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Saturday, 7:30 p.m. CT (MSG)
The Chicago Fire return home to Soldier Field looking a victory on home turf for the first time this season and knowing that maintaining their recent history against the MetroStars will put them right back at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Fire finally won - and scored - last weekend, while the MetroStars remained unbeaten and atop the East despite being held to a 1-1 draw at home by the New England Revolution. A victory by the MetroStars would turn around last year's dismal run in the series, where they went winless in five meetings against the Fire in all competitions.
REFEREE: Terry Vaughn. SAR (bench): Richard Eddy; JAR (opposite): Ken Kaplan; 4th: Roni Canales
MLS Career: 35 games; FC/gm: 32.0; Y/gm: 3.8; R: 11; pens: 10
Games involving Fire: P7 W4 L1 T2; FC/gm: 32.3; Y/gm: 3.7; R: 2; pens: 2
Games involving MetroStars: P6 W3 L0 T3; FC/gm: 31.0; Y/gm: 4.5; R: 2; pens: 4
INJURY REPORT: CHICAGO FIRE - OUT: MD Jesse Marsch (R ankle cartilage damage); DF Orlando Perez (lower back pain); QUESTIONABLE: FW Ante Razov (R groin strain); DF Evan Whitfield (R lower leg contusion) ... METROSTARS - NONE REPORTED
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
YELLOW PERIL: none
This is the first of the four meetings between the Eastern Conference rivals, the first of two in a couple of weeks. They'll play again at Giants Stadium on May 15. The two will then play again twice in two weeks, at the Meadowlands on July 17 then in Chicago on July 31.
A year ago, the Fire had the MetroStars' number, winning three of the four league meetings with a draw in the fourth, as long-time Fire coach Bob Bradley failed on every occasion to defeat his former club.
The Fire won 3-2 on June 14 in New Jersey (LeBlanc 82, Guevara 90 pen - Razov 31, 66; Ralph 61), then won 2-1 on an Ante Razov golden goal two weeks later at Cardinal Stadium (Ralph 35, Razov 94 - Clark 60).
They played to a 1-1 draw in Naperville on Aug. 9 (Ralph 22 - Jolley 86), then the Fire won 2-1 on Aug. 24 at the Meadowlands (Wolyniec 28 - Ralph 45, Razov 86).
The teams also met in the U.S. Open Cup final as the MetroStars chased the first trophy in club history, but Damani Ralph's 68th-minute goal gave the Fire a 1-0 victory at Giants Stadium.
The Fire haven't lost in the last six league meetings between the teams, and in 10 of the last 11 encounters. The only Metro victory over the last three seasons came on June 22, 2002 at Cardinal Stadium (1-0). The Fire have won in their last six appearances at Giants Stadium in all competitions, dating back to Sept. 1, 2001.
Ante Razov leads the Fire's all-time list against the Metros with 9 goals, 4 assists - four of those goals coming last year. Razov also had a goal v Metro while in Los Angeles. Damani Ralph is second among current Fire players with 4 goals, 1 assist. DaMarcus Beasley and Jesse Marsch have also hit for multiple goals against the MetroStars (2 each), while Andy Williams has 1 goal, 7 assists.
On the all-time Metro list, only two players have hit for multiple goals against Chicago - neither still with the club (Eduardo Hurtado and Steve Jolley, 2 each). Joey DiGiamarino has 3 goals for his career v the Fire, none while with the Metros.
Coaches record: Dave Sarachan v MET P4 W3 D0 L1 ... Bob Bradley vs. CHI: P4 W0 D3 L1
ALL-TIME (16 meetings): Fire 11 wins (0 shootout), 30 goals ... MetroStars 4 wins (0 shootout), 19 goals ... 1 draw
Damani Ralph's goal just before the hour (57) was the Fire's first after 327 scoreless minutes, just a half-hour shy of the longest goalless streak to open a season.
The goal was a terrific individual effort, Ralph turning past one defender in the middle of the field some 35 yards from goal then simply outrunning a pair of defenders before slotting the ball home from 12 yards out. It sent United to defeat for a second consecutive week after opening the season with a win and a draw.
Fire coach Dave Sarachan made two changes to the team that lost 2-0 to the Dallas Burn in the Fire's home opener the weekend before, but those changes also brought a tactical adjustment. Damani Ralph came into the lineup, replacing Ante Razov, while Justin Mapp was preferred to Leonard Griffin. Sarachan moved Jaqua forward to partner Ralph in attack, while DaMarcus Beasley was moved back to a left-sided wingback role.
Here's Sarachan's team (3-2-3-2): Henry Ring - C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Kelly Gray - Logan Pause, Chris Armas - Justin Mapp (Dipsy Selolwane 64), Andy Williams (Craig Capano 88), DaMarcus Beasley - Nate Jaqua, Damani Ralph.
"We weathered some storms, no question about it," Sarachan said. In the second half, "it was just a matter of tweaking and spacing, more than anything, and once we did that, it forced things on their end."
The Chicago Fire scored their first goal and recorded their first victory of 2004, claiming a 1-0 triumph against D.C. United at RFK Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The Fire had started their season with two draws and a loss, but are now in second place in the Eastern Conference with five points, two behind the pace-setting MetroStars.
The MetroStars weren't able to take advantage of a makeshift New England Revolution side racked by injuries, the teams trading goals in short order in the first half of a free-flowing, attractive match.
Rookie Clint Dempsey gave the Revolution the lead after just 12 minutes, pounding home from the spot after Jay Heaps headed down from a corner. But just two minutes the MetroStars answered through Amado Guevara, who curled home a shot from just inside the area after corraling a mis-hit chance.
"The responsibility falls on us on a day like today," said Metro coach Bob Bradley. "Just because you're the team that takes the initiative in the game, that doesn't mean you win. You win by being good at doing certain things. Anybody who criticizes teams that might choose to play that way on a given day, the bottom line is that if you're good enough with the ball and good enough with certain advantages and certain plays, and you make them pay for things, then that will bring them out of that position."
Bradley made four changes to his team after a 3-2 come-from-behind victory against D.C. United the previous Saturday. After coming off the bench to score two goals, Fabian Taylor was given his first start, partnered in attack by Sergio Galvan Rey - making his MLS debut. The two were favored to John Wolyniec and Mike Magee, the strike pair for the first two games.
In addition, Jeff Parke came back into the team, replacing Tenywa Bonseu in the back four, while Ricardo Clark came in for Mark Lisi in the center of midfield.
"We're early in the season (and) I think we have more competition than ever for spots," Bradley said. "We've talked within the team about the fact that we may rotate players a little bit more this year, that we may need to keep everybody on their toes, in terms of just playing the different combinations."
Here's Bradley's team (4-4-2): Jonny Walker - Craig Ziadie, Jeff Parke, Eddie Pope, Chris Leitch - Joselito Vaca, Ricardo Clark (Mark Lisi 67), Amado Guevara, Eddie Gaven - Sergio Galvan Rey (John Wolyniec 72), Fabian Taylor (Cornell Glen 79).
"They came here for a point, they played not to lose, and they accomplished that," Guevara said. "We had plenty of opportunities to win the game, but we needed more patience during the defining moments."
The MetroStars remained unbeaten on the season though they failed to take maximum points for the first time this season, playing to a 1-1 draw against the New England Revolution on Sunday afternoon at Giants Stadium. The MetroStars still leads the Eastern Conference with seven points from three matches, two points clear of the Chicago Fire and point behind the Los Angeles Galaxy in the race for the best overall mark in MLS.