Fire

Larentowicz thrilled to kick off season with Fire

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Larentowicz thrilled to kick off season with Fire

AVE MARIA, FL. It will just be an informal match against a college team, but for Jeff Larentowicz, the Fires first preseason meeting with Florida Gulf Coast University on Sunday marks a new beginning.

Larentowicz was the Fires biggest offseason acquisition. He came from the Colorado Rapids for the Fires first-round pick (11th overall) in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft.

"To leave Colorado was tough, but to end up here... I couldnt have asked for more," Larentowicz said after a snappy morning workout on Saturday on the campus of Ave Maria University. "Ive been around the league a bit, but this group is fun to be around and the coaches keep things intense, but still short and to the point. Thats what everyone wants at this time of year."

Larentowicz will play a major role in a midfield that is being tweaked by coach Frank Klopas. Theres plenty of competition for jobs in that part of the lineup, but theres one less candidate after Alvaro Fernandezs move to Qatori club Al Rayyan was finally confirmed.

Fernandez, a late-season acquisition from Seattle in 2012, was the starter on the left side. Larentowicz will probably wind up in the middle.

"Jeffs a leader on and off the field, and one of the most accurate passers in the league," said Klopas. "He brings a lot of physical presence to the midfield and hes been a very consistent player for five-six years."

Larentowicz is one of the rare fourth-round draft picks to earn long-term playing time in MLS. The New England Revolution claimed him with the 45th overall pick in 2005, and he has some interesting ties to the Fire.

One of his teammates and best friends in high school at Chestnut Hill Academy in Philadelphia was Dan Gargan, the defender who played for the Fire the last two seasons but was lost to San Jose in the last re-entry draft.

Larentowicz has also been a long-time teammate of Wells Thompson, another Fire midfield candidate. Thompson was acquired late last season. He played with Larentowicz for three seasons in New England and three in Colorado. In fact, Larentowicz and Thompson moved from the Revs to the Rapids together, in a trade that sent defender Cory Gibbs to New England.

Gibbs was a Fire mainstay until suffering a knee injury last year. He retired after the campaign ended.

So now, Larentowicz, Maicon Santos and Joel Lindpere are being counted on to improve the Fire. All came from other MLS teams rather than being the more traditional additions from foreign clubs.

"That is highly unusual," said Larentowicz. "When teams sign players in the offseason, its easier to transfer players in than transfer from within the league. The logistics are easier that way, but its important to get people in who know the league."

The Fire has its second and last preseason match of the first phase of preseason training on Wednesday against the Columbus Crew in Bradenton, FL.

The fight for which national team Bastian Schweinsteiger's kid will play for is on

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USA TODAY

The fight for which national team Bastian Schweinsteiger's kid will play for is on

Whenever a famous couple in the world of soccer has a child, there are always jokes about what national teams the kid could play for.

The latest such addition to the gossip columns is the announcement from Bastian Schweinsteiger and Ana Ivanovic that they are expecting a child.

Ivanovic, a former tennis pro who won the 2008 French Open champion, announced the news on Twitter with a sponsor-heavy photo.

Schweinsteiger, who played with the Fire this past season, also took to Twitter to share a photo and the news.

Schweinsteiger's future with the Fire remains unclear, but him and Ivanovic seemed to be happy living in Chicago, making various appearances at sporting events in the city. If he returns and the child is born in Chicago, does that mean we could one day see a Schweinsteiger repping the U.S. national team in 20-something years? Maybe the men's team won't be a national embarrassment by then, but then again, if it's a girl she'd be able to pick between the only multiple-time World Cup winning nations (U.S. and Germany).

Perhaps the child would take after Ivanovic and hit volleys with a racket instead of a foot, or maybe he or she will not take after the professional athlete parents.

In all seriousness, congratulations to both Schweinsteiger and Ivanovic.

USL expansion team with proposed 20,000-seat stadium on North Side could be significant for soccer in Chicago

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USL expansion team with proposed 20,000-seat stadium on North Side could be significant for soccer in Chicago

Stadium talk is always circling around Major League Soccer and that goes double for the Chicago Fire, which has been criticized for playing in suburban Bridgeview since Toyota Park opened in 2006.

That's why the Chicago Tribune's story about a United Soccer League expansion team playing at a proposed 20,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof in Chicago is such a big deal. According to the report and confirmed by a USL spokesperson, real estate developer Sterling Bay has purchased the rights to a USL expansion team. The stated goal is to begin play in 2020.

The details of the stadium are not finalized so the features and capacity could still change.

The proposed location of the stadium is along the North Branch of the Chicago River between the Lincoln Park neighborhood and the Kennedy Expressway. The stadium was previously mentioned as part of Sterling Bay's bid to bring Amazon's second headquarters to Chicago. A spokesperson for Sterling Bay confirmed that the stadium being built is not contingent on Amazon coming to Chicago, it will happen regardless.

Further information from Sterling Bay said that "announcements on ownership and team structure will come at a later date." The team does not yet have a name, but fans will be included in the naming process.

A 20,000-seat stadium and a retractable roof will make for a fancy and impressive, but also expensive venue and a USL team as a primary tenant may prove difficult to justify the cost. The location itself would be an easier sell to draw in fans than Toyota Park out in Bridgeview. However, minor league soccer may not excite local residents in large number.

The USL had 30 teams in 2017 with eight more teams planned to join by 2019. This past season, only two USL teams averaged above 10,000 in attendance: FC Cincinnati and Sacramento Republic FC. Both of those are prime MLS expansion candidates and Cincinnati beat the Fire in the U.S. Open Cup in front of 32,287 fans in June.

Many USL clubs are either owned/operated by MLS teams or are affiliated with an MLS team. The Fire switched from Saint Louis FC to the Tulsa Roughnecks as its affiliated club in 2017, sending players to Tulsa to gain playing time as opposed to sitting on the bench with the Fire.

According to the Tribune's story, the stadium would also try to attract other events such as international soccer matches, college football, college basketball and concerts. Rugby and lacrosse were also named in documentation sent by Sterling Bay. Sterling Bay has also yet to present formal plans and still needs to gain zoning approval.

At the Fire's end of the season media availability on Nov. 7, general manager Nelson Rodriguez was asked about the proposed stadium and if he or MLS had been contacted about it.

“I can’t speak about MLS," Rodriguez said. "I don’t know if they have or have not. I have not. I haven’t spoken, been approached by anyone. I’m not sure I would be the person they approach or speak to, but I’m not aware of any conversations.”

The Fire moving to this stadium could be an ideal solution for both parties. An MLS team with an existing fan base would have an easier time drawing big crowds. Boosted by the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and a team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2012, the Fire drew crowds of 20,000 or more six times in 2017. The regular season average of 17,383 was the highest since moving to Toyota Park and highest since the club's inaugural, championship-winning season in 1998.

However, things aren't that simple. The Fire are locked into a 30-year lease with Bridgeview and Toyota Park, which the Fire have played in since 2006. Getting out of that would require a significant buyout or a breach of contract.