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REAL SALT LAKE v CHICAGO FIRE
RICE-ECCLES STADIUM, Salt Lake City, Utah
7 p.m. MT (CSN-Chi)
June 3, 2006 (WEEK 10) / MLS Game #59
Real Salt Lake conclude their three-game homestand looking to make a little history. Riding a three-game unbeaten streak - a club record - they are looking to extend it while maintaining their hold on a playoff position in the Western Conference. For the Chicago Fire, it's the end of the long and winding road - the final game of their nine-game road swing to begin the season, with the opening of their Bridgeview Stadium coming next weekend as they finally get to play at home in the 2006 season.
REFEREE: Jair Marrufo. SAR (bench): Anthony Vasoli; JAR (opposite): Edouard Groguhe; 4th: Feliciano Palomino
MLS Career: 39 games; FC/gm: 30.2; Y/gm: 3.5; R: 10; pens: 20
MLS 2006: 2 games; FC/gm: 19.5 (avg: 30.7); Y/gm: 2.5 (avg: 3.91); R: 0 (MLS: 9); pens: 1 (MLS: 14)
Games involving Real: P3 W0 L2 T1; FC/gm: 24.7; Y/gm: 4.0; R: 0; pens: 0
Games involving Fire: P10 W3 L4 T3; FC/gm: 34.2; Y/gm: 3.3; R: 3; pens: 6
INJURY REPORT: REAL SALT LAKE - OUT: DF Paul Broome (L ankle internal derangement); MF Seth Trembly (L knee ACL tear); QUESTIONABLE: DF Kevin Novak (R hand fracture); PROBABLE: DF Danny Torres (L popliteal strain); MF Kenny Cutler (L rib contusion) ... CHICAGO FIRE - OUT: DF Jim Curtin (R foot fracture); MF Diego Gutierrez (R hamstring strain); MF Justin Mapp (facial fracture); DF Tony Sanneh (R hamstring strain)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: RSL: Eddie Pope (USA; 2006 World Cup); Douglas Sequeira (Costa Rica; 2006 World Cup)
SUSPENDED: RSL: Atiba Harris (through June 3)
This is the first of two meetings between the clubs this season, the only one set for the Wasatch Front. Their lone meeting in Chicago is scheduled for the end of the month, June 28 at Bridgeview Stadium.
ALL-TIME (2 meetings): Real 0 wins (0 shootout), 1 goal ... Fire 2 wins (0 shootout), 6 goals ... 0 draws
AT RICE-ECCLES: (1 meeting): Real 0 wins (0 shootout), 0 goals ... Fire 1 win (0 shootout), 3 goals ... 0 draws
LAST YEAR (MLS)
A year ago, the Fire swept the season series in Real's inaugural campaign, winning at each club's home ground over the span of little less than a month.
The Fire completed a clean sweep of the two expansion clubs, winning all four meetings against both Chivas USA and Real Salt Lake - along with D.C. United the only teams to run the table against the newcomers.
Coaches record: John Ellinger v CHI: P2 W0 L2 D0 ... Dave Sarachan vs. RSL: P2 W2 L0 D0
5/28: RSL 0, CHI 3 (Armas 5; Caballero 53; Barrett 84)
6/26: CHI 3, RSL 1 (Thiago 53; Rolfe 69; Herron 88 - Kreis 62)
REAL SALT LAKE
Real Salt Lake were trying to build on their two-game winning streak, and while they didn't accomplish that, they still came away with a well-earned point, twice coming back from deficits to record a 2-2 draw with Colorado Rapids last weekend at home. RSL is in fourth place in the Western Conference with eight points from nine matches, six behind joint second-place Rapids and Dynamo and 13 behind the conference-leading FC Dallas.
The first meeting of the second edition of the Rocky Mountain Cup was on display, with Real looking to again make history against their rivals. Real was looking to win a third consecutive game for the first time in club history; a year ago, their first-ever win came in Salt Lake against Colorado.
An incessant downpour led to a wild encounter on the Rice-Eccles artificial turf - especially over the final quarter of the match. Colorado had the lead after a 33rd-minute goal from Jovan Kirovski, where he finally got the ball over the line after two saves from RSL 'keeper Scott Garlick - then putting a first rebound attempt of his own off the post, before he gratefully finished off a second chance.
The home side pulled level in the 73rd minute with some good fortune of its own. Mike Petke handled the ball as it bounced near the penalty area and referee Colin Tait pointed to the spot - though it appeared to have happened outside the box. Jeff Cunningham stepped up and converted the penalty, his fourth goal in the last three games, all as a substitute.
But Real went a man down in the 82nd minute when Atiba Harris was sent off for a second bookable offense in the half, and then just two minutes later the Rapids took advantage. Just having had a header from a corner cleared off the line by RSL's Kevin Novak - one of two he did in the sequence - Rapids rookie Daniel Wasson made no mistake from a resulting corner, powering a header home for his first professional goal.
However, four minutes later Real again pulled level, this time from the league's all-time leading scorer. Cunningham flicked a ball into the area and Jason Kreis was first to it, prodding it under Colorado 'keeper Bouna Coundoul just the two had a heavy collision. It was his third goal of the season, and 103rd of his MLS career.
RSL head coach John Ellinger didn't make any changes to the team that came back to defeat the Kansas City Wizards 2-1 the previous weekend at home. It was the first time in club history he had used the same starting team in three consecutive matches.
Here's Ellinger's team (4-4-2): Scott Garlick - Kevin Novak, Nelson Akwari (Andy Williams 69), Daniel Torres, Willis Forko - Chris Klein, Kenny Cutler (Jeff Cunningham 46), Carey Talley, Mehdi Ballouchy - Atiba Harris, Jason Kreis. [Substitutes Not Used: Nikolas Besagno, Chris Brown, Christian Jimenez, Jay Nolly, Jamie Watson]
"Getting the penalty kick was a crucial moment for us," Ellinger said. "And then after going down one man and giving up the goal, and then to come back and get a goal, hopefully the season is turning the other way now."
While Real failed in another bid to claim a third consecutive victory, they did extend their unbeaten streak to three games - a club record. "It's good," Kreis said. "For me, who was here last year, last year we might have packed it in. This team felt like we could come back, and we did."
"The main thing we're going to take away is this team has an attitude now where we refuse to lose," said Chris Klein. "We'd rather have the three points today, but to be able to battle back and bring it back to 2-2, especially when we were down twice, I just think that is part of the building process and showing the character of this team."
Atiba Harris will miss the Fire match after he was sent off for two bookable offenses in the second half. Just as in the match the weekend before, Ellinger started the second half in a 4-3-3 scheme, with Harris as the spearhead, Kreis and Klein on the flanks, Mehdi Ballouchy in behind and Kenny Cutler and Carey Talley in holding midfield roles. But when Cutler was injured, Jeff Cunningham came on as the center forward and Harris moved alongside Talley - where two hard tackles saw him receive two yellow cards, sent off in the 82nd minute.
"We're down by a goal and trying to keep Atiba on the field," said Ellinger. "He actually played holding midfield for St. Kitts national team, for U-23s. So it's not like it's foreign to him. ... Having (Cutler) go out, we still wanted to keep somewhat of a two holding midfielder system in there. And that was the decision there to get Jeff on."
For the second consecutive match, Andy Williams came on as a substitute, and while he hasn't had perhaps the immediately noticeable impact of Cunningham, in each case his presence turned the game around. Williams hasn't started since April 29.
"Andy's role was to basically play on top of the three center midfielders," said Ellinger. "I wanted him right under the forwards to keep the pressure on Colorado to get the goal. Andy is someone we think a great deal of and in the last two games he's come on and made a huge contribution."
Scott Garlick has been the starter in goal for 99 victories, the third-most in MLS history, behind the Los Angeles Galaxy's Kevin Hartman (107) and Chicago's Zach Thornton (105).
The Chicago Fire saw their six-match unbeaten run come to an end as the conclusion to their road swing to open the campaign was finally in sight, falling 1-0 to Chivas USA at The Home Depot Center last Saturday. The Fire are still in fifth place in the Eastern Conference with 10 points from eight matches, one behind the third-place tie between the New England Revolution and Columbus Crew and 11 adrift of first-place D.C. United.
Chivas USA was hoping matches on back-to-back weekends for the first time in more than a month - and a return home - would prove the recipe for a second victory on the season. The Chicago Fire, meanwhile, had the end of their nine-game road trip to begin the season in sight, with just one more game on their travels remaining after the trip to California.
It didn't take long for Chivas to open their account. Ante Razov collected a through ball on the left side of the area and fired a low shot toward the far post that Fire 'keeper Zach Thornton could only parry. It rolled out to the penalty spot where Juan Pablo Garcia came in to side-foot home into the right corner of the goal.
Chivas head coach Bob Bradley gave Preston Burpo his MLS debut in goal - and he made the early goal stand up for his first MLS shutout, the third for Chivas in four home games this season, after allowed eight goals in two road matches leading into the Chicago match.
Fire head coach Dave Sarachan made two changes to the team that defeated Houston Dynamo 1-0 at Robertson Stadium the previous weekend. C.J. Brown and Diego Gutierrez were both out to injury, meaning Jack Stewart and Leonard Griffin came into the back four as Ivan Guerrero moved forward into a wide midfield role.
Here's Sarachan's team (4-3-1-2): Zach Thornton - Tony Sanneh (Floyd Franks 11), Dasan Robinson, Jack Stewart, Leonard Griffin (Calen Carr 64) -, Logan Pause, Chris Armas, Ivan Guerrero - Thiago - Nate Jaqua (Andy Herron 76), Chris Rolfe. [Substitutes Not Used: Jared Montz, Matt Pickens, Brian Plotkin, Gonzalo Segares]
"It wasn't like we were ticking on all cylinders tonight, but if we get the equalizer maybe that changes the complexion and pace of the game," said Sarachan. "Chivas USA put a lot into the game tonight and looked to preserve what they had and that's the way it ended."
The early goal put pressure on the Fire and ultimately they were unable to find the equalizer despite creating several quality scoring opportunities.
"Losing a goal in the first minute obviously puts you on your heels right away, which is disappointing," said Sarachan. "But I felt we had good stretches in the first half but we didn't finish our chances and when you don't equalize then we're chasing the game."
Veteran Fire defender Tony Sanneh left the game in the 11th minute with an injury to his right hamstring. He joins Jim Curtin (broken foot), C.J. Brown (neck injury), Diego Gutierrez (hamstring injury) and Justin Mapp (facial fracture) on the list of the Fire's injured starters.
"We'd like to think we're a deep team and we're not going to use any excuses," said Sarachan. "Certainly we were missing some key guys tonight but I'm confident that the guys we put on the field can do the job and I thought that many of them did a good job tonight."
Although they finished the match with five regulars on the shelf, and playing the eighth consecutive match on the road, the Fire were still not completely content with their position at the quarter-point of the season.
"At eight games in we're 2-2-4 but we can be heavier on the win side. We're definitely not satisfied and it's not going to get easier when we go home, which adds a little bit of pressure also," Chris Rolfe said. "There were a couple of games where we could have taken the three points and tonight showed that we're still not clicking like we should be."
"It's not normal for us to give up a goal that quickly, that early into a game," Chicago coach Dave Sarachan said. "We were chasing the game pretty much right after the first minute, so it was a tough night."