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Fire20: In Conversation With Dan Kelly

The iconic voice of the Fire shares some of his favorite memories covering the club

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Welcome to Fire20, our weekly series celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Chicago Fire Soccer Club by making deep dives into the team’s history. This week the Fire’s play-by-play announcer joins us to talk about his time calling games for the club and some of his favorite memories.

Surely you’ve seen, or at least heard, Dan Kelly. The University of Dayton graduate has been a fixture in regional sports broadcasting for 20 years, getting his start on radio commentary for the St. Louis Blues. Over the past two decades he’s put in shifts throughout the Midwest and the Rocky Mountains, lending his voice to college football, college basketball, and lots of stints for NHL teams. In 2010 he started calling matches for the Fire, and his partnership with Kevin Egan lent a distinctive voice to Chicago soccer.

Mr. Kelly was kind enough to sit down with me for a wide-ranging conversation on his career and his most cherished moments in the booth at Toyota Park.

What was it like watching Sean Johnson from his rookie season in 2010, one where he flourished, through last year in his final season with the Fire?

From a TV perspective, Sean was not a great quote. But he's a great guy. He wouldn't really tell you much in interviews, he tried to keep it safe and straight.

I remember meeting him during preseason training, I think at the University of Illinois-Chicago, they were out there one day. Jon Busch was still with the team, he had not been traded yet. My biggest memory from that season, is you know Andrew Dykstra of course assumed the starting role, but Sean, I think in August, got his first start against Los Angeles on the road. Minutes in he stopped Edson Buttle point blank, and it was a wonderful debut. That was my biggest memory from Sean.

What was Frank Klopas like as a head coach? What's it like to work with him now?

Frank was a big pain in the ass at times when he was a coach, like a lot of coaches. He was passionate and sometimes he didn't fully understand what the media's job is.

It's cool now to see him working along side with it. I give him trouble all the time; I'll be like, "see? I'm just trying to tell the story man. We're not trying to leak out secrets of your starting eleven." But it's cool also to see how he's embraced being a broadcaster.

You see why Frank Klopas is successful at things in life. Because he tackles it full on. Sometimes you'll see guys, players or ex coaches, they'll get in the broadcast booth and they think that they can just coach. Well Frank didn't do it. You've got to work, and he puts the work into it, and its fun to see. He's got his notes. He's diagramming stuff like he's getting ready to go to war. And that's been very cool to witness.

It's fun getting to know him now. He's my partner, he's not the cranky coach anymore.

Was the club buzzing during that that 2012 playoff season?

You know it's not like I remember it that way because I guess, one, you expected they would have kept doing it. You have to remember the big thing about that year was, I think part of the reason the Fire petered out against Houston in that first game, which ironically the only goal the Fire got Alex scored, and now Alex scores goals for Houston. But they backed into the playoffs that year. You see it in sports, you see it in MLS, you want to play your best soccer at the right time, and they weren't.

The other thing that stood out too, it was fun to watch Arne Friedrich play. He just brought a dimension that you don't see. I mean Austin Berry won a rookie of the year playing next to him because of it. That was the big thing stuck out from that year too I think.

What was it like to call the 5-2 loss to finish the 2013 season that left MVP Mike Magee and the Fire out of the playoffs?

That part was a gut punch. But that might have been the most enjoyable year I've covered the Fire despite not making the players. Just in terms of, and even in sports, what Mike Magee did that year was so fun to watch. Whether the ball was going to go in off his butt, or his elbow, or sometimes score a beautiful goal too, you just knew he was going to score.

That was a disappointing way to finish. I remember my broadcast partner and I did a college game the night before so we flew in morning of game. Which is always a little risky. But we were just so pumped and on no sleep, and then they get the early goal. I think Dilly Duka, I don't remember if he banged in Magee's rebound, but it was like, "here we go. Here's the script. It's started." But then Henry and New York got rolling. That would have been cool if they could have pulled off and snuck in.

What was your favorite Mike Magee play to call?

He scored a nice goal, upper-90, against Philadelphia on the road, I want to say late in the season. And he went over to the crowd—you know, the city of brotherly love—they're booing and he put his hands up to his hears and went up to the supporters. That's one that sticks out to me for some reason.

Mike's got a great personality. And like a lot of soccer players, you sometimes see that on the field too.

What was it like seeing that last few years of Logan Pause's career?

Logan is a special person. He's the type of guy who's always just great to talk to. He's honest. He's your pulse of the locker room, and one of your quiet leaders making sure that things are okay. He's one of those guys that's just a perfect human being. He treats people the right way.

He was playing at times when it was tough. He was playing, and he was on the down side of his career, and those teams were losing some games at. He's probably one of the reasons things didn't unravel more.

He scored a goal in Toronto, in 70 mile per hour winds, from distance. That's the one memory of him I have on the field.

What's it like getting to cover a World Cup winner in Bastian Schweinsteiger?

It's very cool. At the end of the day we're in the entertainment business, and we want people watching. That's what Bastian Schweinsteiger does. It's even more encouraging now, because often times when you sign these guys who are making $4.5 million and some guy on the team is making $50,000, like when Beckham was here, it's tough to acclimate to the team. So you want to make sure you have the right personality walking in and not some diva. First day, he knew everybody's name, where they were from and he knew their position. And that right there speaks volumes.

I don't think there's going to be any question about whether he's going to be a good teammate and a good influence on this club. That excites me even more than the class that he brings on the field, because we knew that was evident.

Who is your favorite player to have called a game for?

David Accam and Dominic Oduro. Guys that can just flat-out fly and burn people. When Oduro was here, there wasn't a lot to cheer about offensively at times. He was the first guy to hit the double digits in goals since Damani Ralph.

I'm fortunate, I cover a lot of sports. David Accam is one of the most exciting athletes I've ever covered. He's got a good personality too. He's got a Hollywood smile. But how he can embarrass defenders, I would be so scared to play against him. He's great to watch, and some of the stuff he pulls off. David, you can hear it in my voice. I get excited when he gets the ball because you don't know what the heck he's going to do.

What is you favorite game that you have ever called for the Fire?

Harry Shipp's hat trick game in New York. Not just the Harry Shipp hat trick, that was a 5-4 game. Sean Johnson made a big save late. That was an amazing night. There's some of those nights in sportscasting when you cover you a game as play-by-play where it's very difficult to go to sleep. And that was one of those nights. But in a good way, difficult to go to sleep.