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In some ways, this is almost like a farewell match for the Fire - the next time they will play a league game in front of their home fans will be in the second week of October, nearly two full months away covering a five-match span. They need to take advantage of their home cooking in this final chance, having lost three games in a row to fall out of first place in the East. The Los Angeles Galaxy are coming to the place where they last won a league game outside of southern California, their only two "road" victories since a win against the Fire last June 27 coming against Chivas USA in the L.A. metropolitan area (one at their Home Depot Center home).
REFEREE: Alex Prus. SAR (bench): Kermit Quisenberry; JAR (opposite): Adam Wienckowski; 4th: Abbey Okulaja
MLS Career: 91 games; FC/gm: 30.9; Y/gm: 3.5; R: 19; pens: 31
Games involving Fire: P12 W6 L4 T2; FC/gm: 33.1; Y/gm: 4.3; R: 4; pens: 5
Games involving Galaxy: P23 W9 L9 T5; FC/gm: 29.5; Y/gm: 3.9; R: 4; pens: 8
INJURY REPORT: CHICAGO FIRE: OUT: MF Craig Capano (L torn ACL surgery); DF Leonard Griffin (athletic pubalgia surgery); MF Scott Buete (R fifth metatarsal fracture surgery); FW Andy Herron (R big toe tendon tear); FW Nate Jaqua (L ankle bone spur) ... LOS ANGELES GALAXY - QUESTIONABLE: DF Tyrone Marshall (R hamstring strain); DF Ben Benditson (sports hernia)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: CHI: FW Lubos Reiter (Slovakia; v Liechtenstein, Aug. 17)
SUSPENDED: CHI: DF C.J. Brown (through Aug. 14); GK Zach Thornton (through Aug. 14)
WARNINGS: LA: Chris Albright (19 CP)
This is the first of two meetings this season between the teams, the only one at Soldier Field. They'll face each other in three weeks time at The Home Depot Center, on Sept. 4.
Last year, the Galaxy won two of three games between the clubs - winning at each ground - with a draw in the third as they sailed through a season series against the Fire unbeaten for the second time in three years.
On June 27, the Galaxy knocked off the Fire 1-0 at Soldier Field in a top-of-the-table clash. The Galaxy's defending set the stage for the victory - center back Ryan Suarez clearing two balls off the line in the first half - then a wonder goal from Jovan Kirovski 11 minutes from the end provided the margin of victory.
On June 12, the Galaxy scored two goals over the final 10 minutes - the match-winner a goal deep in stoppage time - to come back and claim a 3-2 victory. A long-range blast from Andreas Herzog after a nifty backheel from rookie Joseph Ngwenya gave the Galaxy the lead (10), but Ante Razov finished off a long run out of midfield with a long-range strike of his own (28) to pull the Fire level at the break.
Razov then gave the visitors the lead from the penalty spot after Justin Mapp was pulled down in the box (67), but Ngwenya headed home a pinpoint cross from Chris Albright in the 81st minute to bring the Galaxy back to level terms. Albright then turned hero three minutes into added time, scoring with a flying header on a Sasha Victorine cross from the right.
Then on Aug. 21, an 89th-minute goal from Ruiz saved Steve Sampson's debut from ruin, where the home side came back to secure a share of the points. Damani Ralph finally gave the visitors the advantage midway through the second half, collecting a pass on the right flank after a dreadful giveaway and ripping a low angled drive through a defender's legs that settled inside Kevin Hartman's right-hand post (67).
In 2003, the Galaxy failed to score in three league meetings, also falling in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup, as the Fire won all four meetings.
It was the second consecutive year one team had won all of the meetings between the two teams. In 2002, the Galaxy won all four meetings, two by 1-0 scorelines and two by 2-1.
Coaches record: Dave Sarachan vs. LA: P6 W3 L2 D1... Steve Sampson v CHI: P1 W0 L0 D1
ALL-TIME (22 meetings): Fire 8 wins (1 shootout), 26 goals ... Galaxy 12 wins (0 shootout), 27 goals ... 2 draws
AT CHICAGO (11 meetings): Fire 5 wins (0 shootout), 14 goals ... Galaxy 6 wins (0 shootout), 13 goals ... 0 draws
The Fire could do wrong for about the opening half-hour of the contest, then could seemingly do no right over the final 60 minutes.
By six minutes in, Chicago held a two-goal lead. In the third minute, Fire midfielder Justin Mapp sprung Thiago for a 25-yard run to goal. As K.C. 'keeper Bo Oshoniyi came out to cut down the angle, Thiago surprised him by chipping a beautiful shot from about 20 yards that made it just over the 'keeper and settled just under the crossbar in the top right corner.
Then three minutes later, Chris Rolfe made a quick run into the middle of the Wizards box and as the defense approached him, he placed a clever ball out to his left which left Reiter to tuck a low, left-footed shot into the far left corner and it looked as if the Wizards were going to be run out of Soldier Field.
But the Wizards pulled a goal back in the 37th minute as Josh Wolff raced onto a long through ball from forward Scott Sealy, just beating Fire 'keeper Zach Thornton to the punch, and chipped a shot in off of the right Fire post from the right side of the area.
They drew level just before the halftime break off of a corner kick scramble in front of the Fire goal. Midfielder Sasha Victorine was the recipient of the lucky bounce from a misdirected Brian Roberts shot.
Then the Wizards completed the comeback in the 68th minute on Wolff's second goal of the evening. He received a ball from midfielder Davy Arnaud to the right of the Fire goal, and he lost his marker with a quick turn to his right and ripped a high, hard shot over and through substitute 'keeper Matt Pickens, who came on to start the second half after Zach Thornton was booked twice right at the end of the opening stanza.
Fire coach Dave Sarachan made three changes to the team that lost 3-2 to D.C. United the Saturday before at Soldier Field. Gonzalo Segares returned to the lineup for the first time in three matches, coming in for Jim Curtin, while Thiago made his first league start since June 29, coming in for Jesse Marsch. Lubos Reiter came in to partner Chris Rolfe in attack, replacing the injured Andy Herron.
Here's Sarachan's team (4-3-1-2): Zach Thornton - Samuel Caballero, C.J. Brown, Ivan Guerrero, Gonzalo Segares - Logan Pause, Chris Armas, Justin Mapp (Matt Pickens 46) - Thiago (John Thorrington 78) - Chris Rolfe, Lubos Reiter (Chad Barrett 75).
"If you don't win a game when you're up 2-0 it's disappointing. I don't think we managed ourselves well when it was 2-0. At 2-0 they were finished and we almost got the third one," Sarachan said. "I think if we had managed the ball better and we just kept it tight ... we were so hungry to get the third one that we left ourselves exposed and the things we talked about bit us in the butt tonight, like [Josh] Wolff on the counter. [Kansas City] looks to sit in and make the counter. I'm just disappointed that we didn't manage the game better at 2-0."
The Chicago Fire fell out of a first-place tie in the Eastern Conference, losing for the third consecutive game, this time squandering a two-goal lead after six minutes in a 3-2 loss to the Kansas City Wizards at Soldier Field on Wednesday night. The Fire have 36 points from 23 matches, now three points behind the New England Revolution and just one point ahead of D.C. United and the Wizards, tied for third in the division.
With Thornton getting sent off after receiving two yellow cards for dissent in the closing minutes of the first half - the first at 42 minutes, the second after referee Brian Hall had blown for halftime, Matt Pickens will get his second league start in goal for the Fire against L.A. Pickens started April 16 v San Jose, after coming at halftime the weekend before against D.C. United when Thornton was injured.
"Matt Pickens is a good goalkeeper. We've got confidence in Matt Pickens, so I'm not going to worry about that. I think Matt will step in a do a great job," Sarachan said. "It's the rest of my beat up guys [that I'm worried about]. I'll tell you, they left everything they had on the field, so if I'm going to take some positives out of this it is that our guys did everything they could to try and get a point or three out of this game. These are tired, beat up and frustrated guys in our locker room."
The Galaxy match will be the last for the Fire at home until Oct. 5, a stretch of five games over a nearly two-month span where they will be on the road.
"We need points and we need to get wins at home, and we haven't done that in the last two games. We have one more home game before we go on a five road-game stretch, and those five road games are not going to be easy," Logan Pause said. "This weekend [against Los Angeles] is not going to be easy, but we need to get three points at home. We just have to take it one game at a time and we have to fix this thing before it goes too far."
LOS ANGELES GALAXY
A crowd of 88,816 - the second-largest crowd to see a regular season MLS game - attended the first-ever league game played at the venerable Coliseum in downtown Los Angeles as part of a doubleheader with a friendly between Mexican arch-rivals CD Guadalajara and Club América.
Chivas goalkeeper Brad Guzan kept the Galaxy at bay for much of the second half, but he reached his limit in the 82nd minute, when Landon Donovan broke free into the area and was tripped up by Guzan, who had no other choice.
Donovan shot to his right, Guzan dove the other way and that was all the Galaxy needed to claim a fifth victory in all competitions against Chivas this season.
Galaxy boss Steve Sampson made four changes to the team that lost 2-0 to the Colorado Rapids the previous Saturday in Denver. Ugo Ihemelu was rested, the first time he'd been out of the lineup this season, as was Jovan Kirovski and Landon Donovan (though came on as second-half substitutes). Paulo Nagamura was suspended, and so Pablo Chinchilla and Michael Umana (in central defense), Guillermo Ramirez (in a central midfield role) and Joseph Ngwenya (in attack) were given starts.
Here's Sampson's team (4-4-2): Kevin Hartman - Troy Roberts (Ednaldo da Conceicao 66), Pablo Chinchilla, Michael Umana, Todd Dunivant -Chris Albright, Guillermo Ramirez, Peter Vagenas, Cobi Jones - Herculez Gomez (Jovan Kirovski 79), Joseph Ngwenya (Landon Donovan 46)
"This match was important for us for many, many reasons," Sampson said. "First of all, we needed the three points. Secondly, it was important for us to play in front of so many people and come away with a win. Third, with five victories against Chivas USA this season we would make a statement; I think we made that statement."
The Los Angeles Galaxy won away from The Home Depot Center for the first time this season, getting a late penalty to claim a 1-0 victory and finish off a season sweep of Super Clasíco rival Chivas USA before a massive crowd at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Wednesday. The Galaxy are still in third place with 32 points from 22 matches, three behind second-place FC Dallas and five out of first, while extending their lead over fourth-place Colorado to eight points.
The Galaxy now have two 'road' victories on the campaign - both coming against Chivas USA, and both coming in the greater Los Angeles area. The first came at The Home Depot Center shared by the clubs, and the second was about 20 miles farther north in downtown L.A. But Wednesday was more like a road game that many of the regular season games, with the crowd that came to the Coliseum to cheer on Chivas USA's mother club from Mexico.
"It was fun. When you have a chance to play with crowds like that, it's fun," said Landon Donovan. "We don't get to experience that very often in MLS so I think guys need to take advantage of that and appreciate it."
Donovan, along with usual strike partner Jovan Kirovski, was given the opening 45 minutes off. "It's not exactly a day off," he said. "It's a good circumstance for me to come into because I watch from the sideline, I get excited and I want to come in and play. I am very grateful that Steve gave me the chance to come off the bench and save legs for 45 minutes before the end of the year."
But certainly, one of the talking points at the end of the night was the throng that packed the Coliseum. "I think this is tremendous, to be very blunt about it. I think we can all appreciate that doubleheaders have been going on for years in MLS. But the fact that so many were here at kickoff, that's new - I don't think that happened 10 years ago." Galaxy president and GM Doug Hamilton said. "I think it adds to the credibility of our league, and gives an opportunity to showcase our teams to a community that may or may not be coming out to our games."