Chicago finds a way to win on road
For the Chicago Fire, their 1-0 victory against the MetroStars on Saturday evening at Giants Stadium was truly a vintage performance.
The victory was very much reminiscent of the kind of wins the club put together two seasons ago on their march to the MLS Cup Final, than of the dismal season a year ago where the club failed to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs.
"The idea was to come into New York, and try to make the game, close them down and take some chances going forward" said Fire head coach Dave Sarachan. "Overall it was a pretty good performance."
It was the old story of the type of game you need to play to win a championship -- playing hard on the road and grinding out a victory based on a solid defense and an intelligent game plan.
"I thought our overall defense was very good," said Sarachan. "The turf can be tricky, but our shape and my guys being tuned in to play together was pretty good over 90 minutes. They [the MetroStars] were down a goal, and we know that they were going to make a push at the end. We probably dropped off a bit, and allowed them a few chances, but the defense played pretty well."
In addition, it was the Fire's victory on the road in almost exactly one year, since a 1-0 victory at the Cotton Bowl against Dallas on April 24 of last year. On their way to the league's best record in 2004, the Fire won five games on their travels.
"It has [been that long]?" asked Sarachan. "That's insane! We'll take it!"
Sarachan was thrilled with the effort of striker Nate Jaqua, who scored the game's only goal.
"With the old Nate, that ball would have deflected and hit the post, but tonight he was outstanding," Sarachan said. "Not just because he got the goal, but the battling, keeping balls alive, getting on the end of things, his work rate. He was pretty much our man of the match."
It was this battling spirit that led to the goal, as Jaqua caught last defender Jeff Parke in a lapse of concentration and stripped him of the ball leaving only Zach Wells to beat.
The Fire back three of Jim Curtin flanked by C.J. Brown and Samuel Caballero denied the MetroStars strike force any real quality chances, save for a couple of testing shots from former French international Youri Djorkaeff. The visitors continually suppressed the Metrostars in midfield and hit them hard on the break, though their own three-pronged strike force found good opportunities lacking.
"We always have a plan," said Sarachan. "We wanted to make it hard for them, not to allow them a lot of room and time to play. They're good skillful players and we did a good job on that."
The Fire then dodged a bullet in the 47th minute. A beautiful through ball from Djorkaeff found John Wolyniec through on goal only to be tripped up from behind by Kelly Gray as Ricardo Valenzuela whistled for the penalty kick.
Guevara hit the ball low and to his left, beating Thornton, but not the post. The ball careened off the inside of the post, bounced back and hit Thornton's head before slipping wide of the goal for a corner.
"I felt it hit me on the head," Thornton said. "And I was worried that it went back in again. Luckily it went wide."
Thornton was complimentary to the rest of his team.
"The defense did a good job. They were tenacious, smart, they held the line. They all deserve the shutout," the veteran goalkeeper said.
Djorkaeff was at the end of all the dangerous chances for the home side, as the former French international recorded all three shots on goal on the night -- two of them testing Thornton.
"It was lucky for me that his shots were at tough angles. I just got big and covered them," Thornton said. "I am sure he has scored goals like that, so it was good for us tonight that he didn't."
Laurence Moroney is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.