Top 5 Chicago Fire Players of All Time

David Lanser@@GoonerDave87Contributor IAugust 8, 2014

Top 5 Chicago Fire Players of All Time

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    The Chicago Fire may not have as many titles as the LA Galaxy or the star power of the New York Red Bulls, but the proud midwestern franchise boasts some of the toughest players in Major League Soccer history.

    The Fire burst onto the scene in 1998 by winning the MLS Cup and U.S. Open Cup and enjoyed a great deal of early success, winning the 2003 MLS Supporters' Shield and three more U.S. Open Cups in 2000, 2003 and 2006.

    Those first years solidified Chicago's identity as a hard-nosed, technically sound squad not afraid to go toe-to-toe with any other team.

    And from that personality came a wealth of talented players. Listing the five best to ever suit up for the Fire is no easy task, but I will give it a shot. Please feel free to respond in the comments with your own best of the best.

    The Criteria

    The top five is an exclusive club. Any player who makes the cut had to not only demonstrate excellence on the field—statistically and otherwise—but also exemplify what it means to wear the badge.

    And in that spirit, the rankings only pertain to accomplishments in Chicago. Brian McBride, for instance, may have had a prolific career, but his glory days lie with the Columbus Crew and Fulham, so he didn't crack the upper echelon.

    These are my picks for the best Chicago Fire players of all time.

Honorable Mentions

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    Ante Razov (1998–2000, 2001–2004)

    The Fire's all-time leader in goals and single-season goal leader for the franchise, Razov was a critical component to the team's early success.

    DaMarcus Beasley (2000-2004)

    His pace constantly threatened the opposing side, and he could have been a Chicago legend if he did not leave for PSV Eindhoven halfway through 2004.

    C.J. Brown (1998-2010) 

    Brown has stacked the Chicago record books, mostly due to the fact that he is the team's longest-serving player. He epitomized the hard-nosed style of the Chicago Fire.

    Logan Pause (2003-present)

    He may not have the flashiest statistics, but Pause has been a true team player who's been a constant presence throughout the last decade.

    Frank Klopas (1998-1999)

    Klopas actually started his career with the Chicago Sting, and his overtime golden goal against Columbus gave the Fire a 2-1 victory in the 1998 U.S. Open Cup final.

No. 5: Zach Thornton (1998-2006)

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    Goalkeeper Zach Thornton quickly made a name for himself during the Fire's inaugural season as a steadying force behind the back line. He led the expansion team to the franchise's only MLS Cup victory and was crowned the 1998 Goalkeeper of the Year.

    The rest of his long tenure at the club saw him at or near every league-wide goalkeeping statistic, and his consistency kept the team competitive year in and year out. He's not only one of the best Chicago players, he's one of the best goalkeepers in MLS history.

No. 4: Lubos Kubik (1998-2000)

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    A true leader and one with a lethal left foot, Lubos Kubik was a force to be reckoned with on both ends of the field.

    His 15 goals and 24 assists from a defensive position kept the opposition on its back heels, and his steady, technical marking ability ensured he never got caught lacking on defense. His skill earned him the MLS Defender of the Year title in 1998.

No. 3: Carlos Bocanegra (2000–2003)

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    Christopher Ruppel/Getty Images

    Though he had just four years with the club, Carlos Bocanegra didn't lack for hardware. He won the 2000 MLS Rookie of the Year award, back-to-back MLS Defender of the Year awards in 2002 and 2003, and helped the Fire win two U.S. Open Cups and a Supporters' Shield.

    At times he seemed unbeatable on the Chicago Fire back line and was arguably one of the best defenders in MLS history in his prime. Bocanegra's stout defending fits right in with the Chicago mentality.

No. 2: Chris Armas (1998–2007)

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Chris Armas wore his heart on his sleeve and played tough every game throughout his extended stay with the Chicago Fire. He was a destructive force in the midfield, and his tough play earned him five MLS Best XI selections.

    His name appears near the top of almost every Chicago Fire record, and his steady stream of assists and through balls provided a critical link between the front and back lines. His rugged demeanor was a mainstay in Chicago for nearly a decade.

No. 1: Pitor Nowak (1998–2002)

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    MICHAEL CAULFIELD/Associated Press

    Could it really be anyone else?

    Pitor Nowak's intensity and leadership complemented an unbelievable skill set that carried the 1998 expansion team to a domestic double, snatching an MLS Cup MVP award on the way. The captain was named the Fire's best player three times, matching his number of selections to the MLS Best XI.

    Honors aside, Nowak doesn't just embody what it means to play for Chicago, he invented it.

    His tough, determined play is the standard by which all other Fire players are judged. And he wasn't just a brute—his skill carried the team for years.

    He was as good as they come and deserving of the No. 1 spot for the Chicago Fire.