Fire Fall to Saprissa

The Chicago Fire dropped
a 2-0 decision to Costa Rican powerhouse Deportivo Saprissa tonight in
the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinals at Estadio Nacional
in the Costa Rican capital of San José. With tonight's loss, the
Fire drops its all-time record in the tourney to 5-3-2 and heads back
to the Windy City with a two-goal deficit in the home-and-home series,
which will continue next Wednesday, Apr. 21 when the Fire hosts the two-time
Champions Cup champion Saprissa at Soldier Field beginning at 7:30 p.m.

The winner of the series will host the victor of the LD Alajuelense (Costa
Rica)-Monterrey (Mexico) series on Wednesday, May 5 in the first leg of
the two-game Finals series. Alajuelense has the upper hand in that match-up,
as the Costa Rican club defeated 2003 Mexican Clausura Champions 1-0 tonight
in Alajuela, Costa Rica.

"Well, we've been through this before, where we were at a deficit
playing on the road in this tournament," said Fire Head Coach Dave
Sarachan. "We have to believe that when Saprissa comes to Chicago
next week we can get the job done. They're a good team. Today was a very
hard fought, competitive match and unfortunately the referee didn't allow
the game to flow the way we all had hoped. We just need to get ourselves
back on track in the attacking end of things. It wasn't an easy day for
either team, but we still we feel we can get back to Chicago on Wednesday
and finish the job."

Both teams had their chances in the first half, with the host team pressuring
the Fire with creative passing and speed. The Fire's superb defending
was highlighted by goalkeeper Henry Ring, who kept Chicago in the game
by making four saves in the first half. Ring, who, prior to the match,
had not allowed a goal in 287 minutes of play, came up particularly big
in the 8th minute, when Francisco Alfaro's shot from 10 yards out was
denied by the South Carolina product.

The game took a drastic turn in the 30th minute of play, when Saprissa's
Victor Flores received a red card after a ferocious challenge on veteran
Chicago defender C.J. Brown. But the Fire's one-man advantage was short-lived,
as two minutes later, Fire midfielder and captain Chris Armas would also
exit the match after earning his second caution. Immediately following
the controversial decision, Guatemalan referee Carlos Batres would send
a third man off the field, this time asking Fire boss Dave Sarachan to
exit the match. The calls caused the crowd to erupt, and Armas and Sarachan
were escorted off the field by security guards in shields.

Just prior to the break, Fire forward Damani Ralph broke lose of his
defender and made a run towards the goal, but his shot sailed high over
the crossbar of Saprissa 'keeper Francisco Porras.

In the second half, Saprissa benefited from the exceptional play of leading
goal scorer Alonso Solis (22 goals in domestic play), who was finally
awarded for his efforts with an insurance goal off an 18-yard rocket in
the 71st minute. Just ten minutes earlier, Solis' close-range shot had
been blocked by the Fire's central defenseman, Jim Curtin. Saprissa's
first goal was scored by midfielder Andres Nunez in the 50th minute. Nunez
blasted home his 10-yard shot and eventual game-winner past Ring to give
his team the lead.

The Fire will return to Chicago tomorrow after playing three consecutive
matches on the road (MLS and Champions Cup play combined) and prepare
for its MLS Home Opener against the Dallas Burn this Saturday, Apr. 17
at Soldier Field (7:30 p.m. CT, Comcast Cable). The Fire will then host
Saprissa in Leg Two of the Champions Cup semifinals on Wednesday, Apr.
21 at Soldier Field beginning at 7:30 p.m. CT

"It's a tough stretch we know that, and we're going to rely on our
full squad of players, for sure," said Sarachan on the mental and
physical state of the team. "I was pleased with the guys that came
in tonight, and the effort they put in. Logan [Pause], Dipsy [Selolwane]
and C.J. and even the reserves that came in today were solid. So we're
going to rely on those guys to get the job done."

The Fire is the lone American team remaining in the tournament, as defending
MLS champions San Jose Earthquakes were eliminated last month by Alajuelense.
The CONCACAF Champions Cup is the longest running international club competition
in the region and has crowned the champion club of the Confederation since
its inception in 1962.

Scoring Summary:

SAP - Andres Nunez - 50'

SAP - Alonso Solis - 71'

Fire Lineup: GK-Henry Ring, D-C.J. Brown, D-Jim Curtin, D-Evan Whitfield
(Kelly Gray 74), M-Nate Jaqua, M-Logan Pause, M-Chris Armas, M-Andy Williams
(Craig Capano 77), M-DaMarcus Beasley, F-Dipsy Selolwane (Justin Mapp
78), F-Damani Ralph.


Saprissa Lineup: GK-Francisco Porras, D-Daniel Torres, D-Victor Flores,
D-Reynado Perez, M-Gabriel Badilla (Try Benneth 71), M-Andres Nunez, M-Saul
Phillip, M-Francisco Alfaro (Walter Centeno 57), M-Alonso Solis, F-Gerald
Drummond, F-Armando Alonso (Alvaro Saborio 57).


Misconduct Summary:

SAP - Gabriel Badilla - 16'

CHI - Chris Armas - 29'

CHI - Henry Ring - 30'

SAP - Victor Flores - 31' (RED)

CHI - Chris Armas - 32'

CHI - Chris Armas - 32' (RED)

CHI - Dave Sarachan - 33' (EJECTED)

Referee: Carlos Batres (Guatemala)

Attendance: 4,126

Weather: 70 degrees and windy

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