Ralph hat trick leads Fire to dominating win
both at home -- who also maintain their hold on the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Fire 'keeper Henry Ring was rarely troubled as he posted his league-leading sixth shutout in the win, the Fire's fifth consecutive triumph over United, including two wins in last year's Eastern Conference semifinal series.
In an effort to generate more attacking options, Fire coach Dave Sarachan put out his team with three attackers in Ralph, Ante Razov and DaMarcus Beasley. The result was a pinning of the United team in their own half for long periods, from nearly the outset of the match.
Razov fired a shot across the United bow in the sixth minute when he gathered a deflection in the area, but rookie 'keeper Troy Perkins pushed the shot away.
But it didn't take long for the Fire to open the scoring. Ralph, running onto a ball sent into the box by Andy Williams, forced United defender David Stokes off the ball and to the ground deep in the area before firing between Perkins' legs from a sharp angle.
Perkins, making his third consecutive start in goal for D.C. United, made several key saves in the middle part of the half to keep United in the match. In the 26th minute, he knocked away a low liner by Orlando Perez with one hand, and then denied both Nate Jaqua and DaMarcus Beasley from close range. Perkins was called on to make eight saves in the first half.
In the late stages of the half, United battled back and applied their own pressure, with Freddy Adu creating an excellent chance. In the 42nd minute, Adu carried the ball forward on the left before sending the ball across the box for Ronald Cerritos, whose hard shot struck Fire 'keeper Henry Ring with his chest.
Ten minutes into the second half, Ralph doubled his tally with help from Chris Armas. The U.S. international sent a low through ball into the left side of the area, and Ralph sent his shot high to beat Perkins.
Even after Sarachan looked to consolidate his lead by bringing on Logan Pause for playmaking midfielder Andy Williams, Ralph completed his hat trick in the 69th minute.
Jaqua received a throw-in with his back to goal on the right and flicked the ball backwards over his head to a tightly-marked Ralph, who was still able to turn a fire a shot past Perkins to to finish off his second career hat trick.
United struggled to create all match long, especially after the Fire's third goal. The only shot D.C. managed to get on goal in the last 15 minutes of the match was a Bobby Convey effort from a free kick in the 90th minute, but Ring made his fifth save on the day.
Next week, the Fire (4-2-4) again appear on ESPN2 as they travel to Los Angeles to take on the Galaxy on Saturday, June 12 (4 p.m. ET). United (3-5-3) return home next Saturday to play host to the Colorado Rapids (7:30 p.m. ET).
MLSNet.com Man of the Match: Damani Ralph (Chicago Fire)
D.C. United (3-5-3) vs. Chicago Fire (4-2-4)
June 05, 2004 -- Soldier Field
CHI -- Damani Ralph 4 (Andy Williams 5, Nate Jaqua 1) 15
CHI -- Damani Ralph 5 (Chris Armas 3, Orlando Perez 1) 55
CHI -- Damani Ralph 6 (Nate Jaqua 2, Chris Armas 4) 69
D.C. United -- Troy Perkins, David Stokes, Brandon Prideaux, Mike Petke, Earnie Stewart, Brian Carroll, Dema Kovalenko, Ben Olsen (Kevin Ara 76), Bobby Convey, Ronald Cerritos, Freddy Adu (Joshua Gros 57).
Substitutes Not Used: Jaime Moreno, Eliseo Quintanilla, Nick Rimando.
TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Ronald Cerritos 6); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Ronald Cerritos 2); FOULS: 14 (Ben Olsen 3); OFFSIDES: 2 (Ronald Cerritos 1, Bobby Convey 1); CORNER KICKS: 5 (Bobby Convey 4); SAVES: 8 (Troy Perkins 8)
Chicago Fire -- Henry Ring, Evan Whitfield, Jim Curtin, Kelly Gray, Nate Jaqua, Chris Armas, Andy Williams (Logan Pause 57), DaMarcus Beasley, Orlando Perez (Justin Mapp 75), Damani Ralph (Craig Capano 75), Ante Razov.
Substitutes Not Used: C.J. Brown, Scott Buete, Denny Clanton, D.J. Countess, Leonard Griffin, Sumed Ibrahim.
TOTAL SHOTS: 15 (Damani Ralph 6); SHOTS ON GOAL: 11 (Damani Ralph 6); FOULS: 11 (3 tied with 2); OFFSIDES: 1 (Orlando Perez 1); CORNER KICKS: 7 (Ante Razov 5); SAVES: 5 (Henry Ring 5)
CHI -- Kelly Gray (caution; Reckless Foul) 51
CHI -- Logan Pause (caution; Reckless Foul) 87
Referee: Kevin Stott
Referee's Assistants: Richard Eddy; Jose Andrade
4th Official: Marcel Yonan
Time of Game: 1:50
All Statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial