If Fire wants to win a title, it must roll on the road

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Things are looking up for David Accam and the Chicago Fire and after posting an MLS-tying best 11-3-5 mark, it is possible this team is championship material.


As the Chicago fire returns from the CONCACAF Gold Cup break tied with Toronto with the best record in Major League Soccer, the question is in the back of most fans’ mind.

Can this team win it all?

It’s a fair question.

With an 11-3-5 record before the break, the Fire is making believers out of a lot of people. The team may have had the worst record in the MLS for two straight seasons heading into the 2017 campaign, but the front office, headed up by general manager Nelson Rodriguez, brought in three new pieces – Nemanja Nikolic, Dax McCarty and Bastian Schweinsteiger – that have helped turned this team into a contender.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Fire fans were hoping the team could just finish in the top six of the East and make the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

But that changed in recent weeks as the team went on an 11-game unbeaten streak heading into the break. Now it’s not all that crazy to expect a deep run in the playoffs and possibly snag its second MLS title – the first coming in 1998, when the team entered the league with a bang.

The 2017 team seemingly has it all. Nikolic has an MLS-best 16 goals and could give the league’s all-time mark of 27 (set by three players) a run for the money.

David Accam has 10 goals and the most legitimate complaint is that perhaps a few more Men in Red could get involved in scoring as well.

The defense and goalie Matt Lampson have been effective.

Perhaps the team could use another player or two to shore up the depth, but just about every contender can say that.

Alas, the one area that the Fire absolutely must get better at is its play on the road.

While Toyota Park in Bridgeview has actually become the “fortress” that Nikolic said it must become at the beginning of the season, the road is still unkind.

Chicago is 9-0-1 at home and has outscored opponents a jaw-dropping 27-4 in those games.

The team is 2-3-4 on the road and has been outscored a jaw-tightening 15-10.

That includes a humiliating 4-0 loss to expansion Atlanta (before the team picked up Schweinsteiger) and a 2-2 tie against Portland on July 5 in which the Fire had a 2-1 lead in the second half.

Throw in a shootout loss in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup to a United Soccer League middling team -- FC Cincinnati -- which doesn’t count in the MLS standings and it’s obvious the team needs a little more spark away from Bridgeview.

Eight of its last 15 regular season games are on the road including four of its next five. The Fire visits the New York City FC on Saturday at Yankee Stadium, Sporting Kansas City on July 29, come home against the New England revolution on Aug. 5, head to Ohio for a match against the Columbus Crew on Aug. 12 and visit Montreal on Aug. 16.

And the schedule maker didn’t give the team a break on the next home game. The team won’t be very well rested when it faces Toronto Aug. 19, ending a three-game-in-eight-day stretch.

So second-year coach Veljko Paunovic knows there is a long road ahead.

“The best motivation is the next game,” he said. “That’s how we prepare. Next game, next game. It’s not a time to look behind you. Of course, we’re very happy to be in first place, but we motivate our guys to look at the next game, prepare for the next game and compete, give their best.

“The results with that approach are coming and what we have in this group is the hunger. Everyone is driven by the goal that we have this year, which is playoffs. I think the team has an even higher ceiling. Once we get to the playoffs, we have to set another goal, but we will talk once we are in the playoffs.”


Look for big changes in the Chicago Catholic League in 2018

  • Written by Frank Gogola



Photo by Aaron FitzPatrick

Brother Rice football fans went wild after a 49-42 victory over Mt. Carmel in a Chicago Catholic League Blue game in September. Mt. Carmel will be moved to the Green division starting in 2018 and the future of that game is up in the air.


Chicago Catholic League football will have a new look in 2018 with Blue division mainstay Mount Carmel moving down to the Green division.

The realignment of the CCL football conference came as a result of the scheduled departures of three schools (Bishop McNamara, Wheaton St. Francis and football-only member Aurora Christian) in the 2018-19 school year. That loss also affects other sports, with changes to the number of divisions or number of teams in a division yet to be discussed among the coaches, athletic directors and principals.

Southwest Regional Publishing area teams affected by the football reorganization include De La Salle, St. Rita, Mount Carmel, Saint Laurence and Brother Rice.

Mount Carmel will face St. Laurence, which qualified for state the past three years and finished in the Class 5A and 6A state semifinals the past two seasons respectively, on a regular basis as it moves to the Green. De La Salle, Fenwick and Marmion are the other Green teams, with Montini moving up to the Blue.

“Either Montini or Mount Carmel, neither is an easy opponent,” said St. Laurence athletic director Tim Chandler. “After the success we had, we were ready to take on a more challenging schedule. One team doesn’t change our schedule, but overall it’s tougher top to bottom.”

Brother Rice and Mount Carmel had been Blue schools since 2003 – along with Loyola, Providence and St. Rita – and have a rivalry stretching back even further. Montini, which will replace Mount Carmel, beat Mount Carmel in 2016, so there’s little to no relief in the Blue schedule.

Still, Mt. Carmel is the team with the tradition and a team that everyone wants to knock off.

“It’s a shame,” said Brother Rice coach Brian Badke. “Not having that rivalry…you’re breaking some traditions. Rivalries with Aurora Christian or Montini, we’re never going to have that. Montini is a very good program. So, still, every game in the CCL is like a playoff game.”

The approved parity formula to determine divisions was 70 percent for CCL wins with added weight for wins against Blue teams, 15 percent for male enrollment and 15 percent for number of football players across all levels. Travel has been eliminated from conversations of making divisions. Realignment will be reviewed every two years.

The loss of Bishop McNamara, St. Francis and football-only member Aurora Christian to the Metro Suburban Conference in 2018-19 will drop the number of football teams from 18 to 15. There will be three divisions of five teams.

The Blue coaches were interested in spreading the Blue teams across two separate divisions to give those teams better chances to make the playoffs, Badke and Chandler said. Several coaches were in favor of North and South divisions, Badke said. The athletic directors, who were the voters, and principals wanted to keep the Blue schools together.

“The majority of the room felt the model the Blue coaches were pushing for was not parity,” Chandler said. “To just split up the Blue division was not putting our best teams in that division, which was the point of the parity model.”

Mount Carmel had the option to petition to move back up to the Blue, but declined to do so. A potential factor in that decision could be that the past four years have been Mount Carmel’s four lowest enrollments totals in the multiplier era, which began in 2005. The 2017 enrollment will be the lowest.

 In other CCL sports…

Earlier this year, there were CCL changes in basketball announced for the coming season,

The athletic directors voted in the winter to realign basketball on a parity model for 2017-18 and 2018-19 and to end the CCL tournament after four years.

There will be two nine-team divisions, but with St. Francis and Bishop McNamara leaving in 2018, the divisions will be unbalanced at nine and seven teams.

“We’ll play the first year that was agreed to and in place because St. Francis and Bishop Mac will still be here” Chandler said. “With them leaving at 2018, we’re going to have0 to come up with a new schedule this year to be in effect for 2018. They could talk and decide let’s just leave it as it is for one year.”

CCL baseball teams will need to fill more non-conference games with an approved schedule for 2017-18 and 2018-19 that lessens the number of conference games.

Blue teams will play 16 conference games instead of 21, Chandler said. They’ll play every Blue team twice and only two total crossovers instead of one crossover with every White team.

Chandler said he voted against the reduction of crossovers, which leaves St. Laurence (a team that took third in the state in Class 4A in the spring) with 19 non-conference games to fill.

Soccer will be in the second year of an approved schedule for the 2017-18 school year. A schedule for 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons had already been approved for four division of four teams, but there will be 14 teams instead of 16 starting in 2018-19 with St. Francis and Bishop McNamara’s departure.

“That’s going to have to change with losing two teams,” Chandler said. “I haven’t seen any models for that yet.”


HS FOCUS: Stagg hires Strus, Marist hires Simpson

  • Written by Jeff Vorva


Photo by Jeff Vorva

Stagg’s new coach Marty Strus talks to the Chargers during the Stagg Shootout in mid-June.

Stagg got its man.

All 6-foot-10 of him.

Former Chargers standout Marty Strus has taken over the boys basketball head coaching job after an affirmative vote from Consolidated High School District 230 on Thursday night.

Strus entered Stagg as an average-size freshman in 2004 and in the next couple of years had a growth spurt that seemingly wouldn’t quit and attended Lewis University, where he destroyed the school record for blocked shots with 181 – 41 better than Austin Real.

He coached hoops on the lower levels at Lyons Township before returning to his alma mater.

Strus has been able to watch his team throughout June in summer league play.

“It’s a special opportunity,” Strus said. “It’s a new job for me coaching at the varsity level but it will be nice to do it at a place that quickly reminded me of how special of a place Stagg is. I know there will be a lot of challenges with the job but I also know there will be a lot of people there who are more than willing to help. It will be a good spot to start.’’

Strus takes over for John Daniels, who won 310 games in 14 seasons but left to help take care of his ailing father, Robert, who lives in South Bend, Ind.

 Simpson is new AD at Marist

Eric Simpson was named new athletic director, replacing Steve Smithers, who left after one year because of family issues in the Quad Cities area, where he worked before coming to Marist.

Simpson comes to Marist from Sacred Heart Schools in Chicago where he served as the athletic director. Prior to that he worked as assistant athletic director at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago and spent four years as athletic director at Marquette High School in Michigan City, Ind. 

Simpson was the head women’s basketball coach at Loyola University for four years and the assistant coach at University of Illinois at Chicago for three seasons.  He attended Northwestern University for four years on a basketball scholarship.

“Eric delivers the whole package for Marist: administrative experience, coaching experience, and first-hand knowledge of Catholic education,” Marist Principal Larry Tucker said. “We feel confident he can lead our successful program to the next level.”

Simpson said he was attracted to Marist's Catholic values and tradition of academic and athletic excellence. 

“I look forward to working with a terrific coaching staff to support student development through competition in athletics,” Simpson said. “I also understand the unique role athletics can play in generating excitement, enhancing school spirit, and connecting alumni to Marist. As athletic director, I will work to integrate the athletic programs into Marist’s core values and important mission.”  

Simpson will oversee 26 athletic programs that serve Marist’s 1,700 students, and a campus that includes a turf stadium lined for football, soccer, and lacrosse, grass soccer field, varsity and lower level fields for softball and baseball, tennis courts, three gymnasiums, and a 4,000 square foot fitness center.

In recent years, Marist has won Illinois High School Association Class 4A state titles in softball in 2012 and 2015. The team finished fourth in state in 2017.

The football team finished second in state in 2009 and 2015. The wrestling team finished second in the state in 2014. The cheerleading squad finished second in state in 2013.


Jeff Vorva's Extra Point: Solider Field was cool, but...

  • Written by Jeff Vorva





Photo By Jeff Vorva

The chance for local teams such as Brother Rice to play on a big-time NFL field last year was a great opportunity but columnist Jeff Vorva said the neighborhood game should be played in the neighborhood.



The schedules are out!

The Illinois High School Association released the hounds – and the 2017 high school football schedules --last week and, as usual, I couldn’t wait to nose around and see what’s what when it comes to the first couple of weeks of non-conference action.

The main event in this area will be Brother Rice at Marist on Aug. 25. The first lie of the new season is that the game is listed at 7:30 p.m. Bank on it that the game is going to start later than that. That’s one of the few predictions about this season I feel confident about.

Anyway, last season these two teams battled it out at Soldier Field and it was a unique experience. High school players had a chance to play on a field that legends have played on. Playing in an NFL stadium is very cool and something those players will never forget long after they have forgotten about Jay Cutler.

But it just didn’t feel right for the Marist-Brother Rice rivalry to be played there.

The thousands of fans that showed up were swallowed by the huge stadium. Brother Rice/Marist should be played at either Brother Rice or Marist, where the crowds own the stadium and the joint is jumpin’.

I’m all for our teams playing at Soldier Field. If Marist played Mt. Carmel there again that would be outstanding. If Brother Rice played a Chicago Public League power such as Phillips or Simeon, that would be great.

But this neighborhood rivalry needs to stay in the neighborhood.



Meanwhile, Mt. Carmel is playing Taft and St. Rita is playing St. Patrick at Soldier Field on the opening weekend.

Another Friday night opener worth catching is Lyons at Sandburg. At this stage, I am not sure how Sandburg is going to be but Lyons has a Division I-type quarterback in Ben Bryant for the Eagles defense to worry about.

Bryant has had an interesting offseason. He gave a verbal commitment to Wisconsin in December but in the spring, the University of Georgia made an offer and soon after that, Wisconsin backed off.

“I called (offensive quality control coach Jon Budmayr) to give him a heads up that I was given the offer and left a message on his voicemail,” Bryant said in a written statement. “I made it clear that I was still 100 percent committed to the Badgers. The next morning, we spoke on the phone and I was informed that I was no longer a good fit for Wisconsin and I was encouraged to continue looking for a fit.

“The implication that my loyalty to UW had been compromised was not true and is what saddens me the most.’’

Well, he wasn’t going to stay sad for long. In the spring, Ole Miss, West Virginia, Western Michigan, Temple, Bowling Green and other schools have shown interest.

Richards is always good for scheduling some top competition during its non-conference season and this year the Bulldogs will open the season on the road all the way up to Mundelein to face Carmel.

There will be other games and many, many storylines to be told between now and the first week of IHSA football but for now, let’s all enjoy our summer because this bad-boy season is going to be here before you know it.



Local athletes excelled in soccer, track and tennis

  • Written by Jeff Vorva

The four athletes who earned Regional/Reporter honors in boys and girls track, girls soccer and boys tennis were just the tip of the iceberg.

Several other local athletes also had stellar years and were recognized by their conferences. For those sports without all-conference recognition, there were plenty of athletes who qualified for the Illinois High School Association state finals in their respective sports.

Here is a list of some of the best:

Girls soccer

The South Suburban Red recognized Shepard’s Amar Mason, Kaci Jasik, Vivian Garza and Grace Elliot, Evergreen Park’s Ciara Black and Mara Bracken, Richards’ Isabella Nelson and Jade Ingram and Oak Lawns Jessica Hassett and Cayley Patete.

The SouthWest Suburban players selected were Sandburg’s Kylie Hase, Aislinn Mulvey, Paige Pappanastos, Sydney Rudny, Bella Strolia and Christine Szymanski plus Stagg’s Grace Javaras, Erini Kosmas, Veronica Stafira and Emily Stefan.

The East Suburban Catholic Conference was represented by Marist sophomore Annie Callahan and junior Michelle Lenz.

In the Girls Catholic Athletic Conference, Mother McAuley’s Grace Hynes, Isabella Garrity and Emily Leiser plus Queen of Peace’s Zaida Chacon earned spots on the squad.

Chicago Christian’s Karlee Koyvenhoven, Abby Tiemersma, Cassidy Vande Kamp, Tori DeJager and Cassy Sluis were named to the Metro Suburban squad.

Boys track

Class 3A state qualifiers were Sandburg’s Peter Demogerontas, Alex Szymanski, Nico Calderon, Martin Skucas, Dylan Jacobs and Ayo Abiona, Brother Rice Jimmy Baker, Rob Groyon, Michael Butler-Kindle, Ty McCoy, Josh Boulanger, Ronan Dolan and Justin Palmer, Oak Lawn’s Patrick Michaels, Shepard’s Shepard Brian Hauser, Caleb Washington and Neiko Carterand Stagg’s Sam Snell and Anthony Koncius.

Class 2A state qualifiers were St. Laurence Lonnie Chambers, Tyree Colbert, Toriano Clinton and Alex Saunders plus Evergreen Park’s Colin O’Dwyer, Eric Williams, David Torres, Tajuan Ingram, Damon Turner and Kobe Green.

Class 1A qualifiers were Chicago Christian’s Ben Friesen, Brayden Roberts, Casey Starostka and Connor Pearson.


Girls track

In Class 2A, Evergreen Park sent and army of athletes to the state meet -- Lily Sader, Kayley Burke, Tiera Robinson-Jones, Grace Huneck, Lilly Gozum, Taylor Jones, Tyra Pickett, Alexus Clark, Meleah Tines, Briana Parker, Lizzie O’Dwyer, Tia Walker, Kayla Carpenter.

In Class 1A, Chicago Christian qualified Jill VanDyk, Rylei Jackson, April van Ryn, Allie Boss, Rebecca Falb, Carissa Simon, Sara Cahill, Emily Woods and Brooklyn Seiber.

In Class 3A, Mother McAuley qualified Ashley Bryja, Kelly Gallagher, Ciara Nelligan and Colleen Ford,

Stagg sent Allyson Mussallem, Shepard qualified Hayley Goebel and Kellie Callahan while Sandburg sent Chibueze Obia, Hannah Sullivan, Tina Siebenaler and Julia Gary

 Boys tennis

State qualifiers were Stagg’s Michal Wolan, Kevin Wacnik, Brian Jaski and Momas Dargis, Shepard’s Alex Kokoszka and Paul Milkus, Brother Rice’s Brenden Leibforth and Ryan Cunnea and Marist’s Jeremiah Joyce.