The Chicago Fire gave AC Milan everything they could handle and more, keeping the European vice-champion on their heels for long stretches but denied by the woodwork and some poor finishing before falling 3-1 in a colorful international friendly Wednesday night at Soldier Field.
Christian Vieri started the scoring in the 21st minute, his first goal for AC Milan after joining the club from city rival Internazionale this summer.
Fearless Fire striker Chris Rolfe equalized one minute after Vieri's opener with a scintillating 20-yard strike past the outstretched arms of Milan 'keeper Valerio Fiori and into the side netting.
Milan's heavily touted summer signing, 22-year-old Alberto Gilardino, tapped in the game-winner on 76 minutes, before Serginho added Milan's third goal in stoppage time.
The final scoreline was not necessarily indicative of the run of play, as the Fire kept the rossoneri hemmed in for long stretches of the match. Rolfe led the Fire's offensive posture, dazzling the spirited crowd with several first half rushes toward goal.
Rolfe's lone Fire goal was the culmination of an individual effort that included the Fire rookie winning the ball at the top of the Milan box before turning on accomplished Italian international Alessandro Nesta and firing inside the post from outside the area.
The sides went into the interval level at 1-1, and Chicago started the second half storming Milan's goal.
Fiori stonewalled Andy Herron's second breakaway of the match on 57 minutes, a virtual carbon copy opportunity and ensuing save of Herron's 35th-minute solo sprint on goal.
Chad Barrett and Samuel Caballero each beat Fiore on 64 and 67 minutes respectively, but both of their hard shots hit the post.
Fire coach Dave Sarachan substituted seven players in the game's final 30 minutes - giving virtually the entire Fire roster a potentially once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to compete against some of the world's best players -- and it was during that transitional stretch that Milan found its foothold.
Gilardino had the easiest of finishes to put Milan ahead, after a neat passing movement ripped apart the Fire backline.
Serginho then capped off the scoring with a vicious strike on the run from the left that thundered off the underside of the crossbar over substitute 'keeper David Mahoney, just over the goal line and back out into the field of play, but the referee and his assistant correctly ruled the ball entirely crossed the line.
Foreign competition had been nothing new to the Chicago Fire before the exhibition with Milan. Despite Wednesday's loss, the Men in Red have posted a successful 4-2-1 record while hosting foreign exhibitions at Soldier Field, beating successful clubs such as Germany's Hamburg (5-1 in 2000), Poland's Legia Warsaw (3-2 in 1999), England's Derby County (1-0 in 2001) and Mexico's Pumas UNAM (1-0 in 1998).
Ivaldo Basso is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.
AC Milan vs. Chicago Fire
July 27, 2005 -- Soldier Field
ACM -- Christian Vieri (Paolo Maldini) 21
CHI -- Chris Rolfe (unassisted) 22
ACM -- Alberto Gilardino (Clarence Seedorf, Andrea Pirlo) 76
ACM -- Serginho (Clarence Seedorf) 93+
AC Milan -- Valerio Fiori, Cafu (Dario Simic 46) (Lino Marzoratti 51), Jakob Stam, Alessandro Nesta (Alessandro Costacurta 46), Paolo Maldini (Kahka Kaladze 46), Manuel Rui Costa (Clarence Seedorf 46), Johann Vogel (Gennero Gattuso 66), Massimo Ambrosini, Serginho, Christian Vieri (Andrea Pirlo 46), Alberto Gilardino (Matteo Ardemagni 83).
Substitutes Not Used: Dimitrios Eleftheropoulos.
TOTAL SHOTS: 10 (Alberto Gilardino 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 7 (Alberto Gilardino 3); FOULS: 12 (Massimo Ambrosini 3); OFFSIDES: 8 (Alberto Gilardino 7); CORNER KICKS: 7 (Serginho 3); SAVES: 7 (Valerio Fiori 7)
Chicago Fire -- Zach Thornton (David Mahoney 88), Samuel Caballero (Jared Montz 88), C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Ivan Guerrero (Jack Stewart 77), Logan Pause, Chris Armas (Scott Buete 65), Jesse Marsch (Thiago 60), Justin Mapp (Will John 82), Chris Rolfe (Will Johnson 71), Andy Herron (Chad Barrett 60).
TOTAL SHOTS: 14 (Andy Herron 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 8 (Andy Herron 3); FOULS: 9 (Andy Herron 3); OFFSIDES: 3 (Andy Herron 2); CORNER KICKS: 3 (Chris Armas 2); SAVES: 4 (Zach Thornton 4)
Misconduct Summary: none
Referee: Michael Kennedy
Referee's Assistants: Robert Fereday; Craig Lowry
4th Official: Ricardo Salazar
Time of Game: 1:52
All Statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial.