Rapids ahead: Fire aiming to stay hot

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INVESCO FIELD at MILE HIGH

CHICAGO, Ill.

7:30 pm MT (Altitude; CSN-Chi)

The intra-conference matchup in the Mile High City features teams headed in opposite directions lately. The Colorado Rapids have won just once in their last five contests, coming off a midweek home loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. The Chicago Fire haven't played since last weekend when a 1-1 draw with the Columbus Crew ended a four-game winning run, though the Fire haven't lost in six matches.

REFEREE: Hilario Grajeda. SAR (bench): Nate Clement; JAR (opposite): Adam Wienckowski; 4th: Ben Chouaf

MLS Career: 4 games; FC/gm: 39.0; Y/gm: 3.5; R: 2; pens: 2

Games involving Rapids: first game

Games involving Fire: P1 W0 L1 T0; FC/gm: 40.0; Y/gm: 4.0; R: 0; pens: 0

INJURY REPORT: COLORADO RAPIDS - OUT: MF Matt Crawford (R quadriceps strain); FW Josh Elbaum (hernia); QUESTIONABLE: DF Mike Petke (R hip muscle pull) ... CHICAGO FIRE: OUT: MF Craig Capano (L torn ACL); FW Nate Jaqua (L ankle bone bruise); FW Lubos Reiter (R groin strain); GK Matt Pickens (R groin strain); MF John Thorrington (L hamstring strain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Thiago (L knee cartilage damage); DF Gonzalo Segares (L ankle sprain)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: COL: MF Pablo Mastroeni (USA; CONCACAF Gold Cup) ... CHI: MF Tony Sanneh, MF Chris Armas (USA; CONCACAF Gold Cup); DF Samuel Caballero, DF Ivan Guerrero (Honduras; CONCACAF Gold Cup)
SUSPENDED: none
WARNINGS: COL: MF Kyle Beckerman (19 CP); MF Guy Melamed (18 CP)

HEAD-TO-HEAD
ALL-TIME (23 meetings): Rapids 8 wins (1 shootout), 29 goals ... Fire 12 wins (0 shootout), 43 goals ... 3 draws
IN DENVER (10 meetings): Rapids 5 wins (1 shootout), 16 goals ... Fire 2 wins (0 shootout), 13 goals ... 3 draws

• The clubs square off in the second of two scheduled league encounters this season, the only one set for Denver.

LAST MEETING

• The Fire rebounded at Soldier Field to claim a 2-1 result on May 21 in Chicago. Coming off a pair of 3-0 losses at home, the Fire completely dominated the opening 45 minutes but had only one goal to show for it, a nice angled finish by Andy Herron after he cutback to gain some space in the area (13).

• Then just after the break, the Rapids answered through a wonderful goal, a nifty one-two between Alain Nkong and Jeff Cunningham finished off by the Cameroonian international after dancing through a couple of defenders (49). But the Fire scored the eventual match-winner just six minutes later, Lubos Reiter looping the ball overhead for Herron to knock down into the path of Thiago, and he made no mistake in slotting home past Colorado 'keeper Joe Cannon from inside the area.

• Here's Sarachan's team (4-1-3-2): Zach Thornton - Logan Pause, Tony Sanneh, Gonzalo Segares, Ivan Guerrero - Chris Armas - Nate Jaqua, Thiago, Justin Mapp - Andy Herron (Chris Rolfe 81), Lubos Reiter (Jesse Marsch 84).

• Here's Clavijo's team (4-4-2): Joe Cannon - Ricky Lewis, Nat Borchers, Ritchie Kotschau, Eric Denton (Wolde Harris 75) - Luchi Gonzalez, Kyle Beckerman, Guy Melamed, Alain Nkong - Jeff Cunningham, Jean-Philippe Peguero

HISTORY

• A year ago, the Rapids won two of the three meetings between the clubs, with all three matches ending in shutouts. The Fire won their lone game in the season series at home on May 29 through the lone goal from Nate Jaqua (66).

• The Rapids then won the last two meetings - once at each ground. Colorado won 2-0 at home on July 28 (Peguero 30, Chung 57), then claimed a 3-0 victory in Chicago on Aug. 14 (Chung 50, Crawford 67, Spencer 80).

• Before the Rapids first victory last season, Colorado hadn't won in five meetings between the teams, their last previous victory coming on July 4, 2002. The Fire then won four of the next five with one draw.

• Until the Rapids second victory last season - at Soldier Field - the Fire had won six consecutive home meetings in the series, dating back to Sept. 3, 2000 and covering two stadiums, including the entire span of time spent at Cardinal Stadium in Naperville. The Fire won all three meetings in Naperville between the teams, outscoring the Rapids 10-4.

• Coaches record: Fernando Clavijo v CHI: P7 W2 L2 T3 ... Dave Sarachan vs. COL: P7 W4 L2 D1

COLORADO RAPIDS

The Colorado Rapids suffered their third loss in their last five games, falling to the San Jose Earthquakes for the third time on the season, this time a 2-1 decision at Invesco Field at Mile High on Wednesday night. The Rapids are still in fourth place in the Western Conference with 18 points from 19 matches, trailing the Los Angeles Galaxy by 10 points though they are still five points ahead of fifth-place Real Salt Lake.

• The Earthquakes won for the fifth time in seven games - still with just one loss since May 28 - and took seven points of 12 possible on their travels.

• The Earthquakes took the lead in the 20th minute after Brian Mullan received the ball at the top of the box, and after quickly juking defender Ritchie Kotschau with a step-over move, buried his shot in the bottom left of the net for his second goal of the season.

• Mark Chung then doubled the lead with a goal against his former club in the 73rd minute. Dwayne De Rosario made a long dribbling run which attracted three Rapids defenders and allowed Chung to sneak unmarked to the top of the box where his first time shot off a De Rosario pass sizzled into the far corner of the net.

• The Rapids pulled a goal back eight minutes later when Fabrice Noel was pushed over the penalty area, and Wolde Harris converted from the spot by sending Pat Onstad the wrong way.

• Rapids coach Fernando Clavijo made just one change to the team that played to a 1-1 draw with the MetroStars the Saturday before at Giants Stadium. Alain Nkong was suspended, meaning Kyle Beckerman came back into central midfield.

• Here's Clavijo's team (4-4-1-1): Joe Cannon - Ricky Lewis, Nat Borchers, Mike Petke (Jean Philippe Peguero 28), Ritchie Kotschau - Terry Cooke, Kyle Beckerman, Leo Cullen, Eric Denton - Luchi Gonzalez (Fabrice Noel 61) - Jeff Cunningham (Wolde Harris 57)

• "There's a mentality, and attitude that is a key for winning games. Consistency is also key, and we play a hard one (game), then not. We win two then lose one, and so on," Clavijo said. "We need to find a balance. If we are going to do well and make it to the playoffs and make a good run at the championship then we need to find out what is going on. And I need to find out which guys are going to come out and play hard every game because some guys are not doing it, it is an unfortunate situation."

TEAM NEWS

• Clavijo was forced into a reshuffle in the 28th minute when an injury to defender Mike Petke (pulled right hip muscle) forced him off. Jean-Philippe Peguero came in as a forward, pushing Luchi Gonzalez back into the midfield. Starting midfielder Eric Denton pushed back into the defense as a left back while Kotschau moved into the center of defense.

• Down a goal, Clavijo then made another change just before the hour when the league's leading goal scorer, Jeff Cunningham, was taken off for Wolde Harris. "We didn't take [Jeff] Cunningham out because of an energy factor, we have people on the bench that we feel comfortable with," Clavijo said. "I think that we have a good roster that can come in at any time and we trust them. We put Wolde Harris in there to see if we could add a spark."

• Clavijo was disappointed with the way his team started. "The curious thing for me is that we put in an incredible effort on a very hot day at altitude for the last 20 minutes, so fitness is not an issue," he said. "It is just about how we prepare mentally from the beginning so we don't get knocked down before we can react." Said midfielder Terry Cooke: "We keep talking about it and then we just start out lazy, lackluster, and slow. We wait until we go a man down or a goal down and then we start picking the game up and it's not right."

• 19-year-old striker Nöel, who was signed by the Rapids to a developmental contract on June 24, 2005, made his MLS debut when he came on as a sub in the 61st minute. The former Haitian youth international was very confident in his professional debut.

• "You see in him a kid that demands the ball and wants to play. He added a spark because that was not the case before; everybody was running away from the ball. I had to give an opportunity to somebody who wants it, somebody who is willing to rush the ball. I have a responsibility to a younger player who is willing to play, as I said before, we have a roster spot and we need to use it. I was very pleased with the way he played," Clavijo said.

• The Rapids will be without Matt Crawford and Josh Elbaum for the rest of the season after successful surgeries - a hip arthroscopy for Crawford and hernia surgery for Denver native Elbaum.

CHICAGO FIRE

The Chicago Fire extended their unbeaten run to six matches and remained in first place in the Eastern Conference, coming back to claim a point in a 1-1 draw with the Columbus Crew at Soldier Field last Saturday afternoon. The Fire now have 36 points from 20 matches, a scant point ahead of the New England Revolution, who have three matches in hand. Those two and FC Dallas (34 points) are separated by the slimmest of margins atop the MLS overall table.

• The Crew gained a point in Robert Warzycha's first game in charge after the dismissal of Greg Andrulis, though their winless streak was still extended as the Fire saw a four-game winning streak put to an end.

• Rookie Eric Vasquez - making his professional debut - put the visitors into the lead after 54 minutes with a piledriver struck from well outside the area.

• But just eight minutes later the Fire hit for the leveler through some free kick magic from Justin Mapp, whipping a curling effort right over the end of the wall and inside Jonny Walker's right-hand post.

• Fire head coach Dave Sarachan made one change to the team that knocked off the New England Revolution the week before at Soldier Field. Will John made his first MLS start, coming in for Leonard Griffin in a wide midfield role.

• Here's Sarachan's team (4-4-2): Zach Thornton - Logan Pause, C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Gonzalo Segares (Jack Stewart 64) - Will John, Scott Buete (Will Johnson 46), Jesse Marsch, Justin Mapp - Chris Rolfe, Lubos Reiter (Andy Herron 67)

• "They made a push and Columbus had one thing in mind today and that was to get a point. That made it hard for us. They put a lot of yellow shirts in spots on the field. We couldn't find a whole lot of room," Sarachan said. "Combine that with pretty oppressive conditions with the heat. We don't want to use that as an excuse. Fact of the matter is that it was tough conditions out there today and at the end of the day, you take this point and you move on. I'm not disappointed."

TEAM NEWS

• By the end of the game, Sarachan had four rookies on the field in Will John, Will Johnson, Chris Rolfe and Jack Stewart (who had come on for another in Gonzalo Segares). Add Justin Mapp - who is just 20 - and it was a team without a lot of professional experience.

• "My kids did well today. I don't know what the collective age of the team was but it was young. I was pleased that when we conceded a goal we got it back," Sarachan said.

• John had made just one previous performance - a stoppage-time entry as a substitution in the Revolution match - before starting against Columbus.

• "I think I was decent. It was an average [performance]. There were a few chances early on that I didn't turn around. I just have to play a whole lot better. I was playing conservatively. Hopefully, I can get on people next time and be more myself. Obviously it's up to the coach, but you want to get more starts and keep working. Hopefully they will come."

• Mapp's goal from the free kick was his first since April 30. "It felt good to score that goal. When we got that goal, we needed some sort of spark. I was happy to contribute. I wish we could have won."

• Despite holding the league's best overall record, the Fire had no one selected to the MLS All-Star team to face Fulham FC of the England Premier League on July 30. "It's a real under the radar kind of group in some ways, but at the same time I feel like we've got all-star caliber players," said Sarachan.

• The Fire had averaged four MLS All-Stars per year through their seven-year history. "If in years past when we've had big names, I think we would have been surprised if no one made the All-Star team. But this is a team with no superstars," said Jesse Marsch.


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