7:30 pm CT (Comcast-Chi)
There's a new optimism in Dallas, where a new look and new nickname advances a new stadium, set to open midseason with the MLS All-Star Game. And there's a new hero, too: Guatemalan striker Carlos Ruiz, acquired in a stunning deal with Los Angeles and set to form a lethal partnership with U.S. international Eddie Johnson. The Chicago Fire begin their season hoping to put the bad taste of last season out of their mouths, where they went from the MLS Cup Final to completely missing the playoffs.
REFEREE: Ricardo Valenzuela. SAR (bench): Kermit Quisenberry; JAR (opposite): Fabio Tovar; 4th: TBD
MLS Career: 59 games; FC/gm: 34.6; Y/gm: 4.7; R: 24; pens: 17
Games involving FC Dallas: P31 W6 L5 T2; FC/gm: 33.2; Y/gm: 5.0; R: 11; pens: 4
Games involving Fire: P19 W11 L5 T3; FC/gm: 35.5; Y/gm: 4.9; R: 6; pens: 4
INJURY REPORT: FC DALLAS - PROBABLE: DF Steve Jolley (minor knee surgery); FW Abe Thompson (fractured cheekbone); MD Eric Quill (calf strain) ... CHICAGO FIRE - OUT: MD Craig Capano (L knee torn ACL); MF Tony Sanneh (R hip/hamstring strain); QUESTIONABLE: DF Samuel Caballero (R hamstring strain); DF Mario Ivan Guerrero (R hamstring strain); MF John Thorrington (L hamstring strain)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
The Brimstone Cup rivals play in the first of their two meetings, the only game in Dallas this season. They will meet in Chicago on June 12.
A year ago, the Burn won both meetings to again lay claim to the Brimstone Cup. They claimed an impressive 2-0 victory in Chicago on April 17 (Johnson 26, Rhine 70), then handed the Fire a heavy 4-1 defeat on Aug. 28 as Johnson struck twice (33, 65), the others coming from O'Brien (28) and Nhleko (58).
It was the third consecutive year the Burn held the Brimstone Cup, awarded by supporters clubs of the two teams. The Fire won the first series in 2001, the Burn then claiming it in 2002, retaining it in 2003 when the teams leveled the series.
Dallas has won the last three meetings between the teams, and five of the last six over three seasons. The only Chicago victory since 2001 came on June 18, 2003, at Cardinal Stadium.
Coaches record: Colin Clarke vs. CHI: P3 W3 L0 D0 ... Dave Sarachan v DAL: P4 W1 L3 T0
ALL-TIME (17 meetings): FC Dallas 11 wins (2 shootout), 40 goals ... Fire 9 wins (1 shootout), 37 goals ... 1 draw
IN DALLAS (10 meetings): FC Dallas 8 wins (1 shootout), 26 goals ...Fire 2 wins (0 shootout), 14 goals ... 0 draws
FC Dallas pulled off the blockbuster deal of the season - and arguably in league history - when they obtained Carlos Ruiz from the Los Angeles Galaxy for an allocation. Ruiz and Eddie Johnson could give the club the most-feared strike partnership in MLS.
"Following the 2003 season, we gathered as an organization and compiled a list of players who, if available, we would do everything in our power to acquire. Carlos Ruiz was at the top of that list," said FC Dallas general manager Greg Elliott. "This is a deal we have been working on for several months and we are elated to bring Carlos to FC Dallas."
Ruiz has 50 goals in 72 games for the Galaxy in his first three seasons in the league - the most by a player in MLS history in their first three years. He has 23 goals in 52 appearances for Guatemala heading into Wednesday's match against the USA - where Johnson will be his opposite number.
FC Dallas played their final preseason game on Tuesday, defeating Southern Methodist University 2-1 in Dallas, a Ramon Nuñez penalty kick and Drew Moor overcoming an early SMU goal. Here's the team FCD ran out: Gomez - Gbandi, Jolley, Yi , Salyer, Moor, Pitchkolan, Quill (Torres 46), Nuñez, Alvarez (Pulido 65), Thompson (Turley 46).
The previous Saturday, FC Dallas defeated the Colorado Rapids 2-1 in Austin, getting two goals in the final 10 minutes to claim the victory.
The big news from the match was the play of Bobby Rhine at right back. For most of his MLS career, Rhine has been a forward or attacking midfielder, but against the Rapids played as a defender for the first time in a match against opposition.
FC Dallas also picked up another major allocation during the winter in Vanney, who returned to MLS after four seasons in France's Ligue 1 with SC Bastia. Vanney played six seasons with the Los Angeles Galaxy from 1996-2001 before moving to France. He has made 33 appearances with the U.S. national team.
The biggest question heading into the season opener is who Clarke will send out between the posts. He has a pair of MLS veterans in Scott Garlick and Jeff Cassar to count on, and had not made a decision on who will be his first choice heading into the final week.
Eddie Johnson continued his national team heroics on Wednesday as the USA defeated Guatemala 2-0 in their World Cup qualifier. Johnson scored his seventh goal in just six World Cup qualifying matches, opening the USA's account after just 11 minutes. He played the full match in both qualifiers over the week, starting as a lone striker in the USA's 2-1 loss to Mexico on Sunday.
Just hours after his transfer to FC Dallas, Ruiz faced future teammate Johnson as Guatemala took on the USA. Ruiz played the full match. The previous Saturday, Ruiz scored two goals as Guatemala cruised to a 5-1 victory against Trinidad & Tobago.
Dallas haven't won their season opener in four years. After losses in 2001 (2-4 v Tampa Bay Mutiny) and 2002 (0-2 v San Jose Earthquakes), they played to a 1-1 draw with Los Angeles Galaxy in the first game at Dragon Stadium in 2003, last year playing to a 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids (Rhine 75 pen - Spencer 36).
Dallas have opened every season with a home game. They've won four in all (two by shootout), losing three and drawing two.
After failing to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs for each of the last two seasons, there is still unmistakable good cheer coming from Big D. Helping the cause has been Colin Clarke's additions over the winter - a midfield anchor in Richard Mulrooney, veteran defender in Greg Vanney, then the stunner of all, the league's leading goal scorer over the last three seasons in Carlos Ruiz, who will slot in alongside the newest strike hero for the U.S. national team in Eddie Johnson.
The Fire concluded their preseason campaign last Friday with a 2-0 victory against the MetroStars in Ridgeland, Miss. Chris Rolfe scored in the first half for the Fire, Jesse Marsch putting the game away after the break.
Here's the team Dave Sarachan used (4-4-2): Zach Thornton - Kelly Gray, Jim Curtin, C.J. Brown (Jack Stewart 86), Leonard Griffin, Justin Mapp (Hollis Donaldson 88), Chris Armas (Logan Pause 72), Jesse Marsch (Scott Buete 81), Mario Ivan Guerrero (Gonzalo Segares 22), Nate Jaqua (Will Johnson 86), Chris Rolfe (Thiago 76).
Like many teams in the league, the Fire have undergone a nearly complete overhaul, with just 11 players with the club on opening day last year back with the team.
The biggest question facing the Fire is where the goals will come from. The first-choice strike pair of Ante Razov and Damani Ralph have both moved on, while attacking Andy Williams also left through the expansion draft. That will mean Nate Jaqua and Andy Herron will likely start up top in the season opener.
"The issue with us is always going to be how many goals can we put in the back of the net," head coach Dave Sarachan told the Chicago Daily Southtown. "We think we have some horses that can do it. ... Going into the season, I think we have some ways to score goals."
The Fire will be missing a couple of key offseason acquisition for the opener. Honduras international wingback Mario Ivan Guerrero will out for a couple of weeks with a hamstring injury, while Tony Sanneh is out at least that long while recovering from a hamstring and hip strain.
Sarachan is expected to start a back three of C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin and the other signing from Honduras - Samuel Caballero - against FC Dallas. "The idea is to be aggressive in the attacking third, knowing we have cover in the back," Sarachan told the Southtown. "I think we've got enough in the back to cover us being aggressive."
Another key to a successful season will be having both parts of their central midfield axis - Armas and Marsch - healthy for the entire season. "They both had their [injury] issues last year," Sarachan told the Northwest Herald. "One would be in, one would be out. It's no secret those two offer so much in terms of organization and experience in the middle of the field. That's a huge plus for us [having them together]."
Andy Herron came on as a second-half substitute, playing 25 minutes for Costa Rica in their surprising scoreless draw away to Trinidad & Tobago in a World Cup qualifier on Wednesday in Port-of-Spain. Herron was suspended for the home qualifier on Saturday night, a 2-1 victory against Panama.
The Fire have nearly filled out the 28 places available on their roster after signing forward Chris Rolfe and defender Gonzalo Segares to developmental contracts. Rolfe, a product of the University of Dayton, is also the third Fire player to make the jump from the club's USL Premier Developmental League reserve team. Segares, a native of Costa Rica, played college soccer at Virginia Commonwealth University, and is still awaiting visa approval.
Last season, the Fire began their season with a scoreless draw away to Kansas City Wizards, the second consecutive season they've opened with a draw. They haven't lost their last three season opening matches, having won three of the seven openers in club history.
After a dream campaign in his first season in charge, Dave Sarachan suffered through a nightmare a year ago, failing to reach the MLS Cup Playoffs. A retooled team has been the result - the Ra-Ra Boys of Ante Razov and Damani Ralph are gone, but two Honduras internationals in Mario Ivan Guerrero and Samuel Caballero have come in to bolster the Fire rearguard.