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The Chicago Fire saw their home stretch and four-game unbeaten run come to a crashing halt last weekend, falling 3-1 to the Columbus Crew. In the second of three consecutive matches at Soldier Field (where the Fire have won just once in their three matches this year), Chicago plays host to the Colorado Rapids, who have lost just once in seven matches this season, yet won for just the second time last weekend in claiming a 2-1 victory against D.C. United in Denver.
REFEREE: Ricardo Valenzuela. SAR (bench): Jose Andrade; JAR (opposite): David Bragg; 4th: Abbey Okulaja
MLS Career: 53 games; FC/gm: 35.2; Y/gm: 4.8; R: 22; pens: 16
Games involving Fire: P16 W10 L3 T3; FC/gm: 36.7; Y/gm: 5.1; R: 6; pens: 4
Games involving Rapids: P7 W4 L3 T0; FC/gm: 33.9; Y/gm: 5.4; R: 5; pens: 3
INJURY REPORT: CHICAGO FIRE - OUT: MD Jesse Marsch (R ankle cartilage damage) ... COLORADO RAPIDS - OUT: DF Jeff Stewart (R knee); PROBABLE: FW John Spencer (L hamstring strain)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
YELLOW PERIL: CLB: Brian Maisonneuve (10 CP in 2 gms)
ALL-TIME (19 meetings): Fire 10 wins (0 shootout), 40 goals ... Rapids 6 wins (1 shootout), 23 goals ... 3 draws
IN CHICAGO (10 meetings): Fire 8 wins, 27goals ... Rapids 2 wins, 9 goals ... 0 draws
This is the first of three meetings between the two clubs this season. They'll next meet twice in the course of two weeks, in Denver on July 28, then back at Soldier Field on Aug. 14.
A year ago, the Fire won two of three league meetings - with the third a draw - winning both matches at home. On May 25, the Fire won 4-0 at Cardinal Stadium (Razov 8 pen, 75 pen; Beasley 32; Mapp 38).
The teams then met twice in three weeks, playing to a 1-1 draw in Denver on Oct. 1 (Chung 83 - Marsch 48), the Fire then winning again at home, this time at Soldier Field, in a wild 4-3 contest on Oct. 18 (Razov 11; Armas 42, 90; Beasley 66 - Henderson 20; Roberts 72, 87).
The Fire also eliminated the Rapids from the U.S. Open Cup at the quarterfinal stage last year, winning 2-1 at Cardinal Stadium in a fractious affair.
Ante Razov leads the Fire all-time scoring charts against the Rapids with 8 goals, 2 assists. Chris Armas is next among current Fire players with 4 goals, 3 assists for his career (3 goals, 2 assists while with Chicago). Jesse Marsch has 3 goals, 4 assists against the Rapids (2 goals, 3 assists while with the Fire), while DaMarcus Beasley has 2 goals, 3 assists. Andy Williams has 4 assists for his career (with 1 goal, but just 1 assist in Chicago).
Chris Henderson has 4 goals, 5 assists for his career v Chicago - but just 2 goals, 2 assists while with Colorado. Mark Chung leads current Rapids players with 1 goal, 4 assists v Chicago - for his career, he has 3 goals, 6 assists. Zizi Roberts has 2 goals - Henderson, Chung and Zizi are the only three current Rapids to have scored against the Fire.
Coaches record: Dave Sarachan v COL: P3 W2 D0 L1 ... Tim Hankinson vs. CHI: P13 W2 D7 L4
Jeff Cunningham put the Crew ahead in the 32nd minute, converting his own penalty after he was held back in the area by Jim Curtin. But then just after the break, Damani Ralph expertly brought down a looped Andy Williams ball into the area before finishing with power to bring the Fire level (49).
But it took Columbus just six minutes to answer, Kyle Martino latching onto the ball in the area before skipping through a couple of defenders and rounding goalkeeper Henry Ring to slot home. Then four minutes later, Michael Ritch collected a good pass from Eric Denton before hammering a high drive past Ring for his first professional goal.
"I don't know, things just seemed to bounce the wrong way," goalkeeper Henry Ring said. "I thought we came out in the second half with a lot of good energy.
Fire coach Dave Sarachan made no changes to the team that drew 1-1 with the MetroStars the weekend before. Here's Sarachan's team (3-4-1-2): Henry Ring - Evan Whitfield, Jim Curtin, C.J. Brown (Orlando Perez 76) - Justin Mapp (Nate Jaqua 67), Chris Armas, Logan Pause (Dipsy Selolwane 63), DaMarcus Beasley - Andy Williams - Damani Ralph, Ante Razov.
"It was disappointing. We couldn't quite get it into another gear today. It wasn't our best day, that's for sure. I can't explain it. Overall I just don't think we got it into another gear today," Sarachan said.
Before losing their first two games at home this season, the Fire had lost just 19 of 91 matches at home, winning 60. "It's a concern,'' Sarachan said, "and I don't have an answer for it. You just don't walk on the field and win at home. There are no easy teams in this league. The margin between the top teams and the ones perceived to be the bottom teams is very slim.''
After a pair of victories gave the Fire a lift, they've now gone three matches without a victory and had to come from behind in all three contests.
"There are no secrets with our team, there are guys other teams key on. We have to be able to rely on others as well, not just Damani and Ante. We have to balance ourselves better. We need to involve our flank play better. I think today we didn't involve our flank play enough. Teams are keying on our guys centrally, so that makes it hard," said Sarachan.
The Chicago Fire lost for the second time in three matches this season at their usually impenetrable fortress of Soldier Field, falling to the Columbus Crew 3-1 on Sunday afternoon. The Fire are still tied for the lead in the Eastern Conference, though, with 10 points from eight matches, level with the MetroStars.
The Rapids haven't lost since last May, surpassing the league mark previously held by San Jose Earthquakes with their victory. Zizi Roberts put the home side ahead after 13 minutes when he redirected home a terrific overhead kick from Jean-Philippe Peguero.
Josh Gros brought United level two minutes after the halftime break with his first professional goal, hammering home a rolling cross played through the area from Earnie Stewart.
But it took Colorado just four minutes to answer, Peguero diving to head home a Mark Chung knockdown of a deep Chris Henderson cross from the right corner. For Henderson, the assist gave him the Colorado Rapids all-time scoring lead with 101 points.
Rapids coach Tim Hankinson made one change to the team that drew 1-1 away to Los Angeles Galaxy the weekend before, while reorganizing his side. Zizi Roberts made his first start of the 2004 season, returning from a knee injury, coming in to partner Jean-Philippe Peguero in attack. Antonio de la Torre returned to right back from a central midfield role, Matt Crawford left out of the team.
Here's Hankinson's team (4-4-2): Joe Cannon - Antonio de la Torre, Nat Borchers, Pablo Mastroeni, Ritchie Kotschau - Mark Chung, Kyle Beckerman, Darryl Powell, Chris Henderson - Zizi Roberts (Seth Trembly 89), Jean-Philippe Peguero (Matt Crawford 77).
The only visit of D.C. United and Freddy Adu to Denver drew a crowd of 31,441 to Invesco Field, the Rapids second-largest non-fireworks crowd in club history (behind a 2002 crowd of 48,476 for a doubleheader with a USA-Mexico match.
Henderson was pleased with the surroundings for his record-setting point. "I'm glad it came on an assist," he said. "It was a good atmosphere tonight. Looking into the future when we get our own stadium, a smaller venue, that's what the atmosphere will be like."
Hankinson also expected to have captain John Spencer available, but the victory - and that both halves of the strike partnership scored - allowed the Rapids boss to rest him again. "If we could get (Spencer) an extra week of training, that would ensure complete health, no risk," he said. "He was prepared to play in the game if the last 20 minutes called for it. We were fortunate to be able to give him that extra week to prepare for Chicago."
Just before the game, Zizi Roberts was honored with the announcement of his selection as the second recipient of the Tebelleh King Award, for the Liberian player of the year. He received more than 75 percent of the vote from LiberianSoccer.com.
The Colorado Rapids set an MLS record by staying unbeaten for a 16th consecutive match at home, defeating D.C. United 2-1 at Invesco Field at Mile High to extend their season unbeaten run to three matches. The Rapids remain in fourth place in the Western Conference despite the victory, with 10 points from seven matches on the season.