also felt would be a solid MLS player.
Matko’s Memories: “We only had one season with Ricardo. He played U-19 and he played in the Fire Reserves. When he came obviously you can tell this guy had talent right away. He was in and out of the national team pool. At the level with the PDL he covered a lot of ground. Had the ability to take games over and dominate the middle of the field from a holding spot. When we had those teams he was only 18/19 but he was one of our better guys at that age.”
VI. Mike Sorber, Assistant Coach, 2000: The St. Louis native was Bora Milutinovic’s MVP for the US in the 1994 World Cup, went on to play for UNAM Pumas where he was the first American to be named to the Mexican league All-Star team then played in MLS for four seasons before joining the most talented team in Fire history, if not MLS history in 2000. He played 24 games helping the Fire capture the Central Division title and reach the MLS Cup Final.Five players, the coach and the son of the coach of the 2000 Chicago Fire are among 11 2010 US World Cup players and coaches with ties to the early Chicago Fire.