Just as he had done in the season opener, Kenny Cooper came through with a late goal to decide a Brimstone Cup match, his 80th-minute header giving FC Dallas a 3-2 victory against the Chicago Fire on Saturday afternoon at Toyota Park.
Andy Herron had scored two goals in a six-minute span early in the second half to give the Chicago Fire a 2-1 lead, answering Ramon Nunez's eighth-minute strike. But Bobby Rhine hammered home a wicked blast in the 77th minute to pull the Hoops level, then Cooper headed home for the game-winner.
Cooper had scored the game-winner in FC Dallas's 3-2 victory against the Fire in the 2006 season opener at Pizza Hut Park. Saturday, he ensured the Texas-based side will keep the Brimstone Cup, awarded annually by the supporters' sections of both clubs to the winner of the season series between the two rivals.
The teams could have been forgiven for playing a pedestrian affair as the temperature reportedly reached 109 degrees on the field. But the match had a scintillating pace until the final whistle.
The Fire had a glorious chance to open the scoring after just six minutes. Thiago sent a delicious cross into the box from the left flank as Nate Jaqua was beating his marker to the near post. But the Fire's 6-foot-3 forward missed his header, and Fire defender Dasan Robinson whiffed at the wayward ball, a chance for his first-ever MLS goal, despite perfect positioning at the far post.
Then two minutes later Cooper slid a simple pass to Nunez, who was allowed time to carry the ball to near the top of the Chicago penalty area. He let fly and rippled the net from 20 yards, beating Zach Thornton to his right for his third goal of the season.
Nunez was returning to the lineup after missing four games through injury, as each head coach was forced to make a key change to his lineup. Ronnie O'Brien, who had started in 16 of FC Dallas 17 contests this season, was ruled out with a strained right hamstring and the Fire's Gonzalo Segares was a late scratch from Fire head coach Dave Sarachan's starting 11 with a hip flexor.
FC Dallas was already without Carlos Ruiz, its leader in goals and assists. Ruiz suffered a grade two strain of his right hamstring in the 14th minute of last week's 2-1 victory against the New York Red Bulls and is expected to miss two more weeks.
Then in the 20th minute, FC Dallas boss Colin Clarke was forced into another change when David Wagenfuhr was taken from the field on a stretcher after a frightening collision with the Fire's Justin Mapp. He suffered a reported concussion and was taken to a hospital as a precaution.
In the first half, the Fire lacked creativity and decisiveness within 30 yards of goal during the first half, and while they found their offensive foothold after the interval, their defense later fell apart. Meanwhile, FC Dallas was content, and successful, by defending competently and counterattacking effectively, throughout the 90 minutes.
Sarachan might want to keep the halftime speech he delivered to his forwards in a handy spot, as the Fire front men responded with a proactive second half.
Herron leveled the match in the 54th minute. Nate Jaqua played an incisive through ball behind the Hoops defense and Herron finished his one-on-one coolly from 13 yards, as Dallas 'keeper Dario Sala rushed off his goal line to cut down the angle, only to see Herron roll the ball through his legs.
Six minutes later, the Costa Rican international completed another highly individual effort. He collected a long ball from Diego Gutierrez on the left flank, some 30 yards from goal, and raced past defender Drew Moor toward the near post. Herron finished his rush at the corner of the six-yard box, sneaking his shot inside the near post past Sala.
But FC Dallas answered with two quick-fire goals of their own. In the 77th minute, Rhine became the 13th Hoops player to find the net this season with his strike 12 yards from goal. A clipped ball from the left landed in the midst of the Fire penalty area and Rhine, who had moved forward to a wide midfield role with the injury to Wagenfuhr, was allowed to come in unmolested and rip a first-time drive under the crossbar.
Cooper then scored his second match-winner against the Fire three minutes later. Chris Gbandi came ranging forward and Arturo Alvarez took over and hit a sublime chip to the spot where Cooper rose up and sent a glancing header inside the far post for the seventh goal of his first MLS campaign.
The Hoops survived five minutes of added time to hand the Fire their second successive loss at their new home while maintaining their dominance atop the Western Conference.
Both teams continue their MLS season next Saturday. The Fire will play host to table-topping D.C. United in the sixth match of their nine-game Toyota Park homestand, while FC Dallas will travel for a match with cellar-dwelling Real Salt Lake.
Before their trip to Salt Lake City, the Hoops will host the first leg of the battle for the Rio Grande Plate on Wednesday, as Tigres UANL visit Pizza Hut Park for the anticipated friendly.
Ivaldo Basso is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.