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Recap: Pappa strikes on break to power Fire past SKC 1-0

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The Chicago Fire's game plan came off perfectly in a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City on Friday night, as Marco Pappa's goal and Sean Johnson's heorics helped them overcome Sporting's high-energy attack and triple-digit heat to emerge with a third straight win.

The Fire's strategy was evident from the outset and it paid off with a counterattack that led to Pappa’s 58th-minute goal. Despite Sporting’s relentless pressure through much of the game and their late barrage at the Chicago goal, Pappa’s tally held as the winner at Livestrong Sporting Park that denied Kansas City a chance to move back atop the Eastern Conference standings.

Sporting (9-5-2) stayed in third, one point behind co-leaders New York and D. C. and  just two points ahead of the Fire (8-5-3). Chicago handed KC a second straight shutout loss behind five saves – almost all of them spectacular – from Sean Johnson.

FULL LINEUPS AND BOX SCORE

Another bright spot for Chicago: Midfielder Chris Rolfe went the full 90 in his first start since Nov. 14, 2009 – even though he picked up a late caution for re-entering the field of play without referee Baldomero Toledo's permission.

HIGHLIGHTS: SKC 0, CHI 1

Johnson came up huge in second-half stoppage time, diving to his right to stop Soony Saad’s blast from distance in the 93rd minute and to his left to deny Kei Kamara’s low shot in the 96th. Those saves, and others, helped Chicago overcome a 27-7 disadvantage in shots.

Sporting controlled the run of play through a scoreless first half, outshooting the Fire nine to three, but Johnson turned them away with heady saves on Kamara’s second-chance shot in the 14th minute and Aurélien Collin’s corner-kick header in the 24th.

The Fire’s best chance of the half came when Dominic Oduro got behind KC’s back line and volleyed Pappa’s cross from point-blank ranged in the 16th minute, only for Nielsen to make the block with his chest.

The real drama before the break came when Kansas City manager Peter Vermes had to go to his bench far earlier than expected.

Center back Lawrence Olum pulled up with a groin strain before 20 minutes had passed. That forced Vermes to bring in Matt Besler, who was coming off a 68-minute start in Tuesday’s US Open Cup quarterfinal after missing three league games to recover from an emergency appendectomy.

Besler was able to go the rest of the way, but he and central defense partner Collin got caught out on a three-on-two counter that led to Pappa’s goal. Pappa, breaking down the middle, fed Rolfe on the left and then slotted the return ball low between Nielsen and Besler and into the back of the net.

OPTA Chalkboard: Friedrich, Johnson key shutout

Sporting were denied an equalizer when Johnson made a diving save on Kamara’s 75th-minute header. They came on furiously after the 85th minute, but missed on one chance after another. In addition to the shots that were stopped by Johnson, Kansas City also saw Dan Gargan clear Kamara’s header to the lower left corner 86th minute.

Then, in stoppage time, Teal Bunbury went just left and Chance Myers fired mere inches outside the right post, as Sporting were unable to make their intense pressure count.

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.

MLSsoccer.com Men of the Match

Rank Player What We Saw
1 Sean Johnson Made unbelievable saves throughout the game to preserve the shutout. An outstanding performance from the young shot-stopper
2 Chris Rolfe Fire's most dangerous attacker, picked up the assist. Showed good commitment tracking back too, exemplified by first-half tackle on Julio Cesar.
3 Arne Friedrich Showed exactly why the Fire brought him in. Made up for lack of pace with excellent positioning, good intelligence, save for one chance that was headed straight at Johnson.