Brian McBride and the Fire can wrap up a playoff spot by taking a point from the Crew Sunday.
S. Pribyl/Getty

Fire, Crew battle for playoff position

CHICAGO FIRE vs. COLUMBUS CREW
TOYOTA PARK, Bridgeview, Ill.
Oct. 12, 2008 | 2 p.m. ET (TeleFutura; My50 Chi.; ONN)
WEEK # 29 | GAME # 194

A rarity this season - a pair of teams which are relatively secure in their playoff futures - meet at Toyota Park when the Chicago Fire entertain the Columbus Crew. With a point from the match with the Crew and the right results going their way, the Fire will have earned their spot in the postseason dance. The Crew have already clinched not only a place in the MLS Cup Playoffs, but also the Eastern Conference regular season title and home-field advantage throughout the postseason; now in their sights is a second Supporters' Shield in club history, which they can claim with a single point and the failure of the Houston Dynamo to win later Sunday.

REFEREE: Shane Moody. SAR (bench): Greg Barkey; JAR (opposite): Sean Hurd; 4th: Abbey Okulaja
MLS Career: 8 games; FC/gm: 29.3; Y/gm: 4.9; R: 3; pens: 1

INJURY REPORT: CHICAGO FIRE - OUT: MF Kai Kasiguran (L maxilla fracture); DOUBTFUL: DF Austin Washington (L hamstring strain) ... COLUMBUS CREW - NONE REPORTED

INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: CHI: Gonzalo Segares (Costa Rica; vs. Suriname, Oct. 11); Marco Pappa (Guatemala; vs. Trinidad & Tobago, Oct. 11) ... CLB: Frankie Hejduk (USA; vs. Cuba, Oct. 11); Alejandro Moreno (Venezuela; vs. Brazil, Oct. 11); Ricardo Pierre-Louis (Haiti; vs. El Salvador, Oct. 11)
SUSPENDED: CHI: John Thorrington (caution accumulation; through Oct. 12)
WARNINGS:
SUSPENDED NEXT YELLOW CARD: CHI: Gonzalo Segares ... CLB: Frankie Hejduk
SUSPENDED AFTER TWO YELLOW CARDS: CHI: Diego Gutierrez, Brandon Prideaux, Bakary Soumare ... CLB: Brian Carroll, William Hesmer, Andy Iro, Adam Moffat, Guillermo Barros Schelotto

HEAD-TO-HEAD
ALL-TIME (36 meetings): Fire 17 wins (1 shootout), 56 goals ... Crew 10 wins (0 shootout) 55 goals ... Ties 9
AT CHICAGO (18 meetings): Fire 9 wins (0 shootout), 29 goals ... Crew 5 wins (0 shootout) 24 goals ... Ties 4

• This is the second of two meetings between the clubs this season, the only one set for Toyota Park.

• A year ago, the Fire won the season series, winning two of the three meetings with one draw. It marked the first time since the 2002 campaign the Fire had claimed the season series.

• The Fire have won on four of their last five visits to Crew Stadium. The last Columbus home victory in the series came on July 3, 2004, a 2-0 victory, six meetings ago.

• The Crew have won just one of the last eight meetings, over the last two-plus seasons - a 4-1 victory at Bridgeview on Oct. 7, 2006. The Fire won three of those encounters, with three draws.

• The teams also met this year in the round-of-16 of the U.S. Open Cup, the Fire winning 3-2 in extra time in the final MLS qualifying match in Peoria, Ill. Stephen King (10) and Andy Herron (65) twice gave the Fire the lead, but they were pegged back on both occasions by Emmanuel Ekpo (63) and Jason Garey (67). In the 116th minute, Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer tripped up Herron in the area, and the Costa Rican converted from the spot for the game-winner.

• Coaches record: Sigi Schmid vs. CHI: P24 W11 L8 D5 ... Denis Hamlett v CLB: P1 W0 L0 D1

LAST MEETING (MLS)
7/5: CLB 2, CHI 2 (Ekpo 36; Lenhart 87 - Rolfe 8; Carr 25)

• The Crew came back to snatch a 2-2 home draw on July 5 at Crew Stadium in the first league meeting between the teams.

• The Fire hadn't scored in 333 minutes of league play coming into the game, but that streak ended quickly. In the eighth minute, Cuauhtemoc Blanco caught out the Columbus offside trap with a ball played over the top that Justin Mapp ran onto. Mapp's first-time blast came back off the base of the left post, but Chris Rolfe followed up and hooked home the rebound with a side volley.

• Then in the 25th minute, the Fire doubled their lead. A flowing move from their own half concluded when Gonzalo Segares overlapped on the left and drove in a low ball that Calen Carr slid in to deflect home.

• But the Crew began their fightback just 11 minutes later. Guillermo Barros Schelotto stripped Fire defender Bakary Soumare on the left side of the area and clipped a cross into the area that Emmanuel Ekpo knocked home at the near post for his second goal in as many games.

• Under withering pressure, Columbus finally hit for the equalizer three minutes from the end. Again Schelotto was the instigator, serving a cross into the goalmouth mix that Steven Lenhart saw fall right to his feet, and he bundled a shot through and off a crowd for his second late equalizer in three weeks.

• Here's Robert Warzycha's team (4-1-3-1-1): William Hesmer - Frankie Hejduk, Andy Iro (Steven Lenhart 77), Chad Marshall, Danny O'Rourke - Brian Carroll - Emmanuel Ekpo (Jason Garey 91+), Brad Evans (Stefani Miglioranzi 79), Robbie Rogers - Guillermo Barros Schelotto - Alejandro Moreno. Substitutes Not Used: Andy Gruenebaum, Ryan Junge, Duncan Oughton, Jed Zayner

• Here's Hamlett's team (4-3-2-1): Jon Busch - Brandon Prideaux, Wilman Conde, Bakary Soumare, Gonzalo Segares - John Thorrington, Diego Gutierrez, Justin Mapp (Lider Marmol 86) - Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Chris Rolfe (Stephen King 78) - Calen Carr (Chad Barrett 65). Substitutes Not Used: Mike Banner, Nick Noble, Patrick Nyarko, Daniel Woolard

CHICAGO FIRE

The Chicago Fire could have joined the three qualifiers for the MLS Cup Playoffs, yet despite a 1-1 draw at the Kansas City Wizards on Sunday afternoon, they did not clinch a berth. The Fire have 42 points from 27 matches, just a point behind the New England Revolution and seven ahead of fourth-place New York with three games to play.

LAST MATCH
• The Fire had ended a brief two-game losing skid the week before and after the results of the weekend could have finalized their playoff place with a win. The Wizards were kicking off a three-game homestand, after seeing a two-game winning streak (both at home) ended the week before.

• The Fire had the best of the early exchanges and an apparent goal from Chris Rolfe ruled out for offside, then went ahead just before the halftime interval. John Thorrington got to the byeline and put in a cross from the right, and after it came off Michael Harrington's arm, a penalty was given and converted by Cuauhtemoc Blanco for his second goal in as many games.

• But Harrington atoned just three minutes after the second-half restart. Josh Wolff received the ball on the right switched fields, finding Harrington at the top of the area, and after cutting inside he lashed a curling shot inside the far side netting for his second goal of the year and the equalizer.

• Fire head coach Denis Hamlett made one change to the team that defeated the Los Angeles Galaxy at Toyota Park the previous Thursday. Diego Gutierrez was given the start in his final league appearance in his hometown, starting in the back four in place of Wilman Conde.

• Here's Hamlett's team (4-3-1-2): Jon Busch - Brandon Prideaux (Dasan Robinson 87), Bakary Soumare, Diego Gutierrez, Gonzalo Segares - John Thorrington, Logan Pause, Justin Mapp (Stephen King 82) - Cuauhtemoc Blanco - Brian McBride, Chris Rolfe (Marco Pappa 90). Substitutes Not Used: Tomasz Frankowski, Andy Herron, Nick Noble, Daniel Woolard

• "We stuck to our game plan tonight. We had some good chances on the counter, but we didn't finish them," Hamlett said. "I'm disappointed because we felt we could have got three points, but at the same time we came here with the mindset to leave with some points and we did that."

TEAM NEWS
• After conceding six goals in back-to-back losses to Colorado and FC Dallas, the Fire have allowed just one goal in each of their last two games, the win against the LA Galaxy then the draw in Kansas City.

• "We had our game plan to keep things tight defensively, and kind of get us in rhythm," said goalkeeper Jon Busch. "We knew that they were going to come at us and get after us right away because they need the points. And they were going to try to get an early goal. We dealt with that pressure."

• Over the last 12 games, the Fire have scored just 11 goals. They have hit for multiple goals twice in that span.

• "I thought we were solid again in the back. When we had a chance to break out, especially in the first half, I thought we did pretty well," said Brian McBride. "We certainly would have loved to have taken three points but today was a bit of a scrappy game. It is what it is: it's a tie, it's a point. It could have been worse or it could have been better."

• Combined with New England's late draw with Real Salt Lake, the teams are still separated by just a single point in the Eastern Conference. All but assured of facing each other in the opening round of the MLS Cup Playoffs, the Fire have home games against Columbus and New York and a road trip to Toronto, while the Revolution have a home-and-home set with Kansas City surrounding a trip to D.C. United.

• "We're just going to keep working. We know we're in a very good position and control our own destiny," Hamlett said. "We have a game coming up at home against the best team in the league, Columbus, and we're looking forward to that match."

• "I thought we were solid again in the back. When we had a chance to break out, especially in the first half, I thought we did pretty well. We certainly would have loved to have taken three points but today was a bit of a scrappy game. It is what it is: it's a tie, it's a point. It could have been worse or it could have been better."

• In his final active season in the league, Diego Gutierrez - whose career began in the league's inaugural season with the Wizards - was given the start in central defense in his hometown. Gutierrez went to the expansion Fire for the 1998 season, returning to Kansas City from 2002-05, before rejoining the Fire for the 2006 season.

• "There's a lot of good memories here. It's a bit emotional. I was touched by the way the fans reacted when I was introduced. That's something that I'll always remember," Gutierrez said. "Kansas City had a crowd and a fan base that I really appreciated and were always behind. That's one of the reasons why I played 100 percent for the Wizards. I was quite moved today."

COLUMBUS CREW

The Columbus Crew moved to within one point of claiming the Supporters' Shield for a second time in club history with a 1-0 win against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday evening at Crew Stadium. The Crew now have 53 points from 27 matches, 10 more than both the New England Revolution and Houston Dynamo, though the Dynamo still have four games remaining (New England has three).

LAST MATCH
• The Crew were unbeaten in seven games, with six wins and a draw, and on track to claim the Supporters' Shield for the second time. The Galaxy had just one win since mid-June, sitting at the foot of the Western Conference table.

• The game's lone goal came in the 43rd minute. Danny O'Rourke swung in a cross from the right flank and Alejandro Moreno stuck in his head to power home his ninth goal of the season from the heart of the area.

• The Galaxy nearly responded nearly straight off the kickoff when Landon Donovan rounded a defender and raced at an angle toward the left post. But his shot just bounced outside of the far post.

• Crew head coach Sigi Schmid made two changes to the team that defeated the New England Revolution 1-0 the Saturday previous. Guillermo Barros Schelotto made a triumphal return to the lineup, replacing Pat Noonan, and Andy Iro came back into the back four with Danny O'Rourke moving to right back as Frankie Hejduk was suspended.

• Here's Schmid's team (4-1-3-1-1): William Hesmer - Danny O'Rourke, Andy Iro, Chad Marshall, Gino Padula - Brian Carroll - Eddie Gaven (Emmanuel Ekpo 69), Brad Evans, Robbie Rogers - Guillermo Barros Schelotto (Pat Noonan 61) - Alejandro Moreno. Substitutes Not Used: Jason Garey, Andy Gruenebaum, Ezra Hendrickson, Stefani Miglioranzi, Duncan Oughton

TEAM NEWS
• Going into the season, the Crew wanted to make their Crew Stadium a "fortress" - a common theme throughout the early days of the season. The Crew are 6-0-2 there since June 28 and in winning five in a row they have outscored their opponents 13-2.

• "It was a great atmosphere and I think that's how it's going to be in the playoffs, so it was good for us to get a game like this where the nerves were a little high, and we found a way to win," said Robbie Rogers.

• Moreno scored his first goal in five matches, since finding the back of the net on Aug. 30 against FC Dallas. It was his ninth of the season, a new career single-season high, bettering his eight goals scored in 2005 with San Jose.

• After missing three games with a strained hamstring, Guillermo Barros Schelotto returned to the lineup to play 61 minutes vs. the Galaxy. Schmid would like to extend his time to 75 minutes against Chicago and finish with a couple of full games before the playoffs. "It was nice to get Guillermo back in the fold. Obviously, there was a little bit of rust," Schmid said.

• With Frankie Hejduk suspended, Andy Iro came into the back four, his ninth start in the last 16 matches after making his first full MLS start on June 14. It was a second consecutive shutout for the Crew and fourth in the last seven games. "You can't say enough about our backline," Hesmer said. "Frankie goes out and Iro, a rookie, comes in for him."

• Said Schmid: "For them it was a must-win. They have to do something. For us, with the win last week, maybe the edge is off a little bit. I still thought the guys did a great job of defending and shutting most everything down. They really didn't get very many chances. Obviously, to get to the playoffs you've got to win games like that. You've got to grind it out and we did that today."

• Columbus is 7-0-1 in its past eight games. Now with 53 points, the Crew have secured the Eastern Conference regular season championship and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. A win against Chicago, or a loss by the Houston Dynamo on Sunday against D.C. United, and the Crew will win the Supporters' Shield for the second time in club history.

• "The Supporters' Shield is arguably the hardest thing in this league to win," goalkeeper Will Hesmer said. "The MLS Cup is that you get hot for four games. The Supporters' Shield is a testament of what you've done over a 30-game season. If you look at most leagues, how you judge the champion is their success over the course of a long season. It's something we're definitely proud of. Also with it hopefully comes qualifying for some big tournaments next year and hopefully put the Crew on a bigger stage in the region and the world."


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