Chicago's unlikely candidate converts

In years past, an assembly of red shirts would jockey for position whenever a referee pointed to the white spot 12 yards from goal and awarded the Chicago Fire a penalty kick.

Ante Razov, Josh Wolff, Peter Nowak, Hristo Stoitchkov and Lubos Kubik would walk assertively to the ball and loiter around the restraining arc before judiciously deciding who would take the penalty.

This year there is only one Fire player that steps up in earnest when the referee points to the spot. With only 21 goals in more 200 career MLS games, Jesse Marsch is Chicago's unlikely first-choice penalty taker.

"In the past we had like six guys that wanted to take them. Now, we don't have hardly any guys that want to, so I step up," said Marsch.

Fire coach Dave Sarachan does not pre-select penalty takers before a match, but he hollered from the sidelines after Kevin Terry awarded a second penalty kick to the Fire during Chicago's 4-3 victory against D.C. United on Wednesday night.

Marsch had converted the Fire's first-half penalty kick for a 2-1 Fire lead, striking the ball "high and hard" into the top left-hand corner of the goal after a stutter-step approach to the kick.

As Marsch confidently grabbed the ball when Terry pointed to the spot again, in the 61st minute, Sarachan objected loudly from the Fire bench.

"Dave called for the lefty from the bullpen," said Marsch with a smile.

Sarachan was initially political about his decision to have Ivan Guerrero take the Fire's second penalty kick of the match. "I wanted [D.C. United goalkeeper Nick] Rimando to see a fresh foot, a fresh face."

The Fire boss then loosened up, smirked and admitted his bigger concern: "Jesse doesn't have a lot of variety, so I felt we needed a different look."

Marsch took Sarachan's decision in stride.

"As long as [Guerrero] makes it I'm OK," he said. "I'm never going to lead the league in scoring so it's not that big of a deal."

Marsch takes a deliberate, hesitant approach to the ball for his penalty kicks, looking up at the goalkeeper before striking the shot.

"I try to stutter step and freeze the goalie a little bit. Once you see he's not moving or is moving one way you just adjust. I have an idea of which way I'm going as I approach, but I'm ready to change it based on what I see," Marsch said.

Is the stutter step approach Marsch's patented move?

"Until it doesn't work it is," said the veteran midfielder.

Guerrero, who successfully converted the Fire's second penalty kick for a 4-2 lead, has a different approach.

"You aim for one side and if you see the goalkeeper happen to be guessing that side you just hit it really hard," said the Honduran international.

Now that Marsch's penalty kick secrets are out, Sarachan was coy whether the midfielder had any other penalty kick tricks up his sleeve.

"I can't reveal his secrets," said the Fire boss.

Ivaldo Basso is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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