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Despite an inconsistent campaign - both at home and abroad - the Chicago Fire still find themselves tied for second place in the Eastern Conference after their late midweek loss to the MetroStars. They play host to a Chivas USA that earned a draw at midweek under interim head coach Javier "Zully" Ledesma, who took over Thomas Rongen when he was reassigned within the club to begin the week, the point gained the club's first in nearly a month, but Hans Westerhof was named the club's new head coach on Friday.
REFEREE: Kevin Terry. SAR (bench): Anthony Vasoli; JAR (opposite): C.J. Morgante; 4th: Marcel Yonan
MLS Career: 104 games; FC/gm: 30.7; Y/gm: 2.8; R: 35; pens: 43
Games involving Fire: P21 W8 L8 T5; FC/gm: 31.6; Y/gm: 3.1; R: 10; pens: 11
Games involving Chivas USA: P1 W0 L1 T0; FC/gm: 36.0; Y/gm: 5.0; R: 0; pens: 0
INJURY REPORT: CHICAGO FIRE: OUT: MD Chris Armas (R ankle sprain); MD Craig Capano (L torn ACL); DF C.J. Brown (R hamstring strain); GK Matt Pickens (R groin strain); FW Andy Herron (R hamstring strain); QUESTIONABLE: MF John Thorrington (L hamstring strain); DF Leonard Griffin (R knee ligament strain) ...CHIVAS USA - OUT: MF Michael Muñoz (L ankle sprain); MF Jesus Ochoa (L abdominal strain); PROBABLE: DF Michael Erush (sports hernia surgery)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: CHI: FW Lubos Reiter (Slovakia; June 4 v POR; June 8 v LUX); FW Chad Barrett, FW Will John (U.S. U-20 national team; FIFA World Youth Championship); FW Will Johnson (Canada U-20; FIFA World Youth Championship)
YELLOW PERIL: none
ALL-TIME: first meeting
This is the first of two meetings between the two teams, one a current expansion club and one which had that experience eight years ago, and their only one set for Soldier Field this year. Their only meeting at The Home Depot Center will come July 2.
Coaches record: Javier Ledesma vs. CHI: first game ... Dave Sarachan v CHV: first game
The Chicago Fire were on their way to a third consecutive win and continued mastery over the MetroStars - until Bob Bradley's team struck for two late goals for a 2-1 win at Giants Stadium on Tuesday night. The Fire now have 16 points from 11 matches, tied with Kansas City for second place in the Eastern Conference, a point ahead of the MetroStars and five behind the New England Revolution.
The MetroStars hadn't won in five matches at The Meadowlands this season, and a penalty just before the hour seemed to send the Fire on their way. Chris Rolfe was hacked down by Tim Regan as he made a mazy run through the MetroStars defense, and Jesse Marsch converted, sending Zach Wells the wrong way (55).
But the Metros pulled level with a quarter-hour left. Amado Guevara swung in a free kick from the left and second-half substitute John Wolyniec again came off the bench to score, heading home from the top of the goal area (76).
Then three minutes into stoppage time, Abbe Ibrahim tracked down Fire defender Samuel Caballero and knocked the ball away from behind, it falling to Guevara, who cut across before curling a pinpoint shot inside the far upper corner to leave Zach Thornton no chance.
Fire coach Dave Sarachan made three changes to the team that defeated Real Salt Lake 3-0 on the weekend in their previous match. Tony Sanneh returned to central defense, coming in for Jim Curtin. Jesse Marsch came back into the midfield as Nate Jaqua moved up top to start alongside Chris Rolfe, with Lubos Reiter away on international duty and Andy Herron out through injury.
Here's Sarachan's team (4-3-1-2): Zach Thornton - Logan Pause, Samuel Caballero, Tony Sanneh, Gonzalo Segares - Jesse Marsch, Chris Armas (Kelly Gray 32), Ivan Guerrero - Thiago - Nate Jaqua, Chris Rolfe
"For most of the game it was fairly even," said Sarachan. "We got the goal, and I thought we could get the second. If we got it, the game would end. But we kept them in it, and when you keep teams in the game, especially a home team, you get punished. It was a disappointing loss to say the least."
TEAM NEWSRolfe was very busy up top for the Fire, creating the goal by winning the penalty then having a couple of glorious chances after that.
"We have to put away games, that's the next step for our team. We've got to develop a killer instinct. We've created chances, but we didn't get the second goal," Sarachan said. "I can't fault our guys for the lack of chances created, but we've got to put the second one in, and the game, for all intents and purposes, would be over. We can't allow a couple mistakes."
It was the third time in two games Caballero unfortunately was somewhat victimized for goals by the MetroStars. In the Metros 3-0 win in Chicago on May 14, he made a pass behind a teammate that Guevara latched onto, then mistimed a clearance attempt on a long ball that set loose Eddie Gaven.
"There's nothing you can do on the goal. We could have maybe cleared a ball earlier and I thought it was a foul against Samuel (Caballero). The ref doesn't call a foul, he (Guevara) hits a bomb and there was nothing Zach could do about it," Sarachan said. "I thought Sammy made a good play, and I thought Thiago was fouled on the restart that led to their first goal, but that's soccer.
Lubos Reiter will achieve what could be a first in MLS history - a player returning home to participate in UEFA qualifiers for a major competition. He is in the squad for Slovakia in their World Cup qualifying matches against Portugal on Saturday and Luxembourg next Wednesday. Reiter has 25 caps and eight goals for Slovakia.
Chivas USA claimed their first point in nearly a month, ending a four-game losing streak with a 1-1 draw at home with the Kansas City Wizards on Wednesday night. Chivas USA still sit at the foot of the Western Conference, now with five points from 11 matches, three points behind fifth-place Colorado Rapids and 17 points adrift of FC Dallas atop the division.
A very quiet match burst to life on the half-hour, when Jose Burciaga Jr. gave the Wizards the lead with another long-range bomb on The Home Depot Center field. From the left flank some 25 yards from goal, he let fly with a speculative blast aimed for the far post that flew over the head of Chivas 'keeper Martin Zuniga and rattled off the inside of the woodwork into the back of the net.
But eight minutes later Chivas drew level through Ramon Ramirez. Having won a free kick about 27 yards straight out from goal, his blast swerved and dipped past Oshoniyi's dive to his left, though the K.C. 'keeper was able to get a hand on the ball.
Even after Thomas Rongen was relieved of his coaching duties earlier in the week, Chivas USA fielded a very similar team. Zully Ledesma took over the club for the night and made just two changes. Douglas Sequeira was away on international duty with Costa Rica and Francisco Mendoza did not start for the first time in six matches, their places taken by Francisco Gomez and Armando Begines.
Here's Ledesma's team (3-4-3): Martin Zuniga - Alfonso Loera, Ryan Suarez, Armando Begines - Ezra Hendrickson, Francisco Gomez (Francisco Mendoza 67), Ramon Ramirez, Orlando Perez (Antonio Martinez 45) - Thiago Martins, Isaac Romo (Matt Taylor 83), Hector Cuadros
"It was a point against one of the toughest teams to get a point against and obviously when they're on the road they're one of the ugliest teams to get a point against because they sit back, absorb the pressure and counter the (daylights) out of you," Suarez said. "That's exactly what they did and it's hard to play against a team like that."
TEAM NEWSLedesma ran out the team in a different scheme. Loera, Suarez and Begines were a back three, with Hendrickson and Perez ranging as wingbacks. Gomez and Ramirez were midfield anchors with the front three filling more central roles than they had under Rongen. "This is what we're going to do," Suarez said. "This is our new system and what you saw a little of today, we're only going to improve."
"We came out with the right attitude and played forward as often as we could. We looked a bit more (dangerous) than we did before and I think that's good step that we're taking right now," Gomez said. "I don't think it was the coaching change. I think it was just us waking up and realizing that our jobs were on the line."
Suarez had more of a free role in the back, as the anchor for the defense. "It's a new role for me," Suarez said. "They allowed me to be a lot more freer, allowed me to clean up my boys' mistakes; they didn't make to many today. It's a better role for me. It gives me a lot more freedom to do what I want in the back and control the back. Being a lot more vocal and speaking both languages helps."
It was the first positive result for Chivas since a 1-0 victory against Real Salt Lake on May 7 (their only win on the campaign, which was their first point since a 3-3 draw away to San Jose on April 9. "I don't think that this result is good for our team, because we always go for a victory, but under the current circumstances, the tie its not bad at all," Ledesma said.
As expected, Hans Westerhof was named as the new Chivas head coach on Friday. On Tuesday, the before the Wizards match, Westerhof ran two training sessions at The Home Depot Center - he is still the technical director for all three of the teams owned by Chivas USA owner Jorge Vergara (CD Guadalajara and Costa Rica's Deportivo Saprissa the others).
"Most of all, we need some victories, because that brings our self-confidence higher," Westerhof said of Chivas USA. "We need to train hard and establish a system that works. The idea (at the beginning of the season) was very offensive, but now we realize it's not so easy to do it that way. We have to change a little bit of the way of playing, but it's only one step back. The idea is, in a couple of months, to return to what we want to do."
Still, Rongen was not far away from the thoughts of the Chivas players. "These are Thomas' boys. Even though he's not with us, we played for him today and we spoke about it before the game that we were going to try and dedicate this game for Thomas because what happened with him was unfortunate," Suarez said. "This is for the boys but in the back of our minds we played for Thomas because this is his team." Said Gomez: "Everyone came out and worked a little harder with Thomas (Rongen) being fired and all that in mind. I don't think it was his fault. As players, we've got to come out every game and prove ourselves and I think maybe we were a little short on that."
For Ramirez, it was his first goal in Major League Soccer. In his last stint with Chivas de Guadalajara, he scored six goals in six short seasons (three years); for his career in Mexico, he scored 42 goals in 394 league matches dating back to 1990/91.