Ralph's strike snaps Fire's streak

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  • Where: RFK MEMORIAL STADIUM, WASHINGTON, D.C.
  • When: Saturday, 5 p.m. ET
  • TV: (ESPN2)

    Two teams that have put up surprising results in the early going
    meet in an Eastern Conference showdown on East Capitol Street. D.C.
    United has impressed so far, some observers considering them the
    best team in the league overall through the first few weeks. But
    the Chicago Fire, the surprise hasn’t been a good one, the
    defending Eastern Conference champion still looking for their first
    league goal of the 2004 campaign though they didn’t lose for
    the first time until last weekend – though that came in their
    home opener.

    REFEREE: Ricardo Valenzuela. SAR (bench): Kermit
    Quisenberry; JAR (opposite): Bahij Salman; 4th: Erich Simmons

    MLS Career: 51 games; FC/gm: 35.4; Y/gm: 4.7; R: 22; pens: 16

    Games involving United: P11 W2 L7 T2; FC/gm: 35.9; Y/gm: 5.0; R:
    0; pens: 7

    Games involving Fire: P14 W9 L3 T2; FC/gm: 37.3; Y/gm: 5.0; R: 6;
    pens: 4
    INJURY REPORT: D.C. UNITED – OUT: FW Santino
    Quaranta (adductor tear); FW Eliseo Quintanilla (R fibula fracture);
    FW Thiago Martins (L ACL surgery) … CHICAGO FIRE – OUT:
    MD Jesse Marsch (R ankle cartilage damage); DF Orlando Perez (lower
    back pain); QUESTIONABLE: DF Evan Whitfield (R lower leg contusion);
    PROBABLE: FW Damani Ralph (L quadriceps contusion); FW Ante Razov
    (R groin strain);
    INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
    SUSPENDED: none
    YELLOW PERIL: none


    HEAD-TO-HEAD

    ALL-TIME (16 meetings): United 7 wins (0 shootout), 25 goals …
    Fire 6 wins (0 shootout), 22 goals … 3 draws


    • This is the first of the four meetings between the two Eastern
    Conference clubs, the first of the two in Washington. They’ll
    play in Chicago on June 5 and then again at Soldier Field on Sept.
    1, before facing each other for the final time on Sept. 18 at RFK
    Stadium.


    • A year ago, United won two of the four league meetings between
    the two teams (with one draw), but the Fire eased to victory in
    both legs of their conference semifinal series.


    • The teams played to a scoreless draw on April 19 in Washington
    – the third consecutive scoreless draw in the series –
    then United won the next two meetings, winning 2-0 at home on June
    7 (Etcheverry 37 pen, Kovalenko 45), then 2-1 at Soldier Field on
    July 12 (Marsch 6 – Ivanov 9, Olsen 45). The Fire then won
    3-1 at home on Aug. 16 (Razov 45, Marsch 61, Beasley 74 –
    Stoitchkov 8 pen).


    • The Fire then won 4-0 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference
    semifinal series in the MLS Cup Playoffs, winning 2-0 both away
    on Nov. 1 (Williams 4, Razov 94+) and at home on Nov. 9 (Ralph 17,
    Razov 55).


    • There were shutouts in seven of eight meetings in the series
    from 2001 through the second encounter of a year ago – a streak
    which included three successive scoreless draws (July 20 and 31,
    2002 and April 19, 2003).


    • When United won at Soldier Field last year, it was their
    first away victory in the series since May 2, 1998 – the first-ever
    meeting of the two clubs – Chicago winning three of the next
    five home encounters (two draws).


    • As a player with Chicago, Peter Nowak tasted victory in
    five of his nine meetings with United – including a 2-0 victory
    in MLS Cup 1998. This is of course the first time he will face his
    former club as head coach.


    • Ben Olsen leads active United players with 4 goals, 4 assists
    against Chicago. He’s one of three current United players
    with 4 goals against Fire, along with Ronald Cerritos (4 goals,
    3 assists – none with United) and Jaime Moreno (4 goals, 2
    assists – all with United). The only other current United
    player with a goal v Chicago is Dema Kovalenko.


    • Jesse Marsch leads the Fire’s all-time list against
    United with 4 goals, 2 assists; second is current United boss Nowak
    (2 goals, 3 assists). Chris Armas also has 2 goals, 3 assists for
    his career v United (1 goal, 3 assists with Chicago), and Ante Razov
    has 2 goals, 2 assists.


    • Coaches record: Peter Nowak vs. CHI: first meeting …
    Dave Sarachan v CHI P4 W1 D1 L2

    D.C. UNITED

    D.C. United lost for the first time in 2004 despite taking a first-half
    lead, a three-goal blitz just after the break giving the MetroStars
    a 3-2 victory at Giants Stadium in their home opener Saturday. United
    are now second place in the Eastern Conference with four points
    from three matches, two behind first-place Metro.


    • Freddy Adu made history when the 14-year-old hit the back
    of the net in just his third professional game, but the MetroStars
    grabbed the headlines with three goals in 13 minutes after the break
    including a Fabian Taylor double


    • Ben Olsen gave United the lead after 26 minutes when he
    converted a low cross from Dema Kovalenko from the right flank.
    But Taylor, who came on as a halftime substitute, took just five
    minutes to pull his club level. He rose up unmarked to meet a Mark
    Lisi cross, which United 'keeper Doug Warren made a terrific save
    on, but found the back of the net on the second chance.


    • John Wolyniec then gave the Metros the lead seven minutes
    later with an acrobatic diving header in the six-yard box, before
    Taylor hit for his second, slipping a shot underneath Warren from
    inside the area.


    • Adu pulled United back within one when he became the youngest
    player ever to score in an MLS game when he got in front of a Metros
    defender to stab home a rolling cross from close range (75), but
    that was as close as United got.


    • United boss Peter Nowak made two changes to the team that settled for a 1-1 draw away to Los Angeles Galaxy the weekend before. Dema Kovalenko returned from suspension and replaced Joshua Gros in midfield, while Doug Warren made his first start, coming in to replace Nick Rimando between the posts.


    • Here’s Nowak’s team on the day (3-1-4-2): Doug
    Warren – Bryan Namoff, Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke – Brian
    Carroll – Earnie Stewart, Dema Kovalenko (Joshua Gros 54),
    Ben Olsen, Bobby Convey – Jaime Moreno (Ronald Cerritos 67),
    Alecko Eskandarian (Freddy Adu 54).


    • "We just stopped playing soccer," Nowak said.
    "I don't know what happened. This is a good cold shower for
    all of us."


    • Added Olsen: "We were sharp (in the first half), we
    were playing the right style, things were good, and we come out
    the second half complacent and flat. We should know better than
    that. They got us. Playing a good half isn't going to cut it. It's
    a good lesson."


    • Of course, Adu’s goal grabbed most of the post-match
    headlines, the youngest player in American professional sport in
    more than a century scoring in just his third match. The goal came
    at 14 years, 320 days, beating by far the previous MLS record set
    by United teammate Santino Quaranta, who scored his first pro goal
    at 16 years, 217 days in 2001.


    • "To be able get that goal, it taught me something about
    myself," Adu said. "First of all, that I can really do
    this. And second of all I'm excited. No matter what happens I'm
    going to keep fighting for that goal."


    • Nowak faces a difficult decision in goal, where he gave
    Doug Warren the start against the MetroStars after Nick Rimando
    played the first two matches. But Nowak said the job is still up
    for grabs: At some point (as the season progresses) it's going to
    be clear who's number one. . . . Some of (the players) are comfortable
    with Nicky, some of them with Doug. But we'll see how they do in
    practice."


    • The match will also be Nowak’s first encounter against
    his former club, which he led to a MLS Cup victory in the Fire’s
    inaugural season. "Of course it's going to be emotional before
    the game," said Nowak. "I had five fantastic years with
    the Fire as a captain and a player and a part of the organization
    and my heart is still there. (But) when the first whistle blows,
    you forget about everything."


    • Forward Santino Quaranta will be sidelined for up to six
    more weeks after undergoing surgery on a torn adductor muscle.


    • Bobby Convey was named to the U.S. national team for their
    April 28 friendly against Mexico at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.

    CHICAGO FIRE

    The Chicago Fire are still searching for their first goal of the
    2004 league season, falling 2-0 to the Dallas Burn in their home
    opener at Soldier Field on Saturday. It was the first loss of the
    campaign for the Fire after a pair of scoreless draws, but Chicago
    is still in third place in the Eastern Conference, four points off
    the pace set by the MetroStars.


    • The Burn continued the woes for the defending Eastern Conference
    champion, who saw their scoreless run extended to four matches in
    all competitions. It was a welcome triumph for the Burn, who waited
    until May 31 for their first win a year ago.


    • Eddie Johnson finished off a lightning-quick counterattack
    with a snap shot over an advancing Fire ‘keeper Henry Ring
    in the first half (26). Then Johnson led a counter in the second
    half which was finished off by a long-range Bobby Rhine shot that
    took a deflection before sailing past Ring (70).


    • Fire coach Dave Sarachan made two changes to the team that
    played to a scoreless draw in San Jose the weekend before. C.J.
    Brown returned from suspension, coming into the back three for Kelly
    Gray, and Damani Ralph was hampered by a thigh injury suffered at
    midweek in the Fire’s CONCACAF Champions Cup match, with Logan
    Pause coming into midfield.


    • Here’s Sarachan’s team (3-4-2-1): Henry Ring
    – Evan Whitfield, Jim Curtin, C.J. Brown – Nate Jaqua
    (Justin Mapp 68), Chris Armas, Logan Pause, Leonard Griffin (Dipsy
    Selolwane 46) – Andy Williams, DaMarcus Beasley – Ante
    Razov (Damani Ralph 74).


    • "We had a good start to the game and we had a few chances
    in the first half but, frankly, we were out-competed tonight. I'm
    not going to give the excuse that we were a tired team, but we played
    that way,” Sarachan said.


    • The Fire were the first team in MLS history to begin a season
    with two scoreless draws, and now they are 88 minutes away from
    setting the longest scoreless streak in league history. "We
    didn't have any life, any bite, any heart,'' Beasley said. "Dallas
    came in to our home field and pushed us around. … I don't
    know if we need a formation change or a change of personnel, but
    we need something. We can't keep playing like this."


    • The Fire will again face a midweek battle, the home leg
    of their CONCACAF Champions Cup tie against Deportivo Saprissa.
    The Costa Rican club took a 2-0 victory in the first leg in San
    José last Wednesday, and the Fire need to win by three clear
    goals to guarantee advancing to the first continental final in club
    history.


    • "It's definitely possible for us to come back against
    Saprissa," C.J. Brown said. "We did it once before."
    In the quarterfinals, the Fire lost the first leg 5-2 to Trinidad
    & Tobago club San Juan Jabloteh, only to win the return match
    4-0 at home to book passage.


    • However, there is still concern in the team’s attack
    force – troubling more so for a team still struggling to find
    goals. Ante Razov, who started against Dallas, will see a specialist
    this week regarding a lingering groin injury. "To tell the
    truth, it’s not great," Razov said. "I was hoping
    to make more progress on it and it was getting better, but after
    the trip to San Jose, it started getting worse."


    • Chris Armas and DaMarcus Beasley were named to the U.S.
    national team for their April 28 friendly against Mexico at the
    Cotton Bowl in Dallas.


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