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Eastern Conference Championship

Preview: Fire, United set to battle for 2nd seed in the East

CHI-v-DC, Oct. 27, 2012

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CHICAGO FIRE vs D.C. UNITED
TOYOTA PARK, Bridgeview, Ill.
October 27, 2012 (WEEK 33, MLS Game #317)
2 pm ET/3 pm CT (NBC SN)

One of the biggest games of the entire season in the Eastern Conference is ahead in front of an NBC Sports Network audience Saturday afternoon when the Chicago Fire entertain D.C. United. The teams are separated by just a single point in the standings ñ and each could end up in any one of four different spots heading into the MLS Cup Playoffs depending on the roundís results. United come into the match riding a six-game unbeaten streak following their 3-2 home win against Columbus, while the Fire lost a third out of four matches in a 1-0 defeat at New England last weekend.

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REFEREE: Jair Marrufo. AR1 (bench): Eric Boria; AR2 (opposite): Anthony Vasoli; 4th: Abbey Okulaja
MLS Career: 143 games; FC/gm: 24.1; Y/gm: 3.1; R: 32; pens: 44

INJURY REPORT: CHICAGO FIRE: OUT: DF Cory Gibbs (R knee meniscus repair) ... D.C. UNITED ñ OUT: FW Josh Wolff (lower back disc herniation); MF Dwayne De Rosario (L knee MCL sprain); QUESTIONABLE: DF Daniel Woolard (concussion-like symptoms); FW Long Tan (L ankle sprain)

INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: none
WARNINGS:
FINED NEXT YELLOW CARD:
CHI: Pavel Pardo, Gonzalo Segares ... DC: Dwayne De Rosario, Marcelo Saragosa

HEAD-TO-HEAD

ALL-TIME (42 meetings): Fire 15 wins, 59 goals ... United 17 wins, 61 goals ... Ties 10
AT CHICAGO (20 meetings): Fire 8 wins, 30 goals ... United 6 wins, 24 goals ... Ties 6

  • The teams are meeting for the second time this season. Dwayne De Rosario scored a goal and set up another as United rolled to a 4-2 win Aug. 22 at RFK Stadium.
  • It was D.C. Unitedís first win against Chicago since Aug. 29, 2009, a 1-0 win at Toyota Park. The Fire won two of the four meetings in between, with two draws. It also snapped a two-game home losing streak to the Fire.
  • But the Fire havenít defeated United at home since a 1-0 win in 2006. Since then, United have won three of their six trips to Toyota Park, with three draws.
  • When the Fire came back for a 2-1 win last Oct. 15, it was the fifth time in MLS history a team had scored the game-tying and winning goals in second-half stoppage time ñ and it was the third time either D.C. or Chicago had been involved. United was on the winning end in a 3-2 win against the Fire, April 8, 2000, and also in a 4-2 win against New England on July 27, 2003.
  • The first time a team scored the tying and winning goals in stoppage time also involved D.C. United and Chicago ñ April 8, 2000. The winning goalscorer that day? Current United head coach Ben Olsen.
  • Coaches record: Ben Olsen vs. CHI: P4 W1 L1 D2 Ö Frank Klopas vs. DC: P3 W1 L1 D1

LAST MEETING

8/22: DC 4, CHI 2 (De Rosario 19; Pajoy 46+; McDonald 51; Tan 89 ñ Paladini 44; Segares 75)

  • United took the lead in the in the 19th minute. Chris Pontius scuffed a left-footed shot from outside the box that rolled past a static Fire defense toward the far post, where Dwayne De Rosario streaked in to knock home his 99th career MLS goal.
  • The Fire pulled even in the 44th minute on their first real scoring chance of the game. Sherjill MacDonald, Marco Pappa and Daniel Paladini executed a flowing passing move at the top of the 18-yard box, as Pappa fed Paladini to his left and United goalkeeper Bill Hamid had little chance against Paladini strike from inside the area.
  • But United grabbed the game with goals on either side of halftime. In first-half stoppage time Andy Najar ñ deployed at right back ñ beat two challengers and crossed to Lionard Pajoy, and D.C.ís newest acquisition headed home. Then in the 51st minute, Brandon McDonald looped a beautifully placed header from a Chris Korb cross following a cleared corner.
  • Chicago's Gonzalo Segares added intrigue to the matchís final quarter-hour when he dove to convert a difficult set-piece header in the 75th minute, from a Pavel Pardo service.
  • But Long Tan sealed the result for United, turning home a pass from De Rosario from the penalty spot that just eluded the grasp of Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
  • D.C. UNITED (4-4-2): Bill Hamid - Andy Najar, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, Chris Korb - Chris Pontius (Mike Chabala 85), Marcelo Saragosa, Perry Kitchen, Nick DeLeon - Dwayne De Rosario (Hamdi Salihi 91+), Lionard Pajoy (Long Tan 77).
  • CHICAGO FIRE (4-2-3-1): Sean Johnson - Jalil Anibaba (Alvaro Fernandez 63), Arne Friedrich, Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares - Daniel Paladini (Alex 85), Pavel Pardo - Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe, Marco Pappa (Dominic Oduro 74) - Sherjill MacDonald.

 

CHICAGO FIRE
The Chicago Fire went down to defeat for a third time in four starts, dropping a 1-0 decision to the New England Revolution on Saturday evening at Gillette Stadium. The Fire are in third place in the Eastern Conference with 56 points from 33 games.

LAST MATCH

  • The game's lone goal came on 17 minutes. Collecting a deft feed from Kelyn Rowe, Revolution midfielder Diego Fagundez scampered between the lines on the right edge of the penalty area and left go with a curling strike that sailed past the Fireís Sean Johnson inside the far post.
  • Fire head coach Frank Klopas made one change to the team that recorded a 2-0 win against the New York Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena. Dan Gargan came into the back four in place of Arne Friedrich.
  • CHICAGO FIRE (4-2-3-1): Sean Johnson - Dan Gargan, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba, Gonzalo Segares - Daniel Paladini (Alex 64), Logan Pause (Dominic Oduro 83) - Alvaro Fernandez, Chris Rolfe, Patrick Nyarko - Sherjill MacDonald.

TEAM NEWS

  • The Fire went down to a third defeat in their last four matches, following four consecutive victories and seven wins in an eight-game span.
  • "I don't think we did a lot well. I think we came in knowing it was going to be a hard game, and this is one of those games you got to learn from," said Logan Pause. "You know hopefully thatís the best thing that comes out of today is that we learn from it and know that from here on out every game is going to be hard, and move forward."
  • The Fire can finish anywhere from second to fifth place in the Eastern Conference - and could even end up facing D.C. United again, starting in a weekís time, in an Eastern Conference Semifinal Series.
  • "The whole conference is kind of tight. It's exciting to be at the end. Our goal was to be in the playoffs so now it's important where you finish,î said Klopas. ìI think that it's very important to have homefield advantage and not to play that extra game. We have a game at home now and we have to go back and regroup and focus and get the three points at home which will put us in second place.î
  • Said Pause: "We still have a lot of work to do next Saturday against D.C. We can still control our fate. I don't think this loss is a direct reflection of what this team is about. ... I think we saw that when we won in New York, I think we responded really well. We didnít get the result that we wanted tonight, but weíve got a chance to change that by finishing our last game at home."
  • Following 12 consecutive starts and with the match on the artificial surface of Gillette Stadium, center back Arne Friedrich was given the night off. Jalil Anibaba moved centrally to partner Austin Berry in the back four.
  • "I thought [Austin Berry] was solid tonight. We had numbers back. We looked at Austin, can you stop at that moment a little bit quicker but the ball takes the deflection and goes out of the way, those things happen," said Klopas. "But I don't feel like I can blame him for the goal, but I thought he had a solid performance. ... For a young guy he takes a lot of responsibility for himself and stepped up and controlled the back line."
  • Dan Gargan made his second start in the last three matches, moving to right back in place of Anibaba, after playing left back against Philadelphia.
  • There could be a key addition for the Fire as former Mexican international Pavel Pardo returned to full training at the start of the week. Pardo last appeared on September 12 in a 2-1 win at Toronto FC before suffering a hamstring injury.
  • "I feel good," said Pardo. "Always it's good to be on the field with the whole team and training at 100 per cent. Iím happy to be coming back and hopefully Iím fully ready to play on Saturday." Said Klopas: "[Today] was training so it was good. Weíll see tomorrow, weíll see everyday how he progresses."

D.C. UNITED
D.C. United stretched their undefeated streak to six games and ended a long postseason drought, coming back for a 3-2 win against the Columbus Crew on Saturday evening at RFK Stadium. United now sit in second place in the Eastern Conference with 57 points from 33 games.

LAST MATCH

  • The Crew quieted the home crowd in the seventh minute when Jairo Arrieta's deflected header fell to Eddie Gaven in the center of the box and he guided the bouncing ball into the net for the opening goal.
  • United drew even in the 39th minute when United midfielder Nick DeLeon tapped home the rebound of a stopped Lionard Pajoy shot from close range.
  • Columbus answered two minutes later when Arrieta created enough space in front of centerback Dejan Jakovic to release a nasty right-footed effort that smacked the left post then ping-ponged off D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamidís back and into the net.
  • But United again pulled even in the 59th minute when Brandon McDonald was first to a loose ball after a free kick by Andy Najar, and got enough on his pass to find Marcelo Saragosa for a one-timer that curled inside goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaumís left post.
  • Then in stoppage time a breakaway goal from substitute Lewis Neal put the exclamation point on the celebration as United sealed their first playoff berth in five seasons.
  • United head coach Ben Olsen made one change to the team that got a late goal for a 1-0 win against Toronto FC at BMO Field. Maicon Santos returned to the side in place of Lewis Neal.
  • D.C. UNITED (4-4-2): Bill Hamid - Andy Najar, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, Chris Korb - Nick DeLeon, Perry Kitchen, Marcelo Saragosa, Chris Pontius (Branko Boskovic 87) - Maicon Santos (Lewis Neal 69), Lionard Pajoy (Hamdi Salihi 82)

TEAM NEWS

  • United secured their first MLS Cup Playoffs berth since 2007 - the longest postseason drought for the club and the second-longest in league history - with the victory.
  • "It was like the old days. I donít like to bring up the old days very often, but the feeling in that building felt like the good old days here," said United head coach Ben Olsen. "I'd like to keep that around. Weíre excited to continue to move on and have more moments like this. Weíre still in the hunt moving forward next week. Thereís still work to be done."
  • Said midfielder Chris Pontius: ìIím so excited, I canít even explain it. Itís been a while since Iíve felt like this. This is one of the biggest moments of my professional career. To fight back like that in the manner that we won is amazing."
  • Since Dwayne De Rosario went down for what appeared to be a season-ending knee injury, United have gone undefeated, now with five wins and a draw in their last six matches.
  • ï ìI think weíve grown closer since Dwayne went down," Olsen said. "That's obviously not a negative toward Dwayne, but I think everybody understood that we have to be a real team now and we have to commit to each other and bail each other out. Everyoneís buying into their role right now."
  • The playoff berth was secured when Marcelo Saragosa scored his first goal with United just before the hour mark, his first MLS goal since 2008, when he scored for FC Dallas. It was his third goal in his eighth MLS season.
  • "Every player worked well in helping me score this goal," Saragosa said. "I score this goal with my heart. I worked hard, believe in myself and I know I can score."
  • With a win or a draw in Chicago, United will finish at least second in the Eastern Conference ñ and could finish as the top seed, depending upon Sporting Kansas Cityís midweek home match vs. Philadelphia.
  • United can also finish in third place in the East ñ which would mean a return meeting with the Fire in the Eastern Conference Semifinals ñ or even in fourth place, which would necessitate a knockout round match.
  • "That four vs. five game is somewhere you donít want to be. Being in that top three guarantees a home and away series and playing here is a fortress, so that only ups our chances. Being in the top three is huge for us," said midfielder Nick DeLeon.
  • Olsen said there is still a chance De Rosario could return this season, depending on Unitedís success in the postseason.
  • "I would say there is probably a chance. I donít know. And I donít know if anybody knows right now where he's at," Olsen said. "He's progressing quickly. I've told my trainers and doctors, 'you tell me the day he is ready to go because I got a job to do and we can't rely on that,' but it would sure be nice to see him back because that means we were very, very deep into the playoffs."