The Chicago Fire used a Damani Ralph hat trick - the third in club history - to defeat D.C. United 3-0 last Saturday in front of a season-high 25,810 fans at Soldier Field. With the win, the Fire (4-2-4, 16 pts.) started their second winning streak of the 2004 campaign, while also moving into sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference standings after completing the first third of their MLS slate of games. After starting one streak, Chicago will look to keep its five-game road undefeated streak (1-0-4) in tact this Saturday, June 12 when it travels to the West Coast to take on the Western Conference leading Los Angeles Galaxy (5-3-3, 18 pts.). Saturday's contest at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif. will kick-off at 3 p.m. CT and can be seen live nationwide on ESPN2. Fire fans can also follow the match live via radio stations WRTO 1200 AM (Spanish) and WNVR 1030 AM (Polish) and online at www.Chicago-Fire.com (English).
The series between the Fire and Galaxy has been a back-and-forth affair. Despite Los Angeles's 10-8-1 lead in regular season games, the Fire owns the momentum in the series after sweeping the Galaxy in three regular season contests in 2003. In addition to the Fire's two wins at Naperville's Cardinal Stadium on Aug. 20 (1-0) and Oct. 4 (2-0) and a victory in its first-ever match at The Home Depot Center on Sep. 13 (2-0), the "Men in Red" triumphed over L.A. 3-2 on Sep. 23 in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinals, giving Chicago revenge for a Galaxy four-game season series sweep in 2002. The Fire has an all-time record in Los Angeles of 3-5-1, but after losing MLS Cup 2003 to the San Jose Earthquakes last Nov. 23 at The Home Depot Center, Chicago now has a 1-1-0 record at the new home of the Galaxy. Former Galaxy forward and five-time Fire scoring champion Ante Razov is Chicago's all-time leading scorer against L.A. with 12 points (3g, 6a).
Largest crowd of the season sees Fire take first place
A season-high crowd of 25,810 fans saw the Chicago Fire grab sole possession of first place in the Eastern Conference with its 3-0 victory over D.C. United at Soldier Field last Saturday afternoon. Much of the crowd - the 10th largest in Fire history - might have come to Soldier Field to see United forward Freddy Adu, but they would walk away impressed with a strong team effort from their "Men in Red," a brilliant three-goal day from Fire forward Damani Ralph and yet another shutout for goalkeeper Henry Ring, his sixth in just 10 League games. Over 70,000 fans - 70,442 to be exact - have passed through the Soldier Field turnstiles for the first five games this season, giving the Fire an average crowd of 14,088 per game - an increase of more than 45% from the club's first five games last season (9,692 fans per game).
Hats off To Ralph
Damani Ralph became only the second player in Fire history to score three goals in a game last Saturday when he was responsible for all the scoring in a dominating 3-0 victory over D.C. United at Soldier Field. The Jamaican striker began his historic day in the 15th minute when he gathered a pass from his fellow countryman Andy Williams, dribbled up the right endline and fired a blistering shot from a poor angle between the legs of United 'keeper Troy Perkins to put the Fire up 1-0. Ralph would continue to impress in the second half when he was played into the left side of the penalty area by captain Chris Armas, took a touch and blasted another difficult-angle shot that found its way past Perkins in the 55th minute. The rookie D.C. goalkeeper would be stunned by Ralph again in the 69th minute when midfielder Nate Jaqua played a nifty backwards volley towards Ralph to the left of the goal, where he fought off United defender Mike Petke and sent his third goal of the day into the top of the netting. Ralph's hat trick was the third in team history, with the first two coming from his strike-mate Ante Razov, the last of which was on May 19, 2002 in a 3-1 victory at the New England Revolution. The six points on the afternoon pushed Ralph into a tie for first place on the MLS Budweiser Scoring Chart with 14 points (6g, 2a) alongside the Los Angeles Galaxy's injured forward Carlos Ruiz.
Four members of Fire begin road to Germany 2006 this weekend
When the next round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying begins this weekend, four members of the Chicago Fire - midfielders Chris Armas, DaMarcus Beasley and Andy Williams and forward Damani Ralph - will look to help their countries take their first steps towards the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. Armas (55 caps, 2 goals) and Beasley (33 caps, 5 goals) will join the rest of U.S. National Team manager Bruce Arena's squad today in Columbus, Ohio, where they will train all week in preparation for the first leg of the Stars-and-Stripes' home-and-home series against Grenada this Sunday, June 13 at Columbus Crew Stadium (12 p.m. CT, live on ESPN2/Telemundo). The U.S. will travel to the Cricket Ground in St. George's, Grenada for the return leg on Sunday, June 20 at 3 p.m. CT (live on ESPN2/Telemundo). Williams (78 caps, 12 goals) and Ralph (5 caps, 0 goals) have joined the Jamaican National Team in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where they will train in preparation for this Saturday's first leg against Haiti at the Orange Bowl in Miami, Fla., in a match that kicks off at 6:30 p.m. CT. The Reggae Boyz will host the return leg against Haiti at the National Stadium in Kingston, Jamaica on Sunday, June 20 at 7 p.m. CT. All four players will miss the Fire's next two games - at the L.A. Galaxy this Saturday, June 12 and next Saturday, June 19 at home against the San Jose Earthquakes.
Dipsy scores, but Botswana falls
Fire forward Dipsy Selolwane scored the seventh goal of his international career last Saturday for the Botswana National Team, but the "Zebras" would fall short in their African Region Qualifying match for the 2006 World Cup, losing to the defending African Cup of Nations champion Tunisia 4-1 in Tunis, Tunisia. The match was the first for both sides in Group 5 pool play in the preliminary round of African qualifying. Selolwane, who earned his 21st career appearance for the senior Botswana National Team in the match, is back in Chicago and will be available for selection for this Saturday's road contest at the L.A. Galaxy. Selolwane will return to Africa next week in preparation for Botswana's second qualifying match against Malawi in Gabarone, Botswana on Saturday, June 19 at 3 p.m. local time (8 a.m. CT).
Chicago Fire ACE/Tru-Fit Injury Report
Marsch, Jesse - R ankle cartilage damage - out
Chicago Fire Juniors and Elm Grove Soccer Club expand club program into Wisconsin
The Chicago Fire and suburban Milwaukee Elm Grove Soccer Club have announced a partnership that will expand the Major League Soccer (MLS) club's successful youth development programs into the State of Wisconsin. Effective immediately, Elm Grove S.C. will become the Official Chicago Fire Youth Development Programs partner of Waukesha County. The partnership will include implementation of various segments of the Chicago Fire Youth Development Programs, including aspects of the Chicago Fire Juniors youth club, which now has operations in three states, including its flagship program in west suburban Wheaton, Ill. There will also be cooperative efforts for tournament play, team training, international travel and exhibition games. The recently announced West Michigan Fire Juniors - the program's first partnership outside of Illinois - will also be a part of these cooperative efforts, as will the Fire's sister First Division club in Mexico, Monarcas Morelia. The Elm Grove Soccer Club has existing youth programs that range in age from Under-11 to Under-18 (Boys and Girls), as well as a recreation program for boys and girls from Under-6 to Under-10. Tryouts will be conducted beginning this evening and ending this Friday, June 11. For more information, please visit www.elmgrovesoccer.com
USA/Fire doubleheader nearly one month away
After an 11-year absence, only 35 days remain until the United States Men's National Team makes its return to Chicago, as the Chicago Fire and U.S. Soccer will host an international/MLS doubleheader at Soldier Field on Sunday, July 11. The U.S. senior side will begin the historic evening of soccer on the banks of Lake Michigan at 6 p.m. CT when it hosts the Polish National Team in their second meeting of the year. The Fire will then host the New England Revolution at 8:30 p.m. in the Revs' first visit to Soldier Field since the Fire's exciting 1-0 overtime victory in last November's 2003 MLS Eastern Conference Final. Advance tickets ranging in price levels from $28 to $80 can be purchased through Ticketmaster outlets or by calling 312-559-1212 or visiting www.ticketmaster.com. Tickets can also be purchased at the Chicago Fire Offices, located at 980 N. Michigan, Suite 1998 (corner of Oak/Michigan) in Chicago. Group discounts are also available and can be arranged by calling 1-888-MLS-FIRE.
Chicago Fire Reserves advance to second round of Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup
In their first ever match in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the Premier Development League's Chicago Fire Reserves advanced out of the first round last Wednesday night by defeating SAC Wisla (USASA) 5-1 at the Redmond Recreational Complex in Bensenville, Ill. Julian Nash led the Reserves' offensive charge with two goals and an assist, while Chris Rolfe, Drew Moor and Jimmy Klatter also tallied in the match to help the Reserves into the second round. The Reserves' next foe in the tournament will be the Professional Soccer League's (PSL) New Hampshire Phantoms, who will host the match on Tuesday, June 15 at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, N.H. at 6:30 p.m. CT.
Morelia players back in Chicago
Two members of the Chicago Fire's Mexican sister club, Monarcas Morelia, will be in town for the next two weeks to train with the "Men in Red" at Lake Forest College. Midfielders Ignacio Carrasco and Roberto Munoz will be trying to get Fire boss Dave Sarachan's attention, as the young players continue to perform on trial with the club. The trip marks the second visit of Carrasco to the Windy City, as the Fire's coaching staff was impressed with the 22-year-old's skills during his first trip last month. Of his second visit, the First Division player said, "I feel very fortunate about getting another chance to prove myself. I'm very eager to return to Chicago and show what I can do." Roberto Munoz, 21, brother of Monarcas starting goalkeeper Moises Munoz, will be making his first visit to Chicago. The two players will not be traveling to Los Angeles, however, the duo will be taking part in Telemundo's "Ritmo y Sabor" Festival this Sunday, June 13 at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, IL. The players will greet fans and sign autographs from 3:30-5 p.m. Fire forward Dipsy Selolwane and the Chicago Fire Mascot will also be on hand at the festival. Visit www.chicago-fire.com tomorrow to view an exclusive Q&A with Carrasco and Munoz.