Wizards look to leapfrog Fire Friday

six days shy of his 42nd birthday -- raced onto the end of a fine ball from Chris Klein as the Wizards broke on the counter, and after setting up both defender and goalkeeper in the area coolly slotted home inside the left-hand post for his first goal since the 2003 season.

LAST MEETING

• The Wizards won for the first time ever in Chicago on Aug. 10, overcoming a two-goal deficit after just six minutes to claim a 3-2 victory against the Fire. The Fire could do wrong for about the opening half-hour of the contest, then could seemingly do no right over the final 60 minutes.

• By six minutes in, Chicago held a two-goal lead. In the third minute, Fire midfielder Justin Mapp sprung Thiago for a 25-yard run to goal. As K.C. 'keeper Bo Oshoniyi came out to cut down the angle, Thiago surprised him by chipping a beautiful shot from about 20 yards that made it just over the 'keeper and settled just under the crossbar in the top right corner.

• Then three minutes later, Chris Rolfe made a quick run into the middle of the Wizards box and as the defense approached him, he placed a clever ball out to his left which left Reiter to tuck a low, left-footed shot into the far left corner and it looked as if the Wizards were going to be run out of Soldier Field.

• But the Wizards pulled a goal back in the 37th minute as Josh Wolff raced onto a long through ball from forward Scott Sealy, just beating Fire 'keeper Zach Thornton to the punch, and chipped a shot in off of the right Fire post from the right side of the area.

• They drew level just before the halftime break off of a corner kick scramble in front of the Fire goal. Midfielder Sasha Victorine was the recipient of the lucky bounce from a misdirected Brian Roberts shot.

• Then the Wizards completed the comeback in the 68th minute on Wolff's second goal of the evening. He received a ball from midfielder Davy Arnaud to the right of the Fire goal, and he lost his marker with a quick turn to his right and ripped a high, hard shot over and through substitute 'keeper Matt Pickens, who came on to start the second half after Zach Thornton was booked twice right at the end of the opening stanza.

• Here's Dave Sarachan's team (4-3-1-2): Zach Thornton - Samuel Caballero, C.J. Brown, Ivan Guerrero, Gonzalo Segares - Logan Pause, Chris Armas, Justin Mapp (Matt Pickens 46) - Thiago (John Thorrington 78) - Chris Rolfe, Lubos Reiter (Chad Barrett 75).

• Here's Bob Gansler's team (4-4-2): Bo Oshoniyi - Brian Roberts, Jimmy Conrad, Shavar Thomas, Jose Burciaga Jr. - Chris Klein, Sasha Victorine (Jack Jewsbury 85), Kerry Zavagnin, Davy Arnaud - Scott Sealy, Josh Wolff (Khari Stephenson 90)

HISTORY

• A year ago, the teams met three times, with the Wizards failing to come away with a win. They met twice at Arrowhead Stadium: the teams playing to a scoreless draw in the season opener on April 3, then about a month later (May 8), playing to a 2-2 draw there (Klein 9, Arnaud 64 - Mapp 52, Selolwane 83).

• Then on Sept. 1 at Soldier Field, the Wizards once again failed to come away with a point from a trip to the Windy City, the Fire claiming a 3-1 victory (Mapp 23, Williams 67, Capano 71 - Wolff 36).

• From the Fire's inaugural season through last year, the Fire had won all nine meetings between the teams, the Wizards scoring just seven goals. Just twice in Chicago have the Wizards lost by a single goal - Sept. 17, 1998 (0-1) and April 26, 2003 (2-3).

• Of the 'original' 10 non-expansion teams in the league, the Wizards were the last to claim their first victory at an opponent's ground. Columbus has won just once in 11 trips to Denver (but with three draws), while New England has just one win on their 11 trips to face the Galaxy (with two draws).

• Overall, the Wizards have won just three times in the last 13 meetings dating back to June 4, 2000 (with three draws in that stretch). Over that time, the Wizards have been shutout in four of those games (one a scoreless draw).

• Coaches record: Bob Gansler v CHI: P17 W4 L10 D3 ... Dave Sarachan vs. KC: P8 W3 L2 D3

KANSAS CITY WIZARDS

The Kansas City Wizards completed their three-game road swing with maximum points from all three contests, finishing it off with a 4-2 victory against Real Salt Lake last Saturday night. Still, with the remainder of the teams in the Eastern Conference playoff places all winning, the Wizards are still tied with D.C. United for third place with 38 points from 23 matches, one behind the Chicago Fire, four out of first place and six ahead of fifth-place MetroStars.

• The Wizards completed a sweep of their three-game road trip in style, hitting for four goals as they scored nine on the road swing, holding off a late Real comeback in a 4-2 victory that also saw the first player in MLS history to hit for 100 goals, as Real striker Jason Kreis reached the century mark.

• Once again Real was hit early, as Josh Wolff found an unmarked Sasha Victorine in the heart of the penalty area to give the visitors an eighth-minute lead.

• But the Wizards didn't score again until after the break, when they broke the game open with two goals in five minutes. Scott Sealy snuck in behind the RSL defense and slotted home a Davy Arnaud pass (52), then in the 56th minute Wolff caught the Real defense napping and slid a pass to Chris Klein, who poked home Kansas City's third of the night.

• Real pulled a goal back seven minutes later as Jordan Cila let fly with a powerful blast that beat Wizards 'keeper Bo Oshoniyi, then nine minutes after that RSL got within one on the landmark goal from Kreis. Dante Washington sent a looping pass to the top of the penalty arc that Kreis hit with a wicked left-footed full volley on the turn, the ball dipping under the crossbar to set off a wild celebration in the Rice-Eccles stands.

• But the Wizards restored their two-goal margin four minutes from time as Victorine hit for his second on the night, skipping through the Real defense before hammering a low drive under 'keeper D.J. Countess.

• Wizards boss Bob Gansler made one change to the team that won for the first time ever in Chicago, a 3-2 victory the previous Wednesday. Nick Garcia returned from suspension, coming on for Brian Roberts at right back.

• Here's Gansler's team (4-4-2): Bo Oshoniyi - Nick Garcia, Jimmy Conrad, Shavar Thomas, Jose Burciaga Jr. - Chris Klein (Dustin Branan 89), Sasha Victorine, Kerry Zavagnin (Diego Gutierrez 60), Davy Arnaud - Josh Wolff, Scott Sealy (Jack Jewsbury 73).

• "No one else has this specific kind of (artificial) turf," Gansler said. "You have to up your level of concentration, because you are not going to get used to it in 90 minutes. We concentrated and strung some passes together and did well with it."

TEAM NEWS

• With his three assists credited in the victory against Salt Lake, Josh Wolff has now been involved in seven of the last nine goals the Wizards have scored. Wolff also scored two goals and added two assists in the Wizards 6-1 victory against Des Moines of the PDL in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup.

• "He has been magnificent since the All-Star break, and especially on the road," Gansler said. "The guys around him are running off him very well. My favorite word for him is the catalyst. He makes everyone else around him better, and we are going to ride that pony as long as we can."

• After taking the maximum points from the three-game road trip, the Wizards return home for six of their final nine matches - back-to-back home games each time followed by a single-game road trip.

• "We're all excited to see our families and try to continue what we got going on this road trip," Gansler said. "This should stoke some confidence in everyone."

• Said Wolff: "You come out of the All-Star break with a pretty good mentality that the last third of the season is going to be pretty difficult. We've had a good mentality after the break."

CHICAGO FIRE

The Chicago Fire snapped a three-game losing streak and four-game winless streak, knocking off the Los Angeles Galaxy 2-0 at Soldier Field on Saturday night to keep pace with the rest of the Eastern Conference. The Fire are still in second place in the East with 39 points from 24 matches, three behind first-place New England Revolution and still just a point ahead of the third-place tie between D.C. United and the Kansas City Wizards.

• The Fire won their final home game for nearly two months while once again keeping the Galaxy unsuccessful when they ventured forth from southern California.

• The Fire took a two-goal lead into the interval thanks to the influence of Justin Mapp. In the 20th minute, he set off on a juking run into the Galaxy penalty area before he was sent flying to the turf by L.A. center back Michael Umana, and Jesse Marsch coolly converted from the spot.

• Then in the 38th minute, Mapp dribbled the left flank and whipped in a cross to the back post that found John Thorrington completely unmarked, and he powerfully headed home for his first MLS goal.

• The Galaxy pulled a goal in the 53rd minute when Peter Vagenas headed home a Landon Donovan corner kick at the top of the six, then they saw an apparent equalizer ruled out for a foul just four minutes. But the Fire claimed the win before heading on a five-game road swing that will last until the first weekend in October, while the Galaxy still haven't won outside of Los Angeles since last June.

• Fire head coach Dave Sarachan made seven changes to the team that lost 3-2 to the Kansas City Wizards at midweek - mostly forced. Zach Thornton and C.J. Brown were suspended and Lubos Reiter away on international duty, as the only players to return to the first XI from the K.C. match were Gonzalo Segares, Chris Armas, Thiago and Justin Mapp.

• Here's Sarachan's team (4-4-2): Matt Pickens - Tony Sanneh, Jim Curtin, Jack Stewart, Gonzalo Segares - John Thorrington, Chris Armas, Jesse Marsch, Justin Mapp (Logan Pause 79) - Thiago (Will Johnson 89), Chad Barrett (Chris Rolfe 76).

• "It was important to get three points tonight. We were pretty depleted," said Sarachan. "We had nine players that weren't able to play tonight for a variety of reasons, mostly injury. We went deep into our roster and I'm very proud of my 'kiddie corps,' I guess I would call it. It was a lot of young guys and overall we made a real commitment to be better defensively and pick our spots and win this game."

TEAM NEWS

• John Thorrington was one of the highest-profile acquisitions for the Fire in the offseason, but a hamstring injury kept him out of all but three of the Fire's first 22 games. But in his first game in nearly two months, he scored the eventual match-winner against the Galaxy.

• "The toughest thing for me has been mentally for me dealing with the physical side of it. Being injured, being in and out and not training and playing as often as I want; it has been mentally tough for me to deal with the physical side of things," said Thorrington.

• Said Sarachan: "When we acquired John I thought we were getting a good player and he's had a tough situation this year with injuries and setbacks. We made a commitment to make sure that when the time was right we'd use him and that we would wait until he was healthy. He is healthy now and we are pleased that he was able to get his first career MLS goal."

• Matt Pickens was also thrilled with his performance, his first in a league game since April 16, coming because of the suspension to Zach Thornton. "It was a long time coming," said a smiling Pickens. "I've been trying to get back into it." Said Sarachan: "We've got to go back to work on Monday, and it's a good thing to have players competing for jobs."

• The Fire will now not play at home in a league game until Oct. 5. In between, they'll make two trips to Kansas City, two trips to the West Coast to play the Galaxy and Earthquakes, and a little jaunt to Columbus to face the Crew before taking on the MetroStars and Crew in a Wednesday-Saturday home spell in the season's penultimate week.

• "I think the good things are that you have no distractions. You can go to your hotel room, and get a good meal," said Jesse Marsch. "The bad things are the familiarity with the field. When you play on your home field you know where your spatial presence is. Trips to the West Coast can take something out of you - the time change and playing at a different time of day each effect you a little bit. The fans make a difference too. I think the biggest thing is the familiarity and special comfort you have playing in your own stadium."


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