7:30 pm CT (ONN; FSC)
Having taken care of business - though in dramatic fashion - and clinching a place in the MLS Cup Playoffs on Wednesday night, the Chicago Fire are now looking to move up in the Eastern Conference table. First place in the division and the top seed in the playoffs is still within reach - and with a win on Saturday and losses by New England and D.C. United, it could all come down to a final-night battle with the Revolution. But first up are the Columbus Crew, who saw their bid for a place in the postseason finally put to rest last weekend despite a desperate effort that saw them avoid the drop for weeks.
REFEREE: Ricardo Salazar. SAR (bench): Kermit Quisenberry; JAR (opposite): Jorge de la Bandera; 4th: Marcel Yonan
MLS Career: 41 games; FC/gm: 32.3; Y/gm: 3.8; R: 11; pens: 15
Games involving Fire: P1 W1 L0 T0; FC/gm: 25.0; Y/gm: 2.0; R: 0; pens: 0
Games involving Crew: P11 W6 L2 T3; FC/gm: 32.5; Y/gm: 3.5; R: 2; pens: 5
INJURY REPORT: CHICAGO FIRE: OUT: MF Craig Capano (L torn ACL surgery); DF Leonard Griffin (R knee surgery); MF Scott Buete (R fifth metatarsal fracture surgery); DOUBTFUL: GK Matt Pickens (L ankle sprain); FW Nate Jaqua (L ankle sprain); MF John Thorrington (L groin sprain); QUESTIONABLE: GK Zach Thornton (L calf strain); PROBABLE: DF Tony Sanneh (R ankle sprain) ... COLUMBUS CREW - OUT:MF Danny Szetela (head); DF Ryan Kelly (R knee sprain); DF Frankie Hejduk (R wrist); DF Stephen Herdsman (L groin strain); MF Duncan Oughton (R knee surgery); MD Ross Paule (post-concussion syndrome); GK Jon Busch (R knee)
SUSPENDED: CHI: Will Johnson (through Oct. 8)
WARNINGS: CHI: Gonzalo Segares (20 CP); Nate Jaqua (16 CP) ... CLB: Robin Fraser (9 add'l CP/good behavior); Cornell Glen (16 CP); Frankie Hejduk (17 CP); Simon Elliott (19 CP); Chris Wingert (8 add'l CP)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: CHI: Lubos Reiter (Slovakia; v Estonia, Oct. 8) ... CLB: Mario Rodriguez (Guatemala; v Mexico, Oct. 8); Kyle Martino (USA; vs. Costa Rica, Oct. 8)
HEAD-TO-HEAD The two Eastern Conference rivals meet for the fourth and final time this season, the second at Soldier Field.
ALL-TIME (27 meetings): Fire 14 wins (1 shootout), 45 goals ... Crew 8 wins (0 shootout), 43 goals ... 5 draws
AT CHICAGO: (13 meetings): Fire 8 wins (0 shootout), 24 goals ... Crew 3 wins (0 shootout), 16 goals ... 2 draws
THIS SEASON The Fire have won two of the three meetings this season, winning both contests in Columbus wrapped around a 1-1 draw in Chicago.
Justin Mapp caused the home side fits as the visiting Fire posted a 2-0 victory at Crew Stadium on April 30, their first win in Columbus in more than three years. He gave Chicago the lead after just 14 minutes drifting across the top of the area from the right before unleashing a wicked low blast inside the left corner of Jon Busch's goal.
Then in the second half a defensive miscue doubled the Fire lead. Pressure caused Columbus captain Robin Fraser to lose the ball in his own penalty area, and rookie Chris Rolfe quickly punished the error in pounding a shot past Busch for his second goal on the season (69).
On July 16 at Soldier Field, 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 to six games as the Fire ran their own unbeaten streak to six matches.
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.
LAST MEETING On Sept. 17, the Fire grabbed a late 2-1 victory at Crew Stadium, winning for the second consecutive league match on their long odyssey away from Soldier Field, all but killing off the postseason hopes of the home side.
Chris Rolfe was another two-goal hero on the night. He gave the Fire the lead after just five minutes, stabbing home from close range on the second attempt after a free kick was played into the mixer.
But the Crew found their way back and leveled the match 10 minutes from the end. Kyle Martino's perfectly weighted through ball putting Knox Cameron in behind the Chicago defense and he made no mistake with his cool finish from inside the area.
Yet just four minutes later Rolfe's second gave the Fire the all-important full points. Logan Pause set off on a long overlapping run on the right, finding Andy Herron in the area. He spun and sent a shot-cum-cross to the far post where Rolfe slid it to jab it home for the winner.
Here's Sarachan's team (4-3-1-2): Zach Thornton - Logan Pause, Samuel Caballero, Jim Curtin, Gonzalo Segares - Justin Mapp (Jesse Marsch 86), Chris Armas, Ivan Guerrero - Thiago - Lubos Reiter (Andy Herron 72), Chris Rolfe (Jack Stewart 85)
Here's Warzycha's team (3-4-2-1): Jonny Walker - Chad Marshall, Robin Fraser, Mark Schulte (Edson Buddle 57) - Frankie Hejduk, Simon Elliott, Eric Vasquez (Chris Wingert 45), Chris Henderson (Knox Cameron 78) - Kyle Martino, Cornell Glen - John Wolyniec
HISTORY A year ago, the Crew won three of the four meetings between the clubs with the fourth ending in a draw. The Black-and-Gold claimed a 3-1 victory at Soldier Field on May 23 (Ralph 49 - Cunningham 32 pen, Martino 55, Ritch 59), then posted a 2-0 triumph on July 3 at home (Buddle 43, Cunningham 44)
The teams then met twice in five days at season's end - first playing to a wild 3-3 draw at Crew Stadium on Oct. 2 (Martino 45 pen, Cunningham 56, 64 - Ralph 14 pen, Herron 59, 80), then the Crew again winning in Chicago on Oct. 6 through the lone goal from Buddle (59). They also met last year in the U.S. Open Cup - the Fire winning 2-1 in extra time in the round-of-16 (Hejduk 27 - Ralph 66 pen, 106+)
The Fire's win in the first meeting this year snapped a five-game winless run in the Ohio capital, since a 2-0 Chicago win on opening day in 2002 (0-2).
Coaches record: Dave Sarachan vs. CLB: P11 W3 L4 D4 ... Robert Warzycha v CHI: P2 W0 L1 D1
CHICAGO FIRE The Fire returned to the MLS Cup Playoffs after a one-year absence thanks to their late heroics, while Mo Johnston lost in his first game in charge after taking over for Bob Bradley.
The MetroStars took a two-goal lead into the halftime break, scoring twice within four minutes midway through the half. In the 21st minute MetroStars midfielder Eddie Gaven found himself alone in the Fire box, accepted a clever ball from midfielder Amado Guevara and curled a left-footed shot across the Fire goal and around goalkeeper David Mahoney, nestling it inside the far left post.
Four minutes later midfielder Mike Magee threaded a beautiful through ball from 45 yards out to a streaking Gaven, who received the ball at the edge of the restraining arc, deftly slipped between a crack in the Chicago defense, and redirected a shot past the helpless Mahoney.
But after both sides were each reduced to 10 men - Ante Razov sent off in the 80th minute, then Chicago's Will Johnson in the 90th - the Fire struck back for a remarkable share of the points. Chris Armas collected an errant deflection near the goal area and directed a volley past Tony Meola to pull the home side within one.
Then three minutes into stoppage time, substitute forward Chad Barrett saw fellow substitute Jack Stewart behind the MetroStars defense and sent in a beautiful cross from the left sideline. Stewart then met the ball with an opportunistic diving header from seven yards out for the equalizer and secure the Fire's place in the playoffs.
Fire head coach Dave Sarachan made one change to the team that defeated the Kansas City Wizards 1-0 the previous Saturday at Arrowhead Stadium. Andy Herron came into attack, in place of the injured Nate Jaqua.
Here's Sarachan's team (4-3-1-2): David Mahoney - Logan Pause (Jack Stewart 68), C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Gonzalo Segares - Justin Mapp, Chris Armas, Ivan Guerrero - Thiago - Andy Herron (Chad Barrett 59), Chris Rolfe (Will Johnson 73).
"I'm very proud of my team to be able to come out in the second half after a very shaky and slow, lethargic first half. I'll be in this game 100 years and I still won't understand it. What you saw tonight was a team that didn't quit, that battled, that pushed the game the second half," Sarachan said. "I was disappointed with the two goals we conceded in the first half. But in the end, we got a tie, we're in the playoffs, we've reached goal No. 1 and that's very good."
The Chicago Fire returned home for the first time in nearly two months and left it late, but eventually claimed their place in the MLS Cup Playoffs with a dramatic 2-2 draw against the MetroStars on Wednesday night at Soldier Field. The Fire remain in third place in the Eastern Conference with 49 points from 30 matches, four behind D.C. United but now six ahead of the Kansas City Wizards, needing just a single point to ensure finishing in at least third place in the division.
TEAM NEWS The Fire have now qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs in seven of the eight seasons in club history. Last year was the only time they failed to reach the postseason. ''Now we want to get really greedy and get more points to position ourselves for home-field advantage,'' Sarachan said.
The game turned around over the final half-hour when Sarachan brought on three rookies in Chad Barrett, Will Johnson and Jack Stewart.
"The reserves we put in helped us and energized us. We felt we needed some fresh legs up front. Andy Herron and Chris Rolfe had spotty first halves and we needed some sparks," Sarachan said. "Chad Barrett was the first one and we decided to bring in Jack Stewart because he's a guy that can help us on restarts. These were important changes for us."
"I can't tell you how good it feels to be in the right place at the right time. It could have been anyone there and it happened to be me. I'm very pleased with the way the team fought back in the last 15 minutes of the game,'' said Stewart. Said Barrett: ''To tell the truth, I was looking to pass back. I saw him out of the corner of my eye, the only red shirt in the box. I had to put it somewhere in front of him.''
David Mahoney made his second start after making his senior team debut the week before in a 1-0 victory against the Kansas City Wizards. He has started in place of Zach Thornton, who has missed the last two matches with a calf strain suffered in training just before the K.C. match and is still questionable for this weekend.
''I was disappointed in how I played in the first half,'' said Mahoney. ''Luckily, I made a couple good saves in the second half.'' Said Sarachan: ''I can't fault him. 'He came up big in the second half. If it's 3-0, we're toast.''
COLUMBUS CREW FC Dallas left it late, but claimed a remarkable victory that leapfrogged them into second place in the West, taking advantage of the first of their two games-in-hand over the Galaxy, and officially eliminated the Crew from the MLS Cup Playoffs.
The Crew took the lead in the 17th minute when Chris Henderson sent in a nice cross from the left flank toward Edson Buddle, who was tightly marked by Jolley. The ball bounced off their heading duel to David Testo at the back post, and he brought the ball down before calmly potting his shot past Scott Garlick for his first goal of the campaign.
But FC Dallas pulled level in the 57th minute when Bobby Rhine got on the end of an errant Robin Fraser clearance which he took out of the air with an audacious volley that had the arc of a curveball to easily beat the Crew's Jonny Walker.
Then in stoppage time, Buddle hit the post for the second time on the night, and FC Dallas raced to the other end. After the ball took a fortunate deflection off a Crew defender, Ramon Nuñez raced forward and let loose a bomb from all of 25 yards that swerved past Walker for the stunning game-winner.
Crew interim head coach Robert Warzycha made four changes to the team that lost 1-0 at home to Chivas USA the previous Saturday. Chad Marshall was injured, so Chris Wingert moved to the back three as Eric Vasquez came into the midfield. David Testo came in at a wide role with Mario Rodriguez on international duty, and Stephen Armstrong came in for the suspended Kyle Martino. And Jamal Sutton was given the start in attack in place of Knox Cameron.
Here's Warzycha's team (3-5-2): Jonny Walker - Chris Wingert, Robin Fraser, Mark Schulte - David Testo (Domenic Mediate 89), Stephen Armstrong, Simon Elliott, Eric Vasquez, Chris Henderson (Cornell Glen 61) - Edson Buddle, Jamal Sutton (Marcus Storey 85)
"There were a lot of chances on both sides but we had the 100 percent chances where we had one against one with the goalie and we hit the post and a few other ones," said Warzycha. "You have to finish your chances to win the game, and if you don't they will hurt you in the end, and that is what happened today. The thing is, we give up too many goals in the last minute and that can't happen."
The Columbus Crew were officially eliminated from postseason contention in the cruelest of manners, a dramatic late goal giving FC Dallas a 2-1 victory on Wednesday night at Pizza Hut Park. The 2004 MLS Supporters' Shield winners are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with 34 points from 30 matches and two remaining on the campaign.
TEAM NEWS The Black-and-Gold controlled much of the play in the early minutes of the match, knowing they could not afford even to tie if they wanted to reach the playoffs. And they got the early goal they were looking for when Testo scored his first goal of his MLS career.
"Relieving, but as good as it felt I would rather have a win," said Testo. "The ball just came and I was pretty wide open, kind of had an out of body experience."
The Crew had an earlier chance to score, when FCD 'keeper Scott Garlick saved from Jamal Sutton after he got in alone on goal, and if Columbus had hit home they might have yet again survived the drop.
"That was a chance that you have to score," said Warzycha. "If that ball goes in and it might have been the difference. You know what, the goalie is a good goalie and he saved that shot."
Then Rhine's goal killed off their chances, though Buddle's hitting the woodwork just before Nuñez hit for his decider would have also snatched the points at the death for the visitors.
"It sort of took the momentum away," said forward Cornell Glen. "We didn't really keep the ball as much as we should have, we didn't stick to our game plan, and we played good in spurts. We need to play better for longer periods during the game."