3 pm CT (ESPN2)
The Chicago Fire are now sporting the best record in Major League Soccer and a three-point lead in the Eastern Conference after winning their top-of-the-table clash against the New England Revolution last weekend, their fourth victory in a row and sixth in eight games. They play host to a Columbus Crew side now coached by Robert Warzycha after the dismissal of Greg Andrulis during the week, after a 2-1 loss to the San Jose Earthquakes which was the club's fourth over their current five-game winless run.
REFEREE: Richard Heron. SAR (bench): Fabio Tovar; JAR (opposite): Paul Scott; 4th: Marcel Yonan
MLS Career: 34 games; FC/gm: 34.4; Y/gm: 2.9; R: 9; pens: 10
Games involving Fire: P10 W7 L3 T0; FC/gm: 34.9; Y/gm: 2.8; R: 3; pens: 3
Games involving Crew: P7 W1 L5 T1; FC/gm: 35.4; Y/gm: 2.1; R: 1; pens: 1
INJURY REPORT: CHICAGO FIRE: OUT: MF Thiago (L knee ligament tear); MD Craig Capano (L torn ACL); GK Matt Pickens (R groin strain); MF John Thorrington (L hamstring strain); QUESTIONABLE: FW Nate Jaqua (L ankle bone bruise) ... COLUMBUS CREW - OUT: GK Matt Jordan (lower back strain); MF Duncan Oughton (R knee surgery); MD Ross Paule (post-concussion syndrome); GK Jon Busch (R knee); QUESTIONABLE: DF Stephen Herdsman (L groin strain)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: CHI: MF Tony Sanneh, MF Chris Armas (USA; CONCACAF Gold Cup); DF Samuel Caballero, DF Ivan Guerrero (Honduras; CONCACAF Gold Cup) ... CLB: DF Frankie Hejduk (USA)
SUSPENDED: CLB: DF Robin Fraser (21 CP; through July 16)
ALL-TIME (24 meetings): Fire 13 wins (1 shootout), 42 goals ... Crew 8 wins (0 shootout), 41 goals ... 4 draws
AT CHICAGO: (12 meetings): Fire 8 wins (0 shootout), 23 goals ... Crew 3 wins (0 shootout), 15 goals ... 1 draw
The two Eastern Conference rivals meet for the second time this season, the first in Chicago, with two more encounters between the clubs still ahead. They'll meet for the second time at the Ohio State Fairgrounds on Sept. 17, with the final league encounter set for Oct. 8 at Soldier Field.
LAST MEETING Justin Mapp caused the home side fits as the visiting Fire claimed a 2-0 victory at Crew Stadium on April 30, their first win in Columbus in more than three years. He gave Chicago the lead after just 14 minutes drifting across the top of the area from the right before unleashing a wicked low blast inside the left corner of Jon Busch's goal.
Then in the second half a defensive miscue doubled the Fire lead. Pressure caused Columbus captain Robin Fraser to lose the ball in his own penalty area, and rookie Chris Rolfe quickly punished the error in pounding a shot past Busch for his second goal on the season (69).
Here's Greg Andrulis's team (3-4-1-2): Jon Busch - Mark Schulte (Cornell Glen 46), Robin Fraser, Chad Marshall - Danny Szetela (Marcus Storey 79), Simon Elliott, Chris Wingert, Frankie Hejduk - Kyle Martino (Jamal Sutton 86) - Edson Buddle, Ante Razov
Here's Dave Sarachan's team (3-3-1-3): Zach Thornton - C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Samuel Caballero - Logan Pause, Chris Armas, Ivan Guerrero - Thiago - Chris Rolfe (Chad Barrett 71), Andy Herron (Nate Jaqua 63), Justin Mapp
HISTORY A year ago, the Crew won three of the four meetings between the clubs with the fourth ending in a draw. The Black-and-Gold claimed a 3-1 victory at Soldier Field on May 23 (Ralph 49 - Cunningham 32 pen, Martino 55, Ritch 59), then posted a 2-0 triumph on July 3 at home (Buddle 43, Cunningham 44)
The teams then met twice in five days at season's end - first playing to a wild 3-3 draw at Crew Stadium on Oct. 2 (Martino 45 pen, Cunningham 56, 64 - Ralph 14 pen, Herron 59, 80), then the Crew again winning in Chicago on Oct. 6 through the lone goal from Buddle (59).
The Crew have won four of the last six league meetings between the teams. But they also met last year in the U.S. Open Cup - the Fire winning 2-1 in extra time in the round-of-16 (Hejduk 27 - Ralph 66 pen, 106+)
The Fire's win in the first meeting this year spanned a five-game winless run in the Ohio capital, since a 2-0 Chicago win on opening day in 2002 (0-2).
Coaches record: Dave Sarachan vs. CLB: P9 W2 L4 D3 ... Robert Warzycha v CHI: first game
The Chicago Fire won for the fourth consecutive match and sixth time in eight matches, taking over sole possession of first place in the East with a 1-0 victory against the New England Revolution in their top-of-the-table clash at Soldier Field last Saturday. The Fire now have 35 points from 19 matches, three ahead of the Revolution though they've played three more matches; they've also taken over the top spot in the MLS overall table, a point ahead of FC Dallas.
The Fire made a statement by taking over the top spot in the Eastern Conference by three points, though the Revolution have three matches in hand. Both teams were missing about half of their first-choice lineups through national team duty and injury.
Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis stood tall, but was unable to keep out the game's only goal just before the hour. A corner came in from the left and defender C.J. Brown dove to head it back into the mixer. Rookie defender Gonzalo Segares controlled it, skipped around a defender and hammered a drive past the diving Reis and a pair of New England defenders standing on the line. It was an MLS-record 11th consecutive game the Fire had scored the opening goal in a match.
Three minutes later the Fire won a penalty kick as Justin Mapp was hacked down by Revolution defender Marshall Leonard. But Reis went to full stretch to turn aside Lubos Reiter's spot kick, yet New England wasn't able to ever find the equalizer. Fire 'keeper Zach Thornton was called upon to make just one save on the night, tipping a Connolly Edozien header off the bar in the 89th minute.
"New England has our number. They beat us. They are consistently beating us and beating us bad. There's no comparison on how they beat us, but they're short on numbers," defender C.J. Brown said. "We had to take advantage of that, but they're still a threat. So we came out like they had their full team and we tried to take it to 'em.
Fire coach Dave Sarachan made two changes to the team that knocked off Chivas USA 1-0 the previous Saturday in Carson. Leonard Griffin came in on the left of midfield with Ivan Guerrero on international duty, while Chris Rolfe came into attack for Andy Herron.
Here's Sarachan's team (4-4-2): Zach Thornton - Logan Pause, C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Gonzalo Segares - Justin Mapp (Will John 89), Scott Buete, Jesse Marsch, Leonard Griffin - Chris Rolfe (Andy Herron 70), Lubos Reiter (Chad Barrett 80)
"Obviously, this was an important win for us. We keep building from game to game and we've got a nice little run going," Sarachan said. "I'm proud of our team from the standpoint of being very disciplined and organized and trying to push the game to create some chances.
TEAM NEWS It was a second consecutive 1-0 victory for the Fire, again getting a goal in the second half to lead them to victory. "New England is a difficult team to play ... they defend collectively. Sometimes you've got to hang on with games like this. This was a one-goal game and I had a feeling it would turn out in our favor. The win column goes up by one and that was what we set out to do," Sarachan said.
It was also the second consecutive week rookie Gonzalo Segares had hit for the match-winner from a corner kick. He hit for the only goal in the Fire's 1-0 win against Chivas USA on July 2. "This is a kid that's got just great instinct as a defender. He competes, he battles and he's good with the ball. I was pleased with him not only scoring the goal but also defensively," Sarachan said of Segares.
The Fire have ridden to the top of the Eastern Conference on the strength of a three-game winning streak at Soldier Field - and a seven-game unbeaten run since a 3-0 loss to the MetroStars on May 14. Four of the Fire's next five games are at home - then they hit the road for a five-game stretch from Aug. 19 to Oct. 1.
"At home, you take care of your points. You want to bank as many wins as you can at home because we have a horrific stretch of games on the road," Sarachan said.
On Wednesday, the Fire survived a tricky tie in the third round of U.S. Open Cup, allowing an early goal to USL Second Division (third tier) Western Mass Pioneers, but coming back to claim a 3-1 victory at Lusitano Stadium in Ludlow, Mass. Will John scored two goals (16, 47+) to cancel out a Neil Krause strike after just five minutes, and also laid on a goal for Lubos Reiter (24). The Fire will return to Ludlow in three weeks time to take on the New England Revolution in the fourth round.
Here's Sarachan's team (4-4-2): Zach Thornton, Jack Stewart, Jim Curtin, C.J. Brown (Jared Montz 76), Leonard Griffin, Will John, Scott Buete, Jesse Marsch (Will Johnson 64), Justin Mapp (Chad Barrett 67), Andy Herron, Lubos Reiter
The Columbus Crew saw their winless skid reach the five-game mark, losing for the first time at home to the San Jose Earthquakes in nearly a decade in a 2-1 loss at Crew Stadium on Saturday night, in what was Greg Andrulis's final match in charge. The Crew are at the foot of the Eastern Conference table with 14 points from 16 matches, eight behind fifth-place D.C. United, 10 out of the final playoff spot and 21 behind East leader Chicago Fire.
The Earthquakes had never won a league game in Crew Stadium, and hadn't beaten the Crew on their own ground in a regular-season contest since July 20, 1996. They did win MLS Cup 2001 at Crew Stadium - where they beat arch-rival L.A. Galaxy, along the way defeating the Crew in Columbus in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Center back Chad Marshall gave an early sign the streak might be continued, heading home a corner kick after 19 minutes for his first career MLS goal. He beat Eddie Robinson to reach David Testo's service and saw his header come down off the underside of the crossbar and spin back out onto the field, but it was adjudged to have crossed the line.
But just 11 minutes later the Quakes pulled level through Robinson, who shook off Marshall to reach a Ronald Cerritos free kick whipped in from the left corner and head home the equalizer.
Cerritos then scored the match-winner just after the hour. Ricardo Clark and Alejandro Moreno played a neat one-two, Clark rounding the defense at the byeline before laying a pass back for Cerritos who sent a first-time shot home from the heart of the area (63).
Andrulis made three changes to the team that lost 1-0 to D.C. United at home the weekend before, as he also made a tactical shift. Ryan Kelly returned to the substitutes' bench, Kyle Martino was suspended and John Wolyniec suffering from illness, as Chris Wingert, David Testo and Danny Szetela came into the team, Andrulis going to a back three and using Mario Rodriguez and Chris Henderson as attacking midfielders off the spearhead of Edson Buddle.
Here's Andrulis's team (3-4-2-1): Jonny Walker - Mark Schulte, Robin Fraser, Chad Marshall - Chris Wingert (John Wolyniec 79), Simon Elliott, Danny Szetela, David Testo (Jamal Sutton 67) - Mario Rodriguez, Chris Henderson - Edson Buddle (Knox Cameron 46).
"We went to a 3-4-3 to try to put pressure on their backs and try to play in their half a little bit more," said Andrulis. "I thought the pressure worked. We got some chances and we got the goal."
Unfortunately, the move only lasted for the first half as Buddle could not continue due to injury. "Edson's Achilles were acting up and he couldn't go," said Andrulis. Rookie Knox Cameron replaced Buddle in the second half.
TEAM NEWS On Tuesday, the Crew dismissed Andrulis as head coach. Last year's MLS Coach of the Year after leading the Crew to the MLS Supporters' Shield, Andrulis was 49-43-32 since taking over as head coach on May 17, 2001 from the late Tom Fitzgerald.
"This business is about accountability and results. In that regard, I assume full responsibility for the results of this organization. I do not lay this on the feet of Greg Andrulis," said Crew general manager Mark McCullers. "... To capture my evaluation, we don't have a championship mentality. We don't have a championship atmosphere right now. For me, it is about creating that championship atmosphere and I thought a change in leadership would effect that and help us get to that place."
Long-time Crew standout and current assistant coach Robert Warzyhca was given the job of interim head coach. "The news was sad because of the friendship with Greg," said Warzycha. "I have big shoes to fill."
The former Crew great could coach the rest of the season with the interim label. According to McCullers, he is also under consideration for the permanent job and currently in full control of the team. "I have given Robert absolute autonomy and authority to do what he thinks is necessary to impact the performance of this team," said McCullers.
And for Warzycha, the road begins in Chicago: "It is a very difficult game," said the former Polish international. "I do not have many good memories in Chicago, but what would be better than beating one of the better teams in the league."
For Warzycha's first match in charge, he will be without veteran central defender Robin Fraser, out through suspension. He is expected to return to the 3-4-3 formation used last weekend with Chris Wingert as the central defender, with Chad Marshall and Mark Schulte on his left and right sides.
In somewhat of a rarity, Marshall is one of the few players to score for his country before tallying on the club level. Marshall scored for the U.S. national team in a friendly victory against Colombia in March. "It would have been nice to get the first goal in a win, but I didn't," said Marshall. "I would like to have had it last year, but it was nice to get it. ... It was a certainly a good ball and I was able to get on the end of it."
However, the opening goal for Marshall ended his joy on the evening. "I lost my guy on a corner kick. I lost the ball in the sun," said Marshall. "I thought I was going to get to it and then it was way over my head and he [Robinson] heads it in." Said Andrulis:" "A guy [Robinson] can't get that wide open. We had our best header defending him and he gets beat."
Danny Szetela also returned to the lineup for the first time in 10 games. He was missing due to the Youth World Championships in the Netherlands. After returning, he discovered he had suffered a mild concussion, but he felt no lingering effects. "It was good and I felt good. We played well," said the young midfielder. "We had our opportunities and we didn't finish and it haunted us like every other game we lost."
Frankie Hejduk was the only Crew player selected for the MLS All-Star Game, selected as a reserve.