The Chicago Fire scored first for the 17th time this season and back-up Fire 'keeper Matt Pickens authoritatively marshaled the penalty area in a 2-1 Fire victory Saturday against the Los Angeles Galaxy at Soldier Field.
Jesse Marsch dispatched a penalty kick for the home side in the 20th minute and John Thorrington netted his first career MLS goal and the eventual game winner on 38 minutes. Galaxy captain Peter Vagenas scored the Galaxy's only goal, heading Landon Donovan's 53rd-minute corner kick past Pickens.
Missing forwards Lubos Reiter (international duty - Slovakia), Andy Herron (injury), Nate Jaqua (injury), Chris Rolfe (did not start) and Ivan Guerrero (injury) the Fire struggled to create offense early.
A brave individual effort by Justin Mapp in the 20th minute earned the Fire a penalty kick. Michael Umaña took down the streaking Mapp towards the outskirts of the penalty area as the young Fire midfielder carried perhaps harmlessly - to the end line. Jesse Marsch converted the ensuing spot kick, guiding a well placed shot just inside the post and barely away from the outstretched arm of Galaxy 'keeper Kevin Hartman, who had guessed correctly and was apparently unphased by Marsch's 'stutter step' approach.
The Fire have suffered lapses of concentration countless times this season, giving up the most goals in MLS (10) just before the interval (between the 30-45th minute).
But Pickens, making his third career MLS start, prevented a pre-break meltdown.
On 37 minutes, Galaxy midfielder Paulo Nagamura beat four Fire players and was one-on-one with Pickens before the Fire 'keeper charged Nagamura stayed on his feet and saved the midfielder's near post shot. Pickens punched the ensuing corner with authority and through traffic when it looked like two Fire defenders had slid and lost their mark.
Mapp dribbled the left flank and sent a smart far post cross to an unmarked Thorrington who easily headed his first career MLS goal past Kevin Hartman. Hartmann couldn't shuffle from near post to far post fast enough to save Thorrington's unchallenged and well placed header.
Los Angeles coach Steve Sampson inserted Landon Donovan at halftime and it took the 23-year old only eight minutes to set up the Galaxy's first goal.
Chicago left Vagenas wide open on a 53rd-minute corner kick and Donovan's inswinging feed found the Galaxy captain on the foot of the six-yard box. Vagenas's far post nod bounced on the goal line and through traffic before finding the side netting.
Nervous moments continued for the Fire -- who conceeded a 2-0 first half lead just three days earlier to the Kansas City Wizards -- and Chris Albright seemingly tied the match in the 57th minute by netting a penalty area scramble. Referee Alex Prus ruled that Pickens had possession of the seemingly wayward ball and the Galaxy goal was disallowed.
The Fire now go on the road for the second longest stretch in MLS history. The Fire will not play a regular season home contest until Oct. 5, resulting in a five-game, 56-day lapse between contests at Soldier Field.
MLSnet.com Man of the Match: Matt Pickens (Chicago Fire)
Ivaldo Basso is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.
Los Angeles Galaxy (9-9-5) vs. Chicago Fire (12-9-3)
August 13, 2005 -- Soldier Field
CHI -- Jesse Marsch 4 (penalty kick) 20
CHI -- John Thorrington 1 (Justin Mapp 7) 38
LA -- Peter Vagenas 5 (Landon Donovan 6) 53
Los Angeles Galaxy -- Kevin Hartman, Chris Albright, Pablo Chinchilla (Joseph Ngwenya 77), Michael Umana, Todd Dunivant, Paulo Nagamura, Guillermo Ramirez (Troy Roberts 43), Peter Vagenas, Cobi Jones, Jovan Kirovski (Landon Donovan 46), Herculez Gomez.
Substitutes Not Used: Steve Cronin, Ugo Ihemelu.
TOTAL SHOTS: 12 (Peter Vagenas 5); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Landon Donovan 2); FOULS: 11 (Chris Albright 3); OFFSIDES: 3 (Herculez Gomez 2); CORNER KICKS: 7 (Landon Donovan 3, Jovan Kirovski 3); SAVES: 3 (Kevin Hartman 3)
Chicago Fire -- Matt Pickens, Tony Sanneh, Jim Curtin, Jack Stewart, Gonzalo Segares, John Thorrington, Chris Armas, Jesse Marsch, Justin Mapp (Logan Pause 79), Thiago (Will Johnson 89), Chad Barrett (Chris Rolfe 76).
Substitutes Not Used: Samuel Caballero, Will John, David Mahoney, Jared Montz.
TOTAL SHOTS: 10 (3 tied with 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Thiago 2); FOULS: 16 (Gonzalo Segares 4); OFFSIDES: 3 (Chad Barrett 2); CORNER KICKS: 4 (Thiago 2, Justin Mapp 2); SAVES: 4 (Matt Pickens 4)
CHI -- Gonzalo Segares (caution; Reckless Foul) 14
LA -- Troy Roberts (caution; Professional Foul) 66
CHI -- Will Johnson (caution; Reckless Foul) 91+
Referee: Alex Prus
Referee's Assistants: Kermit Quisenberry; Adam Wienckowski
4th Official: Abiodun Okulaja
Time of Game: 1:53
All Statistics contained in this boxscore are unofficial