Ralph's strike snaps Fire's streak

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  • When: Saturday, 5 p.m. ET
  • TV: (ESPN2)

    Two teams that have put up surprising results in the early going meet in an Eastern Conference showdown on East Capitol Street. D.C. United has impressed so far, some observers considering them the best team in the league overall through the first few weeks. But the Chicago Fire, the surprise hasn’t been a good one, the defending Eastern Conference champion still looking for their first league goal of the 2004 campaign though they didn’t lose for the first time until last weekend – though that came in their home opener.

    REFEREE: Ricardo Valenzuela. SAR (bench): Kermit Quisenberry; JAR (opposite): Bahij Salman; 4th: Erich Simmons
    MLS Career: 51 games; FC/gm: 35.4; Y/gm: 4.7; R: 22; pens: 16
    Games involving United: P11 W2 L7 T2; FC/gm: 35.9; Y/gm: 5.0; R: 0; pens: 7
    Games involving Fire: P14 W9 L3 T2; FC/gm: 37.3; Y/gm: 5.0; R: 6; pens: 4
    INJURY REPORT: D.C. UNITED – OUT: FW Santino Quaranta (adductor tear); FW Eliseo Quintanilla (R fibula fracture); FW Thiago Martins (L ACL surgery) … CHICAGO FIRE – OUT: MD Jesse Marsch (R ankle cartilage damage); DF Orlando Perez (lower back pain); QUESTIONABLE: DF Evan Whitfield (R lower leg contusion); PROBABLE: FW Damani Ralph (L quadriceps contusion); FW Ante Razov (R groin strain);
    SUSPENDED: none
    YELLOW PERIL: none


    ALL-TIME (16 meetings): United 7 wins (0 shootout), 25 goals … Fire 6 wins (0 shootout), 22 goals … 3 draws

    • This is the first of the four meetings between the two Eastern Conference clubs, the first of the two in Washington. They’ll play in Chicago on June 5 and then again at Soldier Field on Sept. 1, before facing each other for the final time on Sept. 18 at RFK Stadium.

    • A year ago, United won two of the four league meetings between the two teams (with one draw), but the Fire eased to victory in both legs of their conference semifinal series.

    • The teams played to a scoreless draw on April 19 in Washington – the third consecutive scoreless draw in the series – then United won the next two meetings, winning 2-0 at home on June 7 (Etcheverry 37 pen, Kovalenko 45), then 2-1 at Soldier Field on July 12 (Marsch 6 – Ivanov 9, Olsen 45). The Fire then won 3-1 at home on Aug. 16 (Razov 45, Marsch 61, Beasley 74 – Stoitchkov 8 pen).

    • The Fire then won 4-0 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference semifinal series in the MLS Cup Playoffs, winning 2-0 both away on Nov. 1 (Williams 4, Razov 94+) and at home on Nov. 9 (Ralph 17, Razov 55).

    • There were shutouts in seven of eight meetings in the series from 2001 through the second encounter of a year ago – a streak which included three successive scoreless draws (July 20 and 31, 2002 and April 19, 2003).

    • When United won at Soldier Field last year, it was their first away victory in the series since May 2, 1998 – the first-ever meeting of the two clubs – Chicago winning three of the next five home encounters (two draws).

    • As a player with Chicago, Peter Nowak tasted victory in five of his nine meetings with United – including a 2-0 victory in MLS Cup 1998. This is of course the first time he will face his former club as head coach.

    • Ben Olsen leads active United players with 4 goals, 4 assists against Chicago. He’s one of three current United players with 4 goals against Fire, along with Ronald Cerritos (4 goals, 3 assists – none with United) and Jaime Moreno (4 goals, 2 assists – all with United). The only other current United player with a goal v Chicago is Dema Kovalenko.

    • Jesse Marsch leads the Fire’s all-time list against United with 4 goals, 2 assists; second is current United boss Nowak (2 goals, 3 assists). Chris Armas also has 2 goals, 3 assists for his career v United (1 goal, 3 assists with Chicago), and Ante Razov has 2 goals, 2 assists.

    • Coaches record: Peter Nowak vs. CHI: first meeting … Dave Sarachan v CHI P4 W1 D1 L2


    D.C. United lost for the first time in 2004 despite taking a first-half lead, a three-goal blitz just after the break giving the MetroStars a 3-2 victory at Giants Stadium in their home opener Saturday. United are now second place in the Eastern Conference with four points from three matches, two behind first-place Metro.

    • Freddy Adu made history when the 14-year-old hit the back of the net in just his third professional game, but the MetroStars grabbed the headlines with three goals in 13 minutes after the break including a Fabian Taylor double

    • Ben Olsen gave United the lead after 26 minutes when he converted a low cross from Dema Kovalenko from the right flank. But Taylor, who came on as a halftime substitute, took just five minutes to pull his club level. He rose up unmarked to meet a Mark Lisi cross, which United 'keeper Doug Warren made a terrific save on, but found the back of the net on the second chance.

    • John Wolyniec then gave the Metros the lead seven minutes later with an acrobatic diving header in the six-yard box, before Taylor hit for his second, slipping a shot underneath Warren from inside the area.

    • Adu pulled United back within one when he became the youngest player ever to score in an MLS game when he got in front of a Metros defender to stab home a rolling cross from close range (75), but that was as close as United got.

    • United boss Peter Nowak made two changes to the team that settled for a 1-1 draw away to Los Angeles Galaxy the weekend before. Dema Kovalenko returned from suspension and replaced Joshua Gros in midfield, while Doug Warren made his first start, coming in to replace Nick Rimando between the posts.

    • Here’s Nowak’s team on the day (3-1-4-2): Doug Warren – Bryan Namoff, Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke – Brian Carroll – Earnie Stewart, Dema Kovalenko (Joshua Gros 54), Ben Olsen, Bobby Convey – Jaime Moreno (Ronald Cerritos 67), Alecko Eskandarian (Freddy Adu 54).

    • "We just stopped playing soccer," Nowak said. "I don't know what happened. This is a good cold shower for all of us."

    • Added Olsen: "We were sharp (in the first half), we were playing the right style, things were good, and we come out the second half complacent and flat. We should know better than that. They got us. Playing a good half isn't going to cut it. It's a good lesson."

    • Of course, Adu’s goal grabbed most of the post-match headlines, the youngest player in American professional sport in more than a century scoring in just his third match. The goal came at 14 years, 320 days, beating by far the previous MLS record set by United teammate Santino Quaranta, who scored his first pro goal at 16 years, 217 days in 2001.

    • "To be able get that goal, it taught me something about myself," Adu said. "First of all, that I can really do this. And second of all I'm excited. No matter what happens I'm going to keep fighting for that goal."

    • Nowak faces a difficult decision in goal, where he gave Doug Warren the start against the MetroStars after Nick Rimando played the first two matches. But Nowak said the job is still up for grabs: At some point (as the season progresses) it's going to be clear who's number one. . . . Some of (the players) are comfortable with Nicky, some of them with Doug. But we'll see how they do in practice."

    • The match will also be Nowak’s first encounter against his former club, which he led to a MLS Cup victory in the Fire’s inaugural season. "Of course it's going to be emotional before the game," said Nowak. "I had five fantastic years with the Fire as a captain and a player and a part of the organization and my heart is still there. (But) when the first whistle blows, you forget about everything."

    • Forward Santino Quaranta will be sidelined for up to six more weeks after undergoing surgery on a torn adductor muscle.

    • Bobby Convey was named to the U.S. national team for their April 28 friendly against Mexico at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.


    The Chicago Fire are still searching for their first goal of the 2004 league season, falling 2-0 to the Dallas Burn in their home opener at Soldier Field on Saturday. It was the first loss of the campaign for the Fire after a pair of scoreless draws, but Chicago is still in third place in the Eastern Conference, four points off the pace set by the MetroStars.

    • The Burn continued the woes for the defending Eastern Conference champion, who saw their scoreless run extended to four matches in all competitions. It was a welcome triumph for the Burn, who waited until May 31 for their first win a year ago.

    • Eddie Johnson finished off a lightning-quick counterattack with a snap shot over an advancing Fire ‘keeper Henry Ring in the first half (26). Then Johnson led a counter in the second half which was finished off by a long-range Bobby Rhine shot that took a deflection before sailing past Ring (70).

    • Fire coach Dave Sarachan made two changes to the team that played to a scoreless draw in San Jose the weekend before. C.J. Brown returned from suspension, coming into the back three for Kelly Gray, and Damani Ralph was hampered by a thigh injury suffered at midweek in the Fire’s CONCACAF Champions Cup match, with Logan Pause coming into midfield.

    • Here’s Sarachan’s team (3-4-2-1): Henry Ring – Evan Whitfield, Jim Curtin, C.J. Brown – Nate Jaqua (Justin Mapp 68), Chris Armas, Logan Pause, Leonard Griffin (Dipsy Selolwane 46) – Andy Williams, DaMarcus Beasley – Ante Razov (Damani Ralph 74).

    • "We had a good start to the game and we had a few chances in the first half but, frankly, we were out-competed tonight. I'm not going to give the excuse that we were a tired team, but we played that way,” Sarachan said.

    • The Fire were the first team in MLS history to begin a season with two scoreless draws, and now they are 88 minutes away from setting the longest scoreless streak in league history. "We didn't have any life, any bite, any heart,'' Beasley said. "Dallas came in to our home field and pushed us around. … I don't know if we need a formation change or a change of personnel, but we need something. We can't keep playing like this."

    • The Fire will again face a midweek battle, the home leg of their CONCACAF Champions Cup tie against Deportivo Saprissa. The Costa Rican club took a 2-0 victory in the first leg in San José last Wednesday, and the Fire need to win by three clear goals to guarantee advancing to the first continental final in club history.

    • "It's definitely possible for us to come back against Saprissa," C.J. Brown said. "We did it once before." In the quarterfinals, the Fire lost the first leg 5-2 to Trinidad & Tobago club San Juan Jabloteh, only to win the return match 4-0 at home to book passage.

    • However, there is still concern in the team’s attack force – troubling more so for a team still struggling to find goals. Ante Razov, who started against Dallas, will see a specialist this week regarding a lingering groin injury. "To tell the truth, it’s not great," Razov said. "I was hoping to make more progress on it and it was getting better, but after the trip to San Jose, it started getting worse."

    • Chris Armas and DaMarcus Beasley were named to the U.S. national team for their April 28 friendly against Mexico at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas.