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THE HOME DEPOT CENTER
7 pm PT (ESPN2; TD: 12 am ET)
The Steve Sampson era begins on Victoria Street as the former U.S. and Costa Rica national team boss takes over a Los Angeles Galaxy still holding the best overall record in MLS and the Western Conference despite a five-match winless streak. They'll face a Chicago Fire team that has won just once in their last 11 matches yet are still just a point out of a playoff place in the Eastern Conference, and potentially with a victory could pull itself into third place in the East.
REFEREE: Kevin Stott. SAR (bench): Nate Clement; JAR (opposite): Robert Fereday; 4th: Ramon Hernandez
MLS Career: 104 games; FC/gm: 26.5; Y/gm: 3.4; R: 29; pens: 19
Games involving Galaxy: P20 W10 L8 T2; FC/gm: 25.0; Y/gm: 3.5; R: 2; pens: 5
Games involving Fire: P16 W10 L4 T2; FC/gm: 31.0; Y/gm: 3.7; R: 2; pens: 2
INJURY REPORT: LOS ANGELES GALAXY -QUESTIONABLE: DF Danny Califf (L torn meniscus); QUESTIONABLE: FW Joseph Ngwenya (L Achilles tendonitis) ... CHICAGO FIRE - OUT: FW Ante Razov (R ankle bone spur); QUESTIONABLE: GK D.J. Countess (R ankle sprain)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: LA: Chris Albright (through Aug. 21)
YELLOW PERIL: LA: Paul Broome (20 CP); Carlos Ruiz (20 CP); Marcelo Saragosa (20 CP) ... CHI: Chris Armas (19 CP); Evan Whitfield (18 CP)
ALL-TIME (21 meetings): Galaxy 12 wins (0 shootout), 26 goals ... Fire 8 wins (1 shootout), 25 goals ... 1 draw
AT LOS ANGELES (10 meetings): Galaxy 6 wins (0 shootout), 13 goals ... Fire 3 wins (1 shootout), 11 goals ... 1 draw
This is the third and final meeting between the two teams this season, the Galaxy having won the first two, one at each ground. In their last meeting at Soldier Field on June 27, the Galaxy knocked off the Fire 1-0 at Soldier Field in a top-of-the-table clash.
The Galaxy's defending set the stage for the victory - center back Ryan Suarez clearing two balls off the line in the first half - then a wonder goal from Jovan Kirovski 11 minutes from the end provided the margin of victory.
Fire 'keeper Henry Ring came racing out of his area to clear a long ball, getting it only as far as Kirovski in the center circle, and the U.S. international drove the ball back first-time over the retreating Ring and into the unguarded goal from all of 50 yards.
Here's Sarachan's team (3-4-1-2): Henry Ring - Evan Whitfield (Denny Clanton 43), Jim Curtin, Kelly Gray - Orlando Perez (Justin Mapp 68), Chris Armas, Andy Williams, Nate Jaqua (Dipsy Selolwane 81) - DaMarcus Beasley - Damani Ralph, Ante Razov
Here's Schmid's team (4-3-1-2): Kevin Hartman - Chris Albright, Danny Califf (Hong Myung-Bo 46), Ryan Suarez, Paul Broome - Ned Grabavoy (Carlos Ruiz 70), Marcelo Saragosa (Arturo Torres 65), Sasha Victorine - Andreas Herzog - Alejandro Moreno, Jovan Kirovski.
On June 12, the Galaxy scored two goals over the final 10 minutes - the match-winner a goal deep in stoppage time - to come back and claim a 3-2 victory. A long-range blast from Andreas Herzog after a nifty backheel from rookie Joseph Ngwenya gave the Galaxy the lead (10), but Ante Razov finished off a long run out of midfield with a long-range strike of his own (28) to pull the Fire level at the break.
Razov then gave the visitors the lead from the penalty spot after Justin Mapp was pulled down in the box (67), but Ngwenya headed home a pinpoint cross from Chris Albright in the 81st minute to bring the Galaxy back to level terms. Albright then turned hero three minutes into added time, scoring with a flying header on a Sasha Victorine cross from the right.
A year ago, the teams had a fractious series, the Galaxy failing to score in three league meetings, also falling in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup.
The Fire won 1-0 at home on Aug. 20 on an Orlando Perez goal (73), then they on Victoria Street on Sept. 13 (Ralph 58, Jaqua 90). The Fire then finished off the league series on Oct. 4 at Cardinal Stadium (Beasley 60, Marsch 66).
In the Open Cup match in Naperville, the Fire jumped out to a three-goal lead before advancing to the final with a 3-2 victory (Ralph 55, Whitfield 63, Razov 69 - Moreno 73, Torres 75).
It was the second consecutive year one team had won all of the meetings between the two teams. In 2002, the Galaxy won all four meetings, two by 1-0 scorelines and two by 2-1.
They've played three times in the Open Cup, all in the semifinals. The Fire have won twice (2000 and last year), while the Galaxy won in 2001. They've also split two semifinal series in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Carlos Ruiz leads current Galaxy players with 5 goals, 0 assists in 6 games (5 starts) v Chicago. Only three other players - Cobi Jones, Tyrone Marshall and Peter Vagenas - have multiple goals against the Fire (2 each). The Galaxy's all-time points leader v Chicago is Simon Elliott (2 goals, 6 assists).
Ante Razov leads the all-time Fire scoring chart v Los Angeles with 5 goals, 6 assists. DaMarcus Beasley and Jesse Marsch each have 3 goals, while Beasley has 3 assists. Andy Williams has 2 goals, 7 assists v the Galaxy, but has yet to play against Los Angeles while with the Fire.
Coaches record: Sigi Schmid vs. CHI: P16 W10 L5 D1 ... Dave Sarachan v LA: P5 W3 L2 D0
LOS ANGELES GALAXY
The Los Angeles Galaxy had their winless streak extend to five games in Sigi Schmid's last match in charge, as they and the Columbus Crew played to a dour scoreless draw at The Home Depot Center. The Galaxy still own the lead in the Western Conference and in the MLS overall table with 34 points from 22 matches, two ahead of the Kansas City Wizards in the West and the East leaders MetroStars.
Both the Galaxy and Crew narrowly missed chances to break the deadlock in the closing minutes, Columbus playing to a draw for the fifth time in six matches.
Carlos Ruiz nearly put home a quick-thinking backheel from the heart of the box with 10 minutes to go, but hooked it just over the bar. The Crew raced to the other end where Columbus defender Duncan Oughton hammered a drive from well outside the area - only to see it come back off the underside of the bar.
Galaxy boss Sigi Schmid made two changes to the team that lost 3-0 away to the MetroStars the previous Sunday, both in his back four as Chris Albright and Ryan Suarez were suspended. Hong Myung-Bo made his second start in 11 matches in central defense and Sasha Victorine moved to right back, Ned Grabavoy coming in on the left side of midfield.
"This is very frustrating," said Ruiz, who has one goal since July 10. "We missed out on two very important points that can help us later."
Here's Schmid's team (4-3-1-2): Kevin Hartman - Sasha Victorine, Tyrone Marshall, Hong Myung-Bo, Paul Broome - Cobi Jones (Arturo Torres 69), Marcelo Saragosa, Ned Grabavoy (Peter Vagenas 78) - Andreas Herzog - Carlos Ruiz, Jovan Kirovski (Alejandro Moreno 64).
"I thought in the second half that we got a little bit better," Schmid said. "Torres and Moreno brought some energy for us up front, and Paul Broome started to push up and make (Crew midfielder) Frankie Hejduk work a lot more defensively."
While the Galaxy haven't hit for goals with the same consistency recently, they've shored up in the back despite the winless run. After posting just one clean sheet in their first 14 games, they've had four in the last eight contests.
"The positive is that we didn't give up a goal after giving up three last week [in a 3-0 loss at the MetroStars]," Marshall said. "Our attitude going in is to keep the zero because only something positive can come out of that - either we win or get the point."
The shocking news then hit the club on Monday, when Schmid was relieved of his duties as head coach. Former U.S. and Costa Rica national team head coach Steve Sampson was given the reins of the club, the first coach in U.S. major sport history to take over for a coach fired with his team in first place overall in a league.
"I think a very clear message has been sent to everyone of what's demanded here,' said Vagenas. "That's great that they're telling us what we need to do, but we have to do it. The writing's on the wall and we need to get it done, and that's how we have to look at it. We have a duty to provide to our fans what we have promised them, and maybe we have fallen short in certain areas.'
Sampson ran his first training session on Wednesday. "We have an enormous responsibility here, and that's to win the MLS championship," he said. "That's what this team is here to do and that's what I, as coach, intend to set out to do."
Cobi Jones came on as a 68th-minute substitute in the USA's 1-1 draw with Jamaica to open CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on Wednesday, and he provided a spark, involved in Brian Ching's late equalizer. Teammate Tyrone Marshall played the full match in a deep-lying midfield role for the Reggae Boyz.
Carlos Ruiz got Guatemala's semifinal round campaign off to a bright start, scoring both goals for the chapines in their 2-0 victory against Canada in Vancouver.
The Chicago Fire weren't able to follow up their midweek victory - which snapped a nine-game winless run - with another result, losing 3-0 at home to the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night. The Fire are still stuck in last place in the Eastern Conference on 22 points from 21 matches, a point behind the New England Revolution and 10 behind the division-leading MetroStars.
Two long-range bombs in a three-goal second-half burst gave the Rapids a 3-0 victory against the Fire and match the results from the rest of the lower half of the Western Conference.
Mark Chung ripped a drive from some 25 yards out from goal, beating Henry Ring high inside his right-hand spot (50), then 17 minutes later Matt Crawford doubled the Colorado lead with an equally impressive strike, curling home a shot from well outside the left side of the area.
John Spencer then capped the scoring with his second goal in as many games after a long scoreless drought, heading home a Chung freekick whipped in from the left (80) as the Rapids snapped a two-game losing skid.
"When you read the scoreline, if you weren't at the game you'll see 3-0," Fire coach Dave Sarachan said. "Chung hit a career shot again against us, and Crawford hit a great goal. We don't get an early goal and we kept a team like this in it. If you don't get an early goal, games like this happen."
Sarachan made two changes to the team that defeated the San Jose Earthquakes to end a nine-match winless skid the previous Wednesday. Craig Capano came in for the suspended Logan Pause, sent off in the San Jose match, while Dipsy Selolwane replaced Nate Jaqua in attack.
Here's Sarachan's team (4-4-2): Henry Ring - Kelly Gray, C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Orlando Perez (Evan Whitfield 71) - Andy Williams, Chris Armas, Craig Capano (Jesse Marsch 70), Justin Mapp - Damani Ralph, Dipsy Selolwane (Nate Jaqua 66).
"They were bombs," Ring said. "I've never had two shots like that in a row. In the moment, there wasn't anything I could do about them. I feel like I was in a good spot for both of them, they were just hit well."
Jesse Marsch could become the club's all-time appearance leader on Saturday. He could be considered by Sarachan for the starting lineup for his 163rd match in a Fire uniform, surpassing Zach Thornton's mark.
Marsch has made appearances in the last two matches, his first of the season since undergoing ankle surgery on Feb. 2. He played 20 minutes against Colorado after coming on in the 85th minute three days before.
"Right now I'm more focused on getting myself back to game shape, 90 minutes fit,'' Marsch said. "[I want to] keep moving forward here for the team and myself. [Sarachan] understands it's important I get more minutes. I feel like I'm ready to start contributing a little bit more.''
The Fire announced the completion of the acquisition of attacking winger Alexandre Boucicaut during the week. Last with Violette AC, where he scored 22 goals in his last four seasons, Boucicaut has also made eight national team appearances for Haiti, scoring eight goals. He scored Haiti's goal in a 1-1 draw with the USA on Feb. 18 in Miami, which put him on the radar of the Fire.
"We are very excited to add Alex to the roster," Sarachan said. "We identified him a few months ago when he played for the Haitian national team against the United States, and after his trial period, we felt he would be a very good addition to the Fire. He's a guy we feel can add a real dimension with his pace and flank play on the right side of the field."
Damani Ralph and Andy Williams played the full match for Jamaica in the 1-1 draw with the USA to open the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying on Wednesday in Kingston, while Chris Armas played 77 minutes for the visitors. A pair of former Fire teammates - DaMarcus Beasley and Carlos Bocanegra - also played the full match for the USA.