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Eastern Conference Championship

A midterm report card on goalkeeping and other oddities

Chris Doran is a contributor to Chicago-Fire.com.

I'm not surprised at Fire goalkeeper Henry Ring's success this season. My late-winter column outlining the challenges of replacing longtime 'keeper Zach Thornton (who transferred to Portugal's Benfica) also pointed to the potential of a young guy no one knew much about who'd been waiting for three years to show his stuff as an MLS starter.

Now at the mid-point of MLS 2004, Ring's six shutouts is tops in the League and his 1.07 goals-against average is good for third. As I'd hoped, he's emerged from Thornton's shadow and established his own identity in the way he shuts down angles in one-v-one situations (how many balls has he taken to the chest this season?) and his effort at getting to a ball in a crowd.

Credit Fire goalkeeper coach Daryl Shore for Ring's sharpness too. Combined with the daily challenges posed by the young D.J. Countess, the trio of players and coach continue to build a League franchise in the development of premium goalkeepers.

Ironically, Ring played in the first half of the Fire's scrimmage against Tim Howard and the rest of the U.S. men's national team in Chicago this week, while Thornton came in as a second-half sub for Bruce Arena's squad, as the teams battled to a scoreless tie. Thornton is among the goalkeepers called into camp for Sunday's friendly with Poland at Soldier Field.

I caught-up with Zach a few weeks ago and it sounded as though he'd like to stay in Europe for a while. His Benfica contract was to end in June but he was exploring other opportunities. The Baltimore native told me the steady diet of fresh fish helped him trim down a bit and made living overseas more palatable.

OTHER ODDITIES

It took a few of us to get Sumed Ibrahim into the game Saturday night in Columbus.

The Fire rookie was called in for his first MLS minutes against the Crew - so don't blame him for being nervous. Director of Team Operations Ron Stern, at the behest of coach Dave Sarachan, called Sumed from the warm-up area and handed him a substitution card. Sumed lingered near athletic trainer Jason Mathews, who sent him on his way toward the coaches.

A final word with the coaching staff and Sumed was headed towards me - the FOX Sports Net sideline reporter. He handed me the card. I chuckled and pointed to the fourth official saying, "Sorry Sumed, I don't have that kind of pull here, you'll have to check-in with that guy."

Chris welcomes your feedback at cdoran4@msn.com.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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