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Two teams looking to affect their playoff prospects in different ways come together at Soldier Field - just a few weeks before they'll meet in Kansas City in the U.S. Open Cup Final. The Chicago Fire come into the match currently out of the playoff picture - yet despite just one win since June 5, they are just a point out of the Eastern Conference top four. The Kansas City Wizards - who have never beaten the Fire on the road in club history - are looking to take advantage of the games in hand they hold while currently tied for the best record in the league and the Western Conference.
REFEREE: Hector Tobon. SAR (bench): Kermit Quisenberry; JAR (opposite): Emiliano Monje; 4th: Marcel Yonan
MLS Career: 6 games; FC/gm: 26.2; Y/gm: 3.3; R: 1; pens: 2
Games involving Fire: P2 W0 L1 T1; FC/gm: 34.0; Y/gm: 4.5; R: 1; pens: 1
Games involving Wizards: P2 W0 L1 T1; FC/gm: 22.0; Y/gm: 3.0; R: 0; pens: 0
INJURY REPORT: CHICAGO FIRE - OUT: FW Ante Razov (R ankle bone spur); MD Chris Armas (R knee inflammation) ... KANSAS CITY WIZARDS - OUT: MD Chris Klein (L knee torn ACL); GK Tony Meola (R Achilles tendon strain); QUESTIONABLE: DF Jimmy Conrad (R ankle sprain)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: KC: MD Kerry Zavagnin (USA, Sept. 4 v El Salvador)
YELLOW PERIL: CHI: Jim Curtin (18 CP); Evan Whitfield (18 CP); Chris Armas (19 CP)
ALL-TIME (19 meetings): Fire 13 wins (1 shootout), 47 goals ... Wizards 4 wins (0 shootout), 23 goals ... 2 draws
IN CHICAGO (8 meetings): Fire 8 wins, 22 goals ... Wizards 0 wins, 5 goals ... 0 draws
The teams meet for the third and final time in league play this season - though they have a meeting ahead for the U.S. Open Cup on Sept. 22. This is the only meeting at Soldier Field - the first since the opening six weeks of the campaign.
After playing 17 matches without a draw (one going to shootout) in the series history, they've played to a pair of draws this season, both at Arrowhead Stadium.
The Wizards twice held leads before settling for a 2-2 draw in their last meeting on May 8. Chris Klein's shot past Henry Ring (9) gave the Wizards a halftime lead, but Justin Mapp's angled shot from inside the area brought the visitors level just seven minutes after the break.
Davy Arnaud's blast after skipping around a defender again put the home side into the lead (64), but Dipsy Selolwane finally coaxed the ball over the line after a couple of desperate saves by Wizards 'keeper Tony Meola for an 83rd-minute leveller.
Here's Gansler's team (4-4-2): Tony Meola - Alex Zotinca, Jimmy Conrad, Shavar Thomas, Diego Gutierrez - Davy Arnaud, Jack Jewsbury, Kerry Zavagnin, Chris Klein - Matt Taylor (Francisco Gomez 60), Josh Wolff.
Here's Sarachan's team (3-2-3-2): Henry Ring - Evan Whitfield, Jim Curtin, Kelly Gray - Logan Pause (Dipsy Selolwane 71), Chris Armas - Justin Mapp (Leonard Griffin 89), Andy Williams (Craig Capano 82), DaMarcus Beasley - Damani Ralph, Ante Razov.
The teams played to a scoreless draw in the first meeting at Arrowhead Stadium on April 3, the first draw in the series history between the two teams. The closest either team came to a goal was when K.C.'s Diego Gutierrez saw his second-half effort hit the outside of the post. Wizards midfielder Chris Klein and Chicago's C.J. Brown were sent off for mutual aggression after 74 minutes.
The Fire won two of the three matches a season ago. Chicago recorded a stirring comeback at Arrowhead for a 3-2 victory on April 26, the only win for a visiting club last year (Simutenkov 25, Conrad 38 - Perez 53, Williams 65, Ralph 70). Kansas City won 4-2 at home on June 21 as Preki celebrated his 40th birthday in style (Conrad 26, Gomez 33, Zotinca 42, Preki 70 pen - Ralph 8, Razov 78), the Chicago won in Naperville 2-0 on July 26 (Whitfield 12, Mapp 53).
The Fire have won six of the last 10 meetings between the teams, and they have never lost to the Wizards at home. Chicago owns all five victories by the road team in the series.
The Wizards have had more trouble with Chicago than any other team in the league. With just the four wins in 19 matches, it is by far their worst record against any single opponent, and K.C. has losing records against just two other active clubs (v Columbus, P23 W9 L11 D3; v Los Angeles P34 W14 L16 D4).
Preki leads the Wizards all-time records against Chicago with 3 goals, 12 assists - all but 2 assists while in Kansas City. Defender Jimmy Conrad and midfielder are the only other current Wizards players with more than one goal against the Fire (2 goals each; Klein also has 2 assists).
Ante Razov is the Fire's all-time leader against Kansas City with 9 goals, 6 assists. Among current Fire players, Andy Williams is next with 2 goals, 7 assists - but just 1 goal, 1 assist while with the Fire. Justin Mapp and Damani Ralph are the only other Fire players with more than one goal (2 goals), while Jesse Marsch (5 assists), and Evan Whitfield (3 assists) also have multiple assists to go with 1 goal.
Coaches record: Dave Sarachan v KC: P5 W2 L1 T2 ... Bob Gansler vs. CHI: P14 W3 L9 D2
The Chicago Fire saw their dismal run of form continue at the weekend, suffering their heaviest defeat of the campaign in falling 4-1 to the Dallas Burn on Saturday night at the Cotton Bowl. The Fire now have just one win in their last 13 league contests, and with the loss fell back into fifth place in the Eastern Conference and out of the playoffs with 23 points from 23 matches, but just one point behind fourth-place New England.
The Burn dismantled the Fire to move back ahead of San Jose into fourth place in the West and again lay claim to the Brimstone Cup, awarded by the supporters clubs of the two teams to the winner of the season series. Eddie Johnson struck for a pair of goals, Toni Nhleko added one and Ronnie O'Brien recorded a goal and two assists as the pacy Burn attack caused the Fire fits all night.
O'Brien and Johnson netted goals five minutes apart in the first half to give Dallas a two-goal lead at the interval. O'Brien opened the Burn account with a terrific individual run into the box, turning defender Orlando Perez this way and that before slipping the ball through his legs and then calmly finishing past Chicago goalkeeper Henry Ring (28).
Johnson then ran onto the end of a O'Brien ball chipped over the Fire back line, speeding away out of the center circle before poking the ball through Ring's legs for the Burn's second.
Nate Jaqua pulled a goal back for the Fire just four minutes after the break when he was unmarked to head home a Justin Mapp cross floated in from the right, then narrowly missed bringing Chicago all the way back when his first-time flick of a Damani Ralph came back off the face of the post.
The Burn took immediate advantage by scoring twice in seven minutes, first restoring their two-goal margin when Nhleko and O'Brien combined for a neat 1-2, the South African international receiving the return pass scooped into the box and blasting home a low angled shot (58).
Dallas then capped the night when Johnson grabbed his second to finish off a fine movement, Simo Valakari picking out Eric Quill with a long ball on the left, who then drove a low cross into the box where Johnson dove to head home.
"We exploited their right side," Fire coach Dave Sarachan said. "Justin plays a great ball to Nate and we're in it. But we couldn't sustain anything because they got that third goal. We have no choice but to get it past us; we have too many important games coming up."
Sarachan made two changes to the team that allowed a late equalizer in a 1-1 draw with the Los Angeles Galaxy in Steve Sampson's debut the previous weekend in Carson. Orlando Perez came in at left back for Kelly Gray, while captain Chris Armas was ruled out with a knee injury, meaning Jesse Marsch came in to make his first start of the season.
Here's Sarachan's team (4-4-2): Henry Ring - Evan Whitfield (Kelly Gray 60), C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Orlando Perez (Craig Capano 70) - Andy Williams, Jesse Marsch (Alexandre Boucicaut 62), Logan Pause, Justin Mapp - Nate Jaqua, Damani Ralph
"We made a couple of mistakes that led to two goals in the first half, but when we put passes together and tried to play I thought we actually had good moments in the first half," Sarachan said. "We said we're going to stick with the same 11 and to move it quicker and be patient."
Marsch and Brown both became the club's all-time league appearance leader on Saturday, their 165th MLS match in a Fire uniform, surpassing Zach Thornton's mark. Brown has now made 163 starts for the Fire, also a club record.
The Fire were then dealt a massive blow at the start of the week when it was announced captain Chris Armas will undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee to repair a torn meniscus. Armas originally suffered the injury while on national team duty in July, preparing for the friendly against Poland. Armas will be lost for the next 4-6 weeks.
KANSAS CITY WIZARDS
The Kansas City Wizards make their first league appearance after a lengthy break, 10 days after snapping a three-game losing streak with a 2-1 victory away to the New England Revolution on Aug. 21. The Wizards played just three games in the month of August, and now find themselves tied for the lead in the Western Conference and the MLS overall table with 35 points from 22 matches and a game in hand over joint leaders Los Angeles Galaxy.
The Wizards snapped their four-game winless streak dating back to before the All-Star break and rebounded from a midweek 2-1 loss to Columbus on the road, coming from behind to beat the Revolution and end New England's seven-match unbeaten run.
Taylor Twellman got the home side off to a dream start, opportunistic as ever to score his fifth goal of the campaign, latching on to a pass that Pat Noonan seemed to lose in his feet before pounding it home from close range (11).
But before the half was the Wizards pulled level, Josh Wolff quickest to the rebound after a diving Matt Reis cut out a low cross, popping it over the New England 'keeper (39).
Then midway through the second half, Davy Arnaud finished off a well-worked sequence (66), Jack Jewsbury pulling back a rolling cross to the spot after Wolff had set him free on the right, the second-year striker coming from behind to hammer home first-time for his ninth goal of the campaign and give the Wizards the three points.
Wizards coach Bob Gansler made five changes to the team that lost in midweek to Columbus. Taylor Graham came at right back as Gansler returned to four in the back, while Kerry Zavagnin and Igor Simutenkov came into the midfield, the three returning to the bench Francisco Gomez, Jack Jewsbury and Preki, four days after making his first start of the campaign.
Josh Wolff also returned from knee inflammation to come in for Justin Detter while the major surprise was in goal, where Bo Oshoniyi made his first start in two seasons, coming in for Tony Meola, who suffered a strain of his right Achilles tendon in pre-match warmups.
Here's Gansler's team (4-4-2): Bo Oshoniyi - Taylor Graham, Jimmy Conrad, Shavar Thomas, Nick Garcia - Alex Zotinca, Diego Gutierrez, Kerry Zavagnin, Igor Simutenkov (Jack Jewsbury 61) - Davy Arnaud, Josh Wolff (Francisco Gomez 78)
For Oshoniyi, it was his first league appearance of the season, and his first MLS start in more than two years, since Aug. 18, 2002. A season ago, he made one league appearance in the entire season - in the third week of the season, when he came on in the 82nd minute as Tony Meola went into the attack.
In their last match on Aug. 24, the Wizards reached the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final for the first time in club history, knocking off the San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 to the Kansas City Wizards in the semifinal at Overland Park, Kan. as Igor Simutenkov converted a penalty literally on the stroke of halftime.
Josh Wolff earned the spot kick as he strove to skip through a crowded penalty area, Quakes defender Ryan Cochrane pulling down the U.S. international as referee Kevin Terry eventually pointed to the spot.
Here's Gansler's team: Bo Oshoniyi, Taylor Graham, Jimmy Conrad, Nick Garcia, Jose Burciaga Jr., Igor Simutenkov (Preki 46) (Justin Detter 80), Diego Gutierrez, Kerry Zavagnin, Alex Zotinca, Josh Wolff (Jack Jewsbury 74), Davy Arnaud
The Wizards will take on the Chicago Fire in the Open Cup Final in a rematch of MLS Cup 2000, won 1-0 by the Wizards in Washington, D.C. The match will be played Sept. 22 at Arrowhead Stadium.
"I don't give a (darn) if we play little sisters of the poor," Gansler said. "They're two completely different teams now. We probably have more guys on our side from Chicago than they have players who were there then. My concern is winning the Open Cup." The Wizards have two players who were with Chicago in that MLS Cup Final - midfielder Diego Gutierrez and forward Josh Wolff.
Meola will be out the next two to three weeks with the Achillles injury, which has been immobilized with a support boot. In addition, Jimmy Conrad suffered a sprained ankle during training after the Open Cup tie which has kept him out of full training.