and with a victory against D.C. United and other results falling their way, could be just a victory from tying for the divisional lead after this weekend. It could be a remarkable turn of events for a club that has won just twice since June 5 in league play, the second coming at midweek in an impressive 3-1 home win vs. Kansas City. United are still in third place in the East despite just one victory in their last seven contests, with ties in their last three.
REFEREE: Kevin Terry. SAR (bench): Tom Supple; JAR (opposite): Jorge de la Bandera; 4th: Richard Heron
MLS Career: 96 games; FC/gm: 30.4; Y/gm: 2.7; R: 32; pens: 41
Games involving Fire: P19 W7 L8 T4; FC/gm: 31.1; Y/gm: 3.0; R: 9; pens: 9
Games involving United: P11 W6 L4 T1; FC/gm: 31.5; Y/gm: 2.2; R: 2; pens: 4
INJURY REPORT: ... CHICAGO FIRE - OUT: FW Ante Razov (R ankle bone spur); MD Chris Armas (R knee surgery) ... D.C. UNITED - OUT: FW Thiago Martins (L knee surgery); FW Eliseo Quintanilla (R fractured fibula); FW Santino Quaranta (adductor surgery); DF Ryan Nelsen (abdominal surgery); QUESTIONABLE: FW Alecko Eskandarian (L ankle sprain); PROBABLE: MD Tim Lawson (R quadriceps strain)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: CHI: Damani Ralph, Andy Williams (Jamaica, Sept. 4 v Panama) ... DC: Ezra Hendrickson (St. Vincent & Grenadines; Sept. 4 v Mexico)
YELLOW PERIL: DAL: Clarence Goodson (10 CP in 2 gms); Chris Gbandi (10 CP additional); Steve Jolley (18 CP); Bobby Rhine (18 CP) ... CHI: Chris Armas (19 CP); Jim Curtin (18 CP); Evan Whitfield (18 CP)
This is the third of the four meetings between the two Eastern Conference clubs, the second of the two in Chicago, with the Fire having won both previous encounters this season. They'll face each other for the final time in a couple of weeks, on Sept. 18 at RFK Stadium.
The Fire claimed a dominating 3-0 victory in their last meeting, June 5 at Soldier Field. Damani Ralph connected for his second career hat trick, all three goals by the Jamaican international real striker's goals, all coming from sharply-angled shots in the area.
In the first half, he fought off defender David Stokes before firing between 'keeper Troy Perkins' legs from the right side (15), then in the second half, he ran onto a perfectly-weighted through ball in the left side of the area to again beat Perkins (55).
Then 14 minutes later, he collected a high, looping overhead cross from Nate Jaqua before hammering a drive from an impossibly tight angle just under the crossbar. United again failed to win back-to-back contests, going without the full three points for the eighth time in 10 games.
Here's Dave Sarachan's team (3-3-1-3): Henry Ring - Evan Whitfield, Jim Curtin, Kelly Gray - Nate Jaqua, Chris Armas, Orlando Perez (Justin Mapp 75) - Andy Williams (Logan Pause 57) - Damani Ralph (Craig Capano 75), Ante Razov, DaMarcus Beasley
Here's Peter Nowak's team (3-1-4-2): Troy Perkins - David Stokes, Mike Petke, Brandon Prideaux - Brian Carroll - Earnie Stewart, Dema Kovalenko, Ben Olsen (Kevin Ara 76), Bobby Convey - Ronald Cerritos, Freddy Adu (Joshua Gros 57).
The teams met on April 24 on East Capitol Street, Chicago scoring and winning for the first time in the season, 1-0. Damani Ralph's goal just before the hour (57) was the Fire's first after 327 scoreless minutes, just a half-hour shy of the longest goalless streak to open a season.
The goal was a terrific individual effort, Ralph turning past one defender in the middle of the field some 35 yards from goal then simply outrunning a pair of defenders before slotting the ball home from 12 yards out. It sent United to defeat for a second consecutive week after opening the season with a win and a draw.
A year ago, United won two of the four league meetings between the two teams (with one draw), but the Fire eased to victory in both legs of their conference semifinal series.
The teams played to a scoreless draw on April 19 in Washington - the third consecutive scoreless draw in the series - then United won the next two meetings, winning 2-0 at home on June 7 (Etcheverry 37 pen, Kovalenko 45), then 2-1 at Soldier Field on July 12 (Marsch 6 - Ivanov 9, Olsen 45). The Fire then won 3-1 at home on Aug. 16 (Razov 45, Marsch 61, Beasley 74 - Stoitchkov 8 pen).
The Fire then won 4-0 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference semifinal series in the MLS Cup Playoffs, winning 2-0 both away on Nov. 1 (Williams 4, Razov 94+) and at home on Nov. 9 (Ralph 17, Razov 55).
When United won at Soldier Field last year, it was their first away victory in the series since May 2, 1998 - the first-ever meeting of the two clubs - Chicago winning three of the next five home encounters (two draws).
As a player with Chicago, Peter Nowak tasted victory in five of his nine meetings with United - including a 2-0 victory in MLS Cup 1998.
Ben Olsen leads active United players with 4 goals, 4 assists against Chicago. He's one of three current United players with 4 goals against Fire, along with Ronald Cerritos (4 goals, 3 assists - none with United) and Jaime Moreno (4 goals, 2 assists - all with United). The only other current United player with a goal v Chicago is Dema Kovalenko.
Jesse Marsch leads the Fire's all-time list against United with 4 goals, 2 assists; second is current United boss Nowak (2 goals, 3 assists). Chris Armas also has 2 goals, 3 assists for his career v United (1 goal, 3 assists with Chicago), and Ante Razov has 2 goals, 2 assists.
Coaches record: Dave Sarachan v COL: P6 W3 D2 L1 ... Peter Nowak vs. CHI: P2 W0 D2 L0
ALL-TIME (18 meetings): Fire 8 wins (0 shootout), 26 goals ... United 7 wins (0 shootout), 25 goals ... 3 draws
IN CHICAGO (9 meetings): Fire 5 wins, 16 goals ... United 2 wins, 10 goals ... 2 draws
Andy Williams and Craig Capano scored goals four minutes apart midway through the second half to give the Fire a vital victory at home.
Justin Mapp gave the home side the lead on 23 minutes, after Andy Williams picked him out with a long diagonal ball from midfield. Mapp buried his angled shot from the left side of the area inside the far post for his second goal of the season.
But the Wizards pulled level just after the half-hour, Davy Arnaud's cross from the right flank finding Josh Wolff in the heart of the area who headed past Fire 'keeper D.J. Countess.
Yet desperately seeking to change their recent form, the Fire began to overrun the Wizards after the interval, finally breaking through in the 67th minute, when Mapp turned provider and Williams turned finisher, easily knocking home a cross from the right flank. Capano then capped the scoring on a nearly identical play, sweeping home a Mapp cross from the right.
The Wizards ended the night reduced to 10 men when midfielder Alex Zotinca was sent off for violent conduct after striking at Chicago's C.J. Brown with an elbow.
"This is an important night for us. We needed three points. We told the team in the locker room that the season starts tonight," Fire coach Dave Sarachan said. "I thought we took the initiative tonight; it was just a good performance. We executed very well in front of the goal."
The Fire have won every home match against the Wizards in club history, now claiming all nine meetings in Chicagoland, outscoring Kansas City 25-6.
Sarachan made two changes to the team that lost 4-1 away to the Dallas Burn at the weekend. Goalkeeper D.J. Countess came in for Henry Ring, while Kelly Gray came in at left back for Orlando Perez.
Here's Sarachan's team (4-4-2): D.J. Countess - Evan Whitfield (Leonard Griffin 79), C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Kelly Gray - Andy Williams, Jesse Marsch (Scott Buete 88), Logan Pause, Justin Mapp - Damani Ralph, Nate Jaqua (Craig Capano 66).
"It just takes one game and maybe this was the game. We're going to have confidence heading into Saturday. Unfortunately we'll be missing some players to national team selection, and that's bad timing, but all we can do is build on the last performance and tonight was a good performance. We just hope we can sustain it."
For Countess, it was just his second start of the season (his other on July 14 v New England, a 3-1 loss). "It was a combination of things. Henry [Ring] has been very good for us this year. He's played just about every game and every minute, and that's a lot mentally and physically. We felt in this stretch he needed a break."
Before the conclusion of the MLS trade window, the Fire completed the acquisition of Costa Rica international forward Andy Herron. The Fire had to obtain a discovery pick from the Dallas Burn, sending them their natural third-round pick in next year's SuperDraft. Herron was transferred from Club Sport Herediano, where he led the Primera Division with 12 goals in the Clausura last year, leading the club to the title. Herron has four goals in 12 appearances with Costa Rica, scoring both goals in their 5-2 victory against Honduras in the opening match of the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.
"We're not sure when he's reporting. He's still with the Costa Rican team. But we'll take a look at him and see how he fits in with our group. That will be a decision we make as we get used to him and he gets used to us. But he's certainly fit and ready to go from that standpoint."
The Chicago Fire pulled themselves right back into the heart of the Eastern Conference playoff race on Wednesday night, rolling over the Kansas City Wizards by a 3-1 scoreline at Soldier Field, just their second victory in nearly two months. The Fire jumped over the New England Revolution into fourth place in the East with 26 points from 24 matches, and now trail third-place D.C. United by just a point.
United and the Revolution held their ground on a scorching hot afternoon as both teams did little to change their form. New England came into the match with the poorest home record in the league with just 11 points from 10 games (winning three), while United had the worst road record in MLS with just one victory and four draws, good for just seven points in 11 encounters on their travels.
Matt Reis was credited with seven saves on the afternoon for New England, but the real star might have been the woodwork, which twice denied Revolution striker Taylor Twellman in the second half.
Pat Noonan whipped in a quick cross that Twellman got a snap shot to just in front of defender Bryan Namoff -- only to see it clank off the outside of the post. Then in the second minute of stoppage time, Twellman received a neat pass from Noonan in the restraining arc and hit a powerful shot on the turn, but United 'keeper Troy Perkins rose up to get a hand on the shot and tip it on to the crossbar.
"We still need to finish the chances we had in the first half," United coach Peter Nowak said. "The second half the Revolution made a couple of changes that we didn't recognize very well. We didn't keep possession, we had trouble going forward, and Freddy [Adu] and Christian and Jaime lost too many balls upfront, our midfield wasn't mobile. ... The result could go both ways. We could've lost this game, too. Troy made a couple of great saves."
Nowak made three changes to the team that played to a 2-2 draw with the Columbus Crew on the road the previous weekend. Mike Petke returned to the lineup, coming into the center of the back three for Ezra Hendrickson, out with a hamstring injury. Ben Olsen came back from suspension to replace Brian Carroll, while Alecko Eskandarian couldn't come back from an ankle injury, meaning there was a first MLS start for Christian Gomez.
Here's Nowak's team (3-4-2-1): Troy Perkins - Bryan Namoff, Mike Petke (David Stokes 83), Brandon Prideaux - Earnie Stewart, Ben Olsen, Dema Kovalenko, Joshua Gros - Christian Gomez (Brian Carroll 62), Freddy Adu (Nana Kuffour 89) - Jaime Moreno
"We had chances, and it was frustrating we couldn't score," Kovalenko said. "We were all over them, but I'm happy with the way we played. Of course, we would've liked to get three points [for a win], but we'll take the point."
D.C. United played to a third consecutive draw, maintaining their hold on third place in the Eastern Conference after a scoreless draw away to the New England Revolution on Saturday afternoon in Foxborough. United is on 27 points from 23 matches, six points out of first place in the East, now just a point ahead of the fourth-place Chicago Fire.