Chicago missed out on Jermaine Jones in the summer and vowed to bring in some firepower this offseason.
And now they have their first Designated Player slot filled with a man who can add goals to the Fire’s repertoire.
Kennedy Igboananike, 25, is coming to Major League Soccer from Allsvenskan powers AIK. The Nigerian-born Swedish player had an offseason last year, scoring just 6 goals in 31 appearances, but has numbers on his resume. He scored a goal every other game the previous year.
“Kennedy is a dynamic goal scorer with a track record of producing,” Fire head coach Frank Yallop said in a club statement. “He’s young and exciting, a player with incredible pace, and we look forward to adding him to our roster to bolster our attack.”
A product of Dynamos Football Academy in Nigeria, Igboananike made his professional debut with Djurgårdens of the Swedish Allsvenskan on June 19, 2007. The next year proved to be Igboananike’s breakout season, when he transferred to lower-division club Vasalunds and scored a league-high 18 goals, garnering the Division 1 golden boot in 2008.
It’s a risk, to be sure. Put plainly: AIK teammate Celso Borges of the Costa Rican national team scored four times in 18 games last season. How big of a signing would he be considered if he came to MLS?
Only four teams scored fewer goals than the Fire last season, and they certainly need an injection in offense. But will Igboananike be an answer, or even part of the answer?
Story of the half: Well, nobody expected anything different. With the game goalless at the break, you can collect your prize money.
Costa Rica had a few opportunities for break-away chances, but came up empty as Greece made mistakes in the midfield but not at the back, and they get through the first 45 without conceding just as they’d planned for.
They failed to entertain the crowd or the viewers, and received a shower of boos from the Recife crew for their efforts (or lack thereof) but the Greeks won’t trade less boos for more goals.
The Costa Ricans, heavily favored in this match having shown an attacking flair, were pegged down for much of it, but definitely had some opportunities to build on a counter and weren’t able to do so.
The best chance fell to Greece late in the half, but a good save from the Costa Rican goalkeeper kept them out in an otherwise listless half.
6′ – a poor back-pass by Andreas Samaris went right to Joel Campbell and started a 3-on-3 break for Costa Rica, but the Greek defense got back in time to cover and Giorgis Karagounis completed a solid tackle on his Fulham teammate Bryan Ruiz to end the threat.
20′ – The crowd grew restless, and fed up with the failure of Greece to advance possession, began booing.
26′ – Another great counter opportunity for Costa Rica, this time 4-on-3, results in failure again. Celso Borges tried to spring a forward with a through ball but it’s cut out by Lazaros Christodoulopoulos.
37′ – Best chance of the game oddly enough falls to Greece. A beautiful cross from Greece’s Jose Cholevas found the charging feet of Dimitris Salpigidis, but it’s bested by a fabulous reflex save by Keylor Navas.
Giorgis Karagounis – The Greek engine in the middle was predictably all over the pitch, throwing his body into vital challenges and working in possession as well. Karagounis completed 18 of his 19 passes, and was successful in all three of his challenges, including the important one mentioned above on Ruiz.
Oscar Duarte – Completing 32 of 36 passes in the first half, Duarte was Costa Rica’s heaviest passer in the first half as they looked to press up the right flank. However, most of his passes were square across the pitch into the middle or backwards as they were pinched in. Greece did a good job holding the Costa Ricans back.
Numbers to know:
6 – Number of times Greece forwards were called offsides. Costa Rica did not have the flag go up against them.
61% – Percentage of passes completed by Costa Rica in the attacking half.
3 – Costa Rican shots on goal, none of which were on target.
Questions for the second half:
1. Can Costa Rica clean up the sloppiness and unlock Greece? The Greeks never really even came close to slipping in defense, and thus far the Costa Ricans look flabbergasted in their attempts forward. Their pressure is good and covering of passing lanes even better. Costa Rica, however, were sloppy, and will need to clean it up if they hope to have any solid chances on goal.
2. Will Greece pick out the right spot? Despite their defensive nature, the Greeks had the better opportunities at the front, and if not for a good save and a few brain farts by Giorgos Samaras straying offside, they may have broken through. They are good at picking their spots and not trying to pick out a shot that isn’t there, so if Costa Rica continue to struggle on net, the Greeks may eventually be the ones to get on the scorebook first, which would be devastating for Costa Rica.
However, many of those players are already thought of as world-class or otherwise well-known throughout the sport of soccer.
There are plenty of players throughout the group stage that have taken advantage of the global stage to send their stock skyrocketing, many of whom were already playing well for clubs but didn’t have the exposure they deserved.
1. Daley Blind, Netherlands
Ajax winger and son of Dutch great Danny Blind, 24-year-old Daley has been a force in the Netherlands attack. In the demolition of Spain, he burst onto the scene, assisting goals twice with brilliant crosses into the box and completed 36/41 passes (88%).
As many thought he’d played the game of his life, he followed that up with a 42-of-44 passing performance, picking up another assist and two chances created,
He’s a solid defender as well, completing 16 of his 19 attempted tackles in this tournament. He can play at either left-back or in the midfield, Blind has been the Dutch’s best option on their deadly counter-attack, and is sure to get interest from clubs in bigger leagues.
2. Divock Origi, Belgium
With Romelu Lukaku struggling to prove his worth at the head of Belgium’s attack, a young kid has filled the void.
19-year-old Divock Origi – only in the squad because of the injury to Christian Benteke – bagged the winner against Russia as the Belgians looked otherwise listless in front of goal.
All three matches, Marc Wilmots has brought Origi in soon after halftime (15 minutes at most), twice for Lukaku, and all three he’s had an impact. He’s won take-ons in the box, completed plenty of attacking-third passes, and oh yea, a winning goal.
The USMNT central defender has been one of the best and most unheralded at the 2014 World Cup. His man-marking has been near-perfect, all more important as those around him such as Geoff Cameron fail to impress in that department.
Besler has also been a clearance machine, including a 12-for-12 performance against Portugal when nobody on the US had more than five. He threw his body on the line in that match as well, making a last-gasp interception that nearly knocked him out with yet another hamstring injury, but he fought on instead.
Word now has it that the Sporting KC defender’s performances against some quality World Cup teams have put him on the map for a job in Europe.
The old guard of Ivory Coast is headed home after they couldn’t put themselves past Greece in its final group stage match. But just because a team is eliminated doesn’t mean everyone played poorly.
21-year-old Toulouse wing-back Serge Aurier stood out for Côte d’Ivoire, producing a beautiful combination of solid defense, creative passing, and pinpoint crossing. He was especially bright in their opening 2-1 win over Japan, bombing down the right all match, assisting both Ivory Coast goals as well as intercepting a game-high six Japanese pass attempts.
If there’s any knock on his play in Brazil, it’s that he could do with some decaf, occasionally letting adrenaline get the best of him after a bright attack and blasting a cross well over the head of its intended target. But it’s safe to say Aurier has put himself on the map, and rumor has it Arsene Wenger was impressed by the young defender.
When captain Diego Lugano went down, some lamented his loss, but 19-year-old Jose Maria Gimenez has made people forget the injury and remember the kid’s name. He’s the latest to excel in a three-at-the-back system, which has burst onto the scene in Brazil.
His passing numbers are less than impressive, which is a red flag for many central defenders, but his defensive tallies have been superb. He was outstanding in the clean sheet against Italy, and he will be absolutely necessary if Uruguay is to advance now without the presence of Luis Suarez in its attack.
6. Enner Valencia, Ecuador
Few outside the Americas knew who Enner Valencia was or what he could bring to the table. After scoring bags of goals for Pachuca in Liga MX, Valencia has translated his form straight to Brazil and while his country is going home without a knockout stage berth, Valencia will be sure to have a busy summer.
Three World Cup goals in three games is a great number for a relative unknown, and while links to Arsenal might be quite a stretch, there’s no doubt the bright and energetic 25-year-old will get looks going forward.
7. Ahmed Musa, Nigeria
Nigeria surprised many as they progressed into the knockout stage over favorites Bosnia & Herzegovina and a bright Iran side. At the heart of their advancement was 21-year-old winger Ahmed Musa.
After looking listless against the United States in their final warmup before the World Cup, Musa has turned on the jets, outplaying Victor Moses so much that coach Stephen Keshi benched the Liverpool winger for their group stage finale against Argentina – Musa responded by scoring twice and nearly securing a shock result against the South American favorites.
In an attack that relies on multiple players taking turns finding openings in the attacking third, Musa has been Nigeria’s most consistent performer up front and will likely find himself in more dangerous openings come the knockout round. He may be 21, but he’s got 40 caps already, a staggering amount of experience for someone so young.
8. Memphis Depay, Netherlands
We first got a glimpse of Depay as a halftime substitute in the Netherlands’ second match against Australia. Defender Bruno Martins Indi went down under a challenge from Tim Cahill, and on came the 20-year-old PSV midfielder. All he did was assist a goal and score another – the winner.
Depay was dangerous both centrally and out wide, and when he also got 20 minutes at the end of the Dutch victory over Chile, he found time to complete a trio of take-ons that led to a pair of chances on net, and he scored again.
For having only logged 65 minutes across two matches so far, he is a valuable asset off the bench for the Dutch and will be a key part of their team going forward. He may even find himself on the right end of a phone call or two from a coach in a top-four league.
9. Celso Borges, Costa Rica
“Why would anyone in the world of football consider playing the best teams on the planet to be a bad thing?” Those were the words of Borges after Costa Rica shocked the world and not just escaped but won arguably the most difficult group in the World Cup.
The 26-year-old midfielder has been a steady yet important presence in the midfield of Los Ticos. In their statement 1-0 win over Italy, it’s arguable that Borges out-Pirlo’d Andrea Pirlo himself. A maestro in the midfield, Borges was 45-of-50 passing, leading Costa Rica’s build from the back.
It was the same story five days earlier against Uruguay, as Borges completed 41-of-49 passes in the midfield and created a pair of chances for Costa Rica. He’s also a force in the air, as any good holding midfielder is.
Joel Campbell might get much of the praise for Costa Rica as they look to take the 2014 World Cup by storm, but Borges is the man pulling the strings, and many more are sure to take note.
10. Mathew Leckie, Australia
Australia impressed in their very difficult Group B draw. Although they failed to secure a single point, they put the pressure on all three of their opponents, and the 23-year-old winger Mathew Leckie was at the heart of that pressure.
Having risen meteorically onto the Australian international scene thanks to the appointment of new coach Ange Postecoglou, Leckie was a hard-worker all over the pitch not afraid to take opponents on when he had the ball.
He failed with just three of 26 passes and created a pair of chances as the Socceroos nearly shocked the Netherlands, and was equally as effective a few days earlier against Chile. He finished in the top two in take-ons in both those matches.
Currently playing in the 2. Bundesliga (Germany’s second division), Leckie will surely get some hard looks from teams above thanks to his performance in the World Cup.
For Uruguay, this is where I’d normally say something about Luis Suárez, how he’s one of the four or five players on the planet that can win a game on his own, and tactics could go out the window if he’s on his game. But our friend Luis has a little impulse control problem. You may have heard about it.
As a result, Uruguay needs a new leading man. Perhaps it will be Paris Saint-Germain’s Edinson Cavani. Maybe Diego Forlán, the best player at the last World Cup, will give Father Time the slip for two weeks. Regardless, somebody needs to step up.
Supporting stars: For Uruguay, it’s Diego Godín. The veteran defender has carried over his play from a Spanish title-winning season at Atlético Madrid, helping La Celeste limit England and Italy to one goal over the last 180 minutes. He also shouldered home the game-winner in his team’s 1-0 victory over the Azzurri.
With the Cafeteros, there’s a small army of talented attackers who’ll vie to benefit from Rodríguez’s playmaking. Teofilo Gutíerrez started the team’s first two games at striker, but Jackson Martínez, Adrián Ramos, Victor Ibarbo, and Juan Cuadrado could all play significant roles. Though Colombia has a headlining star, the cast is an ensemble.
Strengths: Uruguay is able to slow a game down, stay strong at the back, and allow games to be defined by its talented attack, even though it’s often unclear how exactly they’re making the connections. For Colombia, as you can tell by the cast of attackers, the team will score goals. José Péckerman’s side averaged three goals per game in the opening round.
Weaknesses: If you pack that Uruguayan midfield back, they have to rely on the likes of Forlán and/or Nicolas Lodeiro to get the team out of its own half. If that doesn’t work on Saturday, Suárez’s absence will loom especially large. For Colombia, there’ve been no weaknesses through three games, but quality in defense and the ability to control play in midfield were questions coming into the tournament.
Early expectations: Particularly with Suárez out, the Colombians will be favored. They finished above La Celeste in qualifying. They’re stronger going into the knockout round.
Three narratives you will hear in the buildup:
Uruguay is nothing without Suárez. Just don’t worry about that Cavani guy over there.
This is Colombia’s best team since the ill-fated side the went to USA 1994.
South America’s depth has been on display at this World Cup … though CONMEBOL also put five teams into 2010’s knockout round.
To the winner: It will be an all-South America quarterfinal. Brazil and Chile face-off in the adjacent pod.
Costa Rica vs. Greece Group D winner vs. Group C runner-up
When: Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern
Leading men: Thanks to strong play in front of him, Keylor Navas hasn’t been too stressed in Costa Rica’s goal, but as we saw against England, that may be changing. If it does, the Levante goalkeeper will be up to the challenge. Navas was one of the top goalkeepers in Spain last season.
Greece is a side devoid of stars, but because of his ever-present nature, attacker Georgios Samaras has become the face of the team. Though he only has nine goals in 77 international appearances, he’ll be the danger man on his team’s counterattacks. With a goal and an assist on Tuesday, he’s had a part in both of his team’s World Cup goals.
Supporting stars: At 35 years old, Kostas Katsouranis is one of two players in the team (along with Giorgos Karagounis) who were part of Greece’s 2004 European Championship squad. While he’s in the twilight of his career, he’s still a vital part of Fernando Santos’s midfield. Set to return from a one-game, red card suspension, Katsouranis will slot back into the heart of his team’s formation.
For Costa Rica, Joel Campbell will be familiar with his Greek counterparts, having spent last season on loan from Arsenal with Olympiacos. Joining him in attack, Bryan Ruiz’s versatility should help los Ticos break down a notoriously stalwart defense.
Strengths: Greece is defense and little else. Even the damage they do going forward almost always starts in the back. The team’s built its reputation on its ability to hold out.
Likewise, Costa Rica’s strength is in defense, with the Ticos’ five-man back line leaving the team amongst among the worst in the tournament in terms of shots per game (9.3) and possession (42.5). Those numbers, heavily influenced by the quality of Costa Rica’s opposition, don’t reflect the team’s willingness to be more confrontational than their Round of 16 opponents. They’ll defend, but they won’t be as quick to recede into their shell.
Regardless, one of these teams will have to move out of its comfort zone.
Weaknesses: For Costa Rica, between a solid defense and capable scorers is a midfield that’s lackluster but this tournament’s standards. Celso Borges and Yeltsin Tejada have been as solid as their teammates thus far, but against that renown Greek defense, Borges may struggle to create chances for Campbell and Ruiz.
For Greece, there’s no reliable scorer in a team which, short on creativity, is reliant on set pieces and counter attacks for goals.
Early expectations: Nobody anticipated this matchup, so there are no expectations. These are two teams that were expected to finish last in their groups.
Three narratives you will hear in the buildup:
Greece’s spots in the knockout rounds at Euro 2012 and Brazil 2014 aren’t about soft groups. No, no, no. It’s about team ethic and sums that are bigger than their parts, and … well, really easy groups, too. (You won’t hear that last part.)
Costa Rica’s quality debunks the notion of a thin CONCACAF (just don’t look too hard at Honduras).
Defense, not the combination of defense and offense, wins championships.
To the winner: Either the Netherlands or Mexico. Does CONCACAF dare to dream a place in the semifinals?
England’s much-changed side looked hungry and took the game to the Costa Ricans early on. After plenty of probing early on, Sturridge came close to giving the Three Lions their first lead of the World Cup. The Liverpool man picked up the ball on the edge of the box, swiveled and then curled a delicious shot just wide of the post as Costa Rica’s goalkeeper, Navas, was beaten.
On the 17th minute Sturridge looped a speculative effort from distance towards goal as the game failed to spark into life.
Costa Rica finally got going midway through the first half and England had second-choice ‘keeper Ben Foster to thank as he tipped Borges’ free kick onto the crossbar superbly. A real moment of controversy arrived just before the half hour mark when Sturridge was bundled to the ground six-yards out by Oscar Duerte just as he was about to finish. No penalty.
England continued to push as Phil Jones headed a corner back across the goal but Sturridge headed over the bar from close range. Ross Barkley made a marauding run but shot well wide, as the half time whistle blew and the game remained after the first 45 minutes.
The second half failed to get going as England continued to miss glorious chances. Sturridge played a delicious one-two with Jack Wilshere but the Liverpool man put his shot just wide with the outside of his right foot as England’s killer-touch in the box alluded them. England’s captain Steven Gerrard came on for the final 15 minutes, as he replaced Wilshere, with many believing this could be Gerrard’s last appearance as an international.
England failed to grab a late winner as they depart Brazil without a win, while Costa Rica fly the CONCACAF flag into the knockout stages.
Costa Rica: Navas, Gonzalez, Borges (Barrantes, 76′), Duarte, Campbell (Urena, 64′), Ruiz, Brenes (Bolanos, 58′), Diaz, Gamboa, Tejeda, Miller