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8 pm CT (FSN-NE)
The most vitally important match of the weekend takes place in Chicago, where the loser will their playoff hopes dealt a serious blow. The Chicago Fire come into the match in fourth place, just two points ahead of the New England Revolution - and third-place D.C. United starting to show signs of pulling away. The Fire come into the match after losing at midweek to Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup Final, the first time in four trips to the nation's oldest competition they haven't carried off the Dewar Trophy. Last weekend, the Revolution put paid to a long winless run in style, hitting for a club league record six goals in defeating the Colorado Rapids.
REFEREE: Kevin Stott. SAR (bench): Nate Clement; JAR (opposite): Rick Eddy; 4th: Michael Kennedy
MLS Career: 106 games; FC/gm: 26.5; Y/gm: 3.4; R: 29; pens: 19
Games involving Fire: P17 W10 L4 T3; FC/gm: 31.1; Y/gm: 3.7; R: 2; pens: 2
Games involving Revolution: P13 W9 L3 T1; FC/gm: 28.7; Y/gm: 4.0; R: 4; pens: 2
INJURY REPORT: CHICAGO FIRE - OUT: FW Ante Razov (R ankle bone spur); MD Justin Mapp (R knee LCL sprain); QUESTIONABLE: MD Chris Armas (R knee surgery) ... NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION - OUT: DF Steve Howey (R quad strain); GK Adin Brown (concussion); DF Carlos Llamosa (L knee sprain); FW Joe-Max Moore (R knee sprain); GK Kyle Singer (R shoulder sprain); DF Joe Franchino (R hip strain); PROBABLE: MD Clint Dempsey (L ankle sprain); DF Marshall Leonard (R toe sprain); MD Shalrie Joseph (R knee sprain)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
YELLOW PERIL: CHI: Chris Armas (19 CP); Jim Curtin (18 CP); Andy Williams (18 CP) ... NE: Clint Dempsey (18 CP)
The teams play for the third time of four meetings this season, the second of two at Soldier Field. They'll conclude their season series at Gillette Stadium in the season finale (Oct. 16). The teams played to a draw in their first Chicago encounter on July 11, then the Revs claimed a 3-1 come-from-behind victory in Foxborough three days later.
Taylor Twellman ended the longest personal goalless drought of his career (702 minutes), but then was sent off at the end of the match in the Revolution's July 14 win.
Andy Williams gave the Fire the lead just before the half with a wonderful strike from just inside the penalty area, but the Revolution took control with a three-goal blitz after the break. Clint Dempsey headed home a pinpoint cross from Richie Baker two minutes into the half to equalize, then four minutes later Twellman played a neat 1-2 with Dempsey before lashing home a cross shot from the right side of the area.
Then Twellman had the easiest of finishes on a corner after Brian Kamler's flick-on from the near post found the striker all alone at the back stick.
But he was sent off in the 90th minute by referee Alex Prus for a hard tackle from behind in midfield on Williams. The Fire were left a man down themselves barely a minute later when rookie Scott Buete was booked for the second time.
Here's Steve Nicol's team (4-4-2): Matt Reis - Steve Ralston, Jay Heaps, Avery John, Joe Franchino - Pat Noonan (Richie Baker 75), Shalrie Joseph (Marshall Leonard 69), Jose Cancela (Andy Dorman 75), Brian Kamler - Clint Dempsey, Taylor Twellman
Here's Dave Sarachan's team (4-4-2): D.J. Countess - Orlando Perez (Justin Mapp 75),C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Kelly Gray (Leonard Griffin 85) - Andy Williams, Scott Buete, Chris Armas (Dipsy Selolwane 73), DaMarcus Beasley - Nate Jaqua, Damani Ralph.
Three nights earlier at Soldier Field, the teams traded goals a minute apart early in the second half as they played to a 1-1 draw.
Damani Ralph blasted a penalty home off the hands of Rev 'keeper Matt Reis after Andy Williams was clipped in the area to give the Fire a 49th-minute lead, but then the visitors raced to the other end off the kickoff and won a free kick - from where Steve Ralston curled home a world-class effort from all of 30 yards that left Henry Ring helpless in the Chicago goal.
Last year, the Revolution were one of just two teams (D.C. United the other) to win the season series against the Fire, winning both games at home while getting a draw in the two games at Chicago. The teams played first to a 1-1 draw at Cardinal Stadium on April 13 (Beasley 35 - Twellman 41) in the season opener for both teams, then on May 17, the Revolution strolled to a 3-0 victory in Foxborough (Twellman 18, Heaps 49, Ralston 56).
The Fire claimed their only victory of the season against New England on July 19 in Naperville (Gray 8; Mapp 34; Ralph 51 pen - Twellman 90), but the Revolution ended a two-month winless run in impressive fashion at home on Aug. 30, a hat trick from new signing Chris Brown highlighting a 5-1 win (Brown 6, 63, 66; Kamler 44; Heaps 88 - Williams 14).
The teams have split their last 10 meetings, each winning four with two draws.
While the road team failed to win last season, the year before, the home team failed to win - the Fire winning both games in New England and the Revs winning one at Chicago, with the second game there a draw.
Ante Razov leads the Fire's all-time records against the Revolution with 5 goals, 3 assists. Jesse Marsch is next among current Fire players with 0 goals, 7 assists - all but one with the Fire. Only one other current Fire player has more than one goal v New England, Andy Williams (3 goals, 3 assists).
Taylor Twellman leads the Revolution's all-time scoring table against Chicago with 7 goals, 1 assist - in just eight games played. Three of those goals came last season. Jay Heaps has 3 goals, 2 assists v the Fire (2 goals, 1 assist with New England), while Steve Ralston has 2 goal, 6 assists (2 goals, 2 assists with the Revs). No other current Revolution player has more than one goal v Chicago.
Coaches record: Dave Sarachan vs. NE: P6 W1 L3 T2 ... Steve Nicol v CHI: P8 W4 L2 T2
ALL-TIME (18 meetings): Revolution 7 wins (0 shootout), 30 goals ... Fire 6 wins (0 shootout), 26 goals ... 5 draws
AT CHICAGO (9 meetings): Fire 3 wins (0 shootout), 14 goals ... Revolution 2 wins (0 shootout), 11 goals ... 4 draw
D.C. United scored three goals in the first half as they won consecutive games for the first time all season, overwhelming a Chicago Fire side now also fighting for playoff survival.
Christian Gomez scored his first MLS goal, finishing off a wonderful flowing movement with a curling shot over Henry Ring to give United the lead on eight minutes, then Alecko Eskandarian doubled it when he blazed home from a sharp angle outside the area after a 1-2 on a corner kick (20), the first time in more than two seasons United has scored on a corner.
The lead could have been even bigger, but Ring turned aside a Moreno penalty in the 28th minute, yet Moreno still played provider for the third time on the night (and sixth United goal in succession) when he put Ben Olsen through on the left, Olsen's sharply-angled effort after rounding Ring just helped over the line by Fire defender C.J. Brown (40).
The Fire then grabbed a late consolation effort in second-half stoppage time as Andy Williams converted from the penalty spot after Mike Petke was ruled to have handled a strange deflection in a somewhat dubious decision.
"It was too fast for us," Fire coach Dave Sarachan said. "We just couldn't catch the ball in the first half, [and] we're disappointed.
Sarachan made two changes to the team that beat United at home two weeks earlier. Damani Ralph and Andy Williams both returned from international duty to the lineup, as Justin Mapp was lost for the remainder of the league season with a knee injury and Sumed Ibrahim made his only start of the season before being released to make room for Zach Thornton.
Here's Sarachan's team (3-4-1-2): Henry Ring - Denny Clanton (Evan Whitfield 46), Jim Curtin, C.J. Brown - Logan Pause, Jesse Marsch (Dipsy Selolwane 77), Scott Buete (Andy Herron 46), Kelly Gray - Andy Williams - Nate Jaqua, Damani Ralph
On Wednesday, the holders lost in the final of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the Fire losing for the first time in four trips to the final, 1-0 to the Kansas City Wizards on a golden goal from Igor Simutenkov five minutes into the extra-time period.
Simutenkov drilled a free kick from the right side through the wall, off 'keeper Henry Ring's hands, off the underside of the crossbar and back down into the goal for the game's only goal, the third major honor in club history (after the 2000 MLS Cup and Supporters Shield).
"We missed a few chances that I think could have put us ahead,'' Sarachan said. "I think we could have won the game tonight. Championship games are one-play games, and they get the one play at the end, and that's it.''
While he was only a late substitute, Sarachan made an important change just before the 90 minutes rolled over, Chris Armas coming on after suffering a knee injury one month earlier. Here's Sarachan's Open Cup Final team: Henry Ring, C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Evan Whitfield, Kelly Gray, Logan Pause (Chris Armas 88), Jesse Marsch, Andy Williams, Dipsy Selolwane, Nate Jaqua, Damani Ralph.
In the cup final, Ring again had the start with D.J. Countess the reserve, with Zach Thornton still waiting in the wings. "Right now Zach is getting into the everyday schedule," Sarachan said. "He still has a little ways to go in terms of soccer sharpness, fitness and getting integrated, even though he is a veteran. Nothing has changed as far as the approach going in. We still feel Henry is going to be the guy. D.J. is backing him up. Then we are taking it week by week."
The Chicago Fire saw the result reversed in the second half of their home-and-home series with D.C. United, a two-game winning snapped in a dire 3-1 loss at RFK Stadium on Saturday night. The Fire remained in fourth place in the Eastern Conference despite the loss with 29 points from 26 matches, but now lead fifth-place New England Revolution by just two points, and are four behind third-place United.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
The Revolution pulled themselves right back into the thick of the Eastern Conference dogfight in their drubbing of theleague's best defensive club coming into the match having allowed less than a goal per game.
Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan each hit for two goals for the Rev, just the second time in league history one team has had three players hit for a brace in the same contest (also: Los Angeles v Colorado, May 6, 1998; Cienfuegos, C.Jones, Welton).
Amazingly, it was the Rapids who took the lead after 17 minutes, Jean-Philippe Peguero holding off a Revolution defender while running under a long lofted ball, eventually rounding 'keeper Matt Reis.
But the home side struck for four goals in 14 minutes, the first time they've ever hit for four goals in a half. Ralston started it off on 27 minutes, playing a nifty 1-2 on the edge of the box before hammering a drive off the foot of the post before tapping in his own rebound. Then a minute later, Twellman intercepted a poor pass and cut across the top of the area before beating Rapids 'keeper Joe Cannon's dive.
Ralston then doubled the lead in the 36th minute when he converted from the penalty spot after Pablo Mastroeni was adjudged to have batted down a Noonan cross. Noonan himself then finished off the blitz after Ralston had done all the work with a slashing run on the left flank before pulling the ball back for the unmarked striker in the heart of the box.
Noonan completed his double nine minutes after the break when he blasted home a volley on the turn from a Brian Kamler cross, then Twellman finished off the six-pack with his second, sliding a shot home from close range after Felix Brillant's persistance set up the chance.
Revolution boss Steve Nicol made two changes to the team that lost 3-2 to the MetroStars the previous weekend. Steve Howey suffered a thigh injury the day before the match to put him out, while Joe Franchino suffered a likely season-ending injury recurrence during the Metro game. Richie Baker came back into the team on the right flank as Steve Ralston returned to right back, while Marshall Leonard came back in at left back.
Here's Nicol's team (4-1-3-2): Matt Reis - Steve Ralston, Jay Heaps, Rusty Pierce, Marshall Leonard -Shalrie Joseph (Andy Dorman 89) - Richie Baker, Clint Dempsey (Jose Cancela 66), Brian Kamler - Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan (Felix Brillant 70).
"I don't know who it was who said that we've already begun our playoffs," Kamler said. "But they were right because if you lose (the Colorado) game, you just continue to dig a huge hole for yourself. This win put us back in the playoff race with two games still to go with Chicago and one with D.C. United."
The Revolution club record in all competitions was a 7-1 victory against the Mid-Michigan Bucks in the U.S. Open Cup in 2001.
"I felt it coming," Twellman said. "Sooner or later when that ball's hitting the post nine times, that ball's going to go your way. I just think it was bound to happen for us. Obviously we've been pressing the last few weeks. We came out tonight and everybody executed well. It showed tonight what we can do."
The New England Revolution snapped a five-match winless streak in emphatic fashion, hitting for a club league record six goals in a 6-1 victory against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium. The Revolution remain in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, but are now just two points behind the Chicago Fire with 27 points from 26 matches, and trail third-place D.C. United by six points.