25 years ago today, history was made at Soldier Field. The Chicago Fire won their first-ever U.S. Open Cup, defeating the Columbus Crew in overtime to secure a historic double in their debut season. Frank Klopas wrote his name into Fire folklore that night, scoring a 99th-minute golden goal to bring home the trophy just minutes after coming on as a substitute.
In honor of the silver anniversary of the classic Open Cup triumph, let’s take a look back at the 14 players who saw the field for the Men in Red that day… and where they are now.
Goalkeeper: Zach Thornton
Perhaps the greatest goalkeeper in Fire history, Zach Thornton was 25 when the Fire did the double in 1998. After being a backup with MetroStars for two seasons, the Maryland native arrived in Chicago through the expansion draft and beat out Mexican legend Jorge Campos for the starting job in goal. Thornton kept eight clean sheets in MLS that year, and played a pivotal role in the Fire’s success that year.
Thornton would remain with the Fire (mostly) through the end of 2006, before he bounced around a few clubs prior to retirement. He had spells with the Colorado Rapids, New York Red Bulls, and Chivas USA before hanging up the gloves in 2011. After retirement, he took on a few coaching positions in college soccer, before being hired as D.C. United’s goalkeeping coach in 2015 and spending a year with the Houston Dynamo in 2022.
Ahead of the most recent MLS season, Thornton was picked up by the Fire as goalkeeping coach. He has worked with Chris Brady as he continues his development with the Fire, seeking to emulate Thornton’s legacy between the sticks.
Right Back: Luboš Kubík
Starting on the right side of the Fire’s back line was Luboš Kubík, another one of the greatest players ever to represent the club. The ex-Czechoslovakia international arrived at the Fire for the inaugural season bringing with him a host of experience across Europe, and spent three excellent years in Chicago. Kubík was forced to come off just 14 minutes into the ‘98 Open Cup final through injury, meaning the Fire had to contain the attacking prowess of the Crew without their star defender.
Kubík would go on to play three subsequent seasons in MLS after 1998 before retiring because of injuries. His managerial career would only last a few years, spending time in Czechia, Poland, and England with FC Hradec Králové, Śląsk Wrocław, and Torquay United respectively. He was also an assistant for USMNT coach Bob Bradley at the 2010 World Cup, and briefly Sporting Director at Slavia Prague. He now appears to be out of the game entirely.
Most importantly, Kubík is a member of Chicago’s Ring of Fire, having been inducted in 2003. He is remembered very fondly as a legend of the club.
Center Back: C.J. Brown
The next name on the Fire’s star-studded teamsheet was C.J. Brown, another member of the Ring of Fire. Brown was signed by the Fire ahead of the 1998 season for his performances in the Open Cup one year prior with the San Francisco Seals, a minute team that inexplicably reached the semifinals. He was a starter right from the beginning, and played over 3,300 minutes for the Fire in all competitions in 1998, including the full Open Cup final.
Brown went on to have an incredible career with the Fire, and has been involved in every piece of major silverware the club has won in its history. Brown went on to win three more Open Cups with the Fire, and was the last remaining member of the ‘98 team by the time he retired in 2010. His coaching career saw him taking on assistant roles at five different MLS clubs before he was named head coach of Chicago House in 2021. He was named as Ezra Hendrickson’s assistant coach with the Fire for 2022.
After Hendrickson was let go midway through 2023, Brown remained on the staff working with Frank Klopas. For an August match against Orlando City in which Klopas was sidelined due to COVID, Brown took the reigns as acting head coach.
Center Back: Francis Okaroh
Nigerian-born defender Francis Okaroh started next to Brown in central defense in what was the culmination of an excellent season. Okaroh made 33 appearances in all competitions in 1998 and played a role in the final triumph.
Okaroh joined the Fire after two seasons with the New England Revolution in MLS’ infancy. The Fire picked him up in the Expansion Draft, and he immediately fit right in with the squad, though he was already 35 at that point. Okaroh played two full seasons with the Fire before spending his final year with the Miami Fusion in 2000 before retirement.
Since then, Okaroh has spent over 15 coaching in college soccer. He spent several years at Boston University, his alma mater, before becoming the women’s head coach at D3 Emmanuel University in 2021. In both of his seasons so far, his team has reached the quarterfinals of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference tournament.
Left Back: Chris Armas
The next member of the starting eleven was Armas, who is one of three people involved with the ‘98 Fire team to coach a Premier League match. Armas had a breakout season with the Fire in 1998, having been acquired from LA Galaxy via a trade at the start of the year. The Puerto Rican-American was named to MLS Best XI that season and would again gain that recognition in 1999, 2000, 2001, and 2003. He spent the rest of his career with the Fire, before retiring in 2007; he was also inducted into the Ring of Fire.
As a coach, Armas has had ups and downs. In his first professional head coaching gig, he led the New York Red Bulls to a Supporters’ Shield title, taking over when Jesse Marsch left to pursue opportunities in Europe. Armas would go on to coach Toronto FC in 2021, where he only lasted a few short months, and then was named an assistant to Ralf Ragnick at Mancehster United later that year.
Armas’ most recent position was with Leeds United, where he was briefly an assistant to Marsch. When Marsch was let go earlier this year, Armas was briefly the interim coach. He wasn’t there much longer, and directionless Leeds were promptly relegated.
Midfielder: Piotr Nowak
The first man ever inducted into the Ring of Fire was Piotr Nowak, who had a heroic performance in the Cup final. Most members of the ‘98 Fire considered him the greatest player they had played alongside, and it was on full display in the final, where he filled in as a sweeper following Kubík’s injury.
He represented the Fire 114 times before retiring in 2002 and beginning his management career. From 2004 to 2006, he led D.C. United at a time where Freddu Adu-mania gripped the nation, and he would later be a U.S. national team assistant for Bob Bradley. He had spells at the Philadelphia Union, Antigua & Barbuda, and Lechia Gdańsk, before his most recent position at Jagiellonia Białystok (the former club of Przemysław Frankowski) from 2021 to 2022.
Nowak is now back in the United States, coaching part-time at a school in Naples, Florida. He also works with Republic One Sports, a marketing firm.
Midfielder: Jesse Marsch
There are many players from Bob Bradley’s Fire teams that went on to become coaches, and while many, including in this lineup, have been quite successful, none were moreso than Jesse Marsch. Marsch joined the Fire in 1998 after he was a seldom-used bench player for D.C. United, but was immediately a starter for Bradley’s team in the historic double-winning season. He played the full match in the Open Cup final.
Following retirement, Marsch was an assistant for Bradley at the 2010 World Cup (noticing a trend?) and helped the U.S. reach the knockout rounds from that role. His first head coaching role was with the Montréal Impact from 2011 to 2012 (preceding Frank Klopas), before he finally found success with the New York Red Bulls from 2015 to 2018. Marsch made the jump to Europe through RB Leipzig as an assistant, before he won the Ö Bundesliga as boss of Red Bull Salzburg. He became just the second U.S.-born coach to manage in the Premier League in 2022 (after Bradley) when he led Leeds United for almost a year, though the team fell off a cliff after he was fired.
Marsch narrowly missed out on the USMNT head coaching job this Spring, despite being the believed-leading candidate the majority of the way through the process right up until the end. Since that disappointment, he’s taking a break from soccer, and it remains to be seen what’s next.
Midfielder: Ritchie Kotschau
Ritchie Kotschau is someone who, unlike the majority of the players in this team, has faded into relative obscurity since retirement. 1998 was his rookie season in MLS, as he was drafted second overall by the Fire in the SuperDraft and made 26 appearances in all competitions. In the Open Cup final, he started and played 90 minutes, but was substituted at the start of overtime.
Kotschau was traded to the Tampa Bay Mutiny part of the way through the 1999 season, and he would go on to play for a few other clubs. In 2001, Tampa Bay sent him to the Colorado Rapids as part of the trade package alongside Carlos Valderrama, and he would go on to spend four seasons there. He finished his career with stops in Columbus and Salt Lake before retiring in 2008. He was capped one time for the USMNT in 2005.
Now, Kotschau is a professional match evaluator for Major League Soccer, a position he has held for over a decade. He is also a sales counselor for Oakwood Homes in Denver, Colorado, the city he spent the longest time in as a professional.
Midfielder: Josh Wolff
One of the heroes of the Open Cup win was Fire legend Josh Wolff. 1998 was the rookie season for Wolff in MLS, who had been assigned to the Fire after leaving college. Wolff broke into the team halfway through the season and went on to contribute an impressive nine goals and four assists in just 23 appearances across all competitions. He started the Open Cup final after coming off the bench in MLS Cup a few days prior, and won the penalty that would lead to the Fire’s opening goal.
Wolff went on to play in Chicago until 2002, when he was one of the stars for the USMNT at the FIFA World Cup in Korea as they reached the quarterfinals. He was then traded to Kansas City Wizards in an ill-advised trade that would see the Fire draft Nate Jaqua; Wolff would go on to succeed in KC, making more than 150 appearances and scoring 44 goals, and retiring with 52 international caps to his name.
After retirement, he was an assistant first for D.C. United, then for Gregg Berhalter in Columbus and the USMNT. He earned his first head coaching role with Austin FC in 2021, and he is now one of the top up-and-coming coaches in American soccer.
Center Forward: Jerzy Podbrożny
A man who scored in both MLS Cup and the Open Cup final in 1998, Jerzy Podbrożny was key to the Fire’s triumphs in their inaugural season. His penalty in the Open Cup gave the Fire the lead shortly before the break.
Podbrożny spent the vast majority of his career playing in Poland, but he did make a two-year stop in Chicago from 1998 to 1999. With the Fire, he would score 12 goals and add 15 assists in 66 appearances across all competitions. He would go on to play six more years in Poland with Zagłębie Lubin, Pogoń Szczecin, Amica Wronki, Wisła Płock, Widzew Łódź, and Świt Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki before retirement in 2005.
Somewhat bizarrely, Podbrożny appears to still be coaching in the Polish seventh tier with Orzeł Campinos, a position he has held continuously for more than a decade. Despite his top-level experience and international résumé, he seems to just be happy vibing at that level.
Center Forward: Ante Razov
Possibly the greatest striker in the Fire’s history is Ante Razov, who started and played the full match in the Open Cup final. Razov was drafted by the LA Galaxy in 1996, but barely played, and only registered six appearances. Of course, this allowed Bradley to pick him up Razov and turn him into a star in MLS.
Razov would go on to make 187 appearances for the Fire, scoring 87 goals in the process, making him the club’s all-time leading scorer. He would leave after 2004, bouncing from Columbus to MetroStars to Chivas USA, where he retired in 2009. Razov learned under the great Sigi Schmid as an assistant with Seattle Sounders before joining Bradley’s coaching staff at LAFC in 2018. Even as Bradley has come and gone, Razov has remained an assistant at LAFC, but he is someone with head coaching ambitions in MLS. He was interviewed for the Fire’s head coaching job in 2021 when Ezra Hendrickson was hired, and it’s very possible he could also emerge as a candidate this time around too.
Midfielder: Josh Keller
Midfielder Josh Keller came on as an early substitute when Kubík got injured in the 14th minute of the Open Cup final, but would later be subbed back off before the end of regulation. Keller played just six games for the Fire before he was traded back to the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 1999.
Keller’s career didn’t last long; after a three year stay with the Mutiny, he retired age 26 in order to join Morgan Stanley. His career eventually led him back to soccer, and he has been working for USL since 2017 as Senior Vice President of Corporate Development & Partnerships.
Defender: Zak Ibsen
Zak Ibsen replaced Keller as a second half substitute, and played 22 minutes off the bench in the final. After starting his career overseas in Germany, he played for both the New England Revolution and Dallas Burn during MLS’ first season in 1996 before he joined the Fire in 1998. While it was his only season in Chicago, Ibsen made 34 appearances for the team.
Ibsen, who was capped 15 times by the USMNT in the early 1990s, would be traded to the LA Galaxy ahead of the 1999 season, and he retired with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2002. There is quite a bit more to that story which won’t be discussed here, but in 2006, he was back in soccer as a part of the U.S. team for the FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup. He played for the Beach Soccer Men’s National Team at both the 2006 and 2007 competitions.
Today, Ibsen appears to be coaching youth soccer at Woodside Soccer Club in California, just down the road from his hometown of Santa Clara.
Forward: Frank Klopas
Nobody embodies the Chicago Fire better than Frank Klopas, who scored the golden goal nine minutes into that overtime period 25 years ago today. A Chicago native, Klopas joined the Fire in 1998 at the twilight of his career and played his final two seasons as a professional in his hometown. He scored 8 goals in 49 appearances for the Men in Red and was inducted into the Ring of Fire.
Following retirement, Klopas continued to be involved with the Fire for the majority of the next quarter-century. He served as Technical Director from 2008 to 2011, then as Head Coach for two seasons. Klopas briefly coached the Montréal Impact from 2013 to 2015 and even led them to a CONCACAF Champions League final, but returned to Chicago and has served as an assistant coach for the Fire since 2020.
On two separate occasions, Klopas has filled in as interim head coach since he returned to the club in 2020. First, in 2021, following the firing of Raphaël Wicky, then most recently in 2023, where he led the majority of the most recent MLS season. While he’s done in that role and isn’t interested in returning as manager in 2024, it’s expected he’ll stick around as a part of the coaching staff next season.
Head Coach: Bob Bradley
The boss of that 1998 team was Bob Bradley, one of the greatest American coaches of all time. Bradley had been an assistant to Bruce Arena’s great D.C. United teams in 1996 and 1997, and he learned from the best, earning a shot as a head coach with the Fire in 1998. Bradley was immediately one of the top coaches in the league, and alongside fellow Ring of Fire member, General Manager Peter Wilt, build a championship caliber roster.
Bradley coached the Fire until 2002, and has since managed many different teams, including MetroStars, Chivas USA, LAFC, and Toronto FC. He led the USMNT at the 2010 World Cup and later coached Egypt from 2011 to 2013. Bradley was briefly the coach of Swansea, becoming the first American to manage in the Premier League. Throughout his coaching career, Bradley has brought on his former Fire players as assistant coaches, including many of the players who were a part of the 1998 double-winning team.
Now, he’s the coach of Stabæk in Norway. As of last week, he’s joined there by his son, USMNT legend Michael Bradley, who will begin his own coaching career as an assistant for his father. While his time in MLS is likely over, looking back on Bradley’s career shows that his legacy will truly go down as a pioneer amongst MLS coaches, particularly for what he achieved in Chicago.