The Chicago Fire pushed its winning streak to being the 2005 preseason to three games Monday afternoon with a 3-1 victory over the United States Under-17 national team at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. Damani Ralph, Justin Cook and Chris Rolfe all tallied to continue the Fire's offensive onslaught in its first week of exhibition play. Chicago has now outscored its opposition 10-3 in the first three games of spring training.
The Fire held possession for most of the first half, but the "Men in Red" were unable to create many quality chances in the game's first half hour. Nate Jaqua nearly put the Fire on the board in the 35th minute, but he finished off a series of passes inside the penalty area with a blast from nine yards that sailed just over the crossbar. Three minutes later it was Ralph that gave Chicago the lead with a finish from 13 yards off a pass from Thiago. The Brazilian playmaker pushed a pass down the middle of the field that Ralph touched once and then blasted into the right side of the net past U-17 'keeper Evan Newton to give the Fire the lead.
The second half nearly started perfectly for the Fire, as D/M Kelly Gray had a pair of shots from the right endline saved by Newton in the first 45 seconds of the stanza. However, the U.S. youth squad would start to gain ground and pushed through to equalize the match in the 55th minute on a goal from forward Eddie Ababio. The play started when forward Omar Gonzalez got behind the Fire defense with a long run in the middle of the field and sent a shot from the left side of the area on goal. Fire goalkeeper David Mahoney got a hand on the blast, but the ball continued to roll towards the goal and Ababio was able to capitalize with an easy tap in to tie the match at 1-1.
The match wouldn't stay tied long, however, as rookie forward Justin Cook pounced on a defensive mistake for his first goal of the preseason. The U.S. defense attempted to clear the ball just yards from their goal line, but the ball caromed off of Rolfe to a waiting Cook, who made no mistake with the chance from 13 yards by burying a shot into the upper right corner for what would prove to be the game-winner. Chicago would tack on an insurance goal in the 82nd minute when Rolfe scored his second goal of the preseason. Cook started the play by sending fellow rookie Chad Barrett down the right flank. Barrett would then pump a timely cross into the area that Rolfe latched onto from 11 yards, doubling the Fire's advantage and ending the scoring in the match.
The "Men in Red" will preview their 2005 Soldier Field opener this Wednesday, Feb. 16 when they put their undefeated preseason record on the line against the San Jose Earthquakes. Kick-off from the IMG Academy in Bradenton is set for 3:00 p.m. ET (2:00 p.m. CT).
CHI - Damani Ralph 1 (Thiago 2) 38
U17 - Eddie Ababio (Omar Gonzalez) 55
CHI - Justin Cook 1 (unassisted) 59
CHI - Chris Rolfe 3 (Chad Barrett 2, Justin Cook 1) 82
Fire Lineup (4-4-2): GK-Matt Pickens (David Mahoney 46), D-Jack Stewart (Leonard Griffin 77), D-Jim Curtin (Kelly Gray 46), D-Hollis Donaldson (Denny Clanton 46), D-Leonard Griffin (Gonzalo Segares 46), M-Justin Mapp (Will John 46), M-Thiago (Chris Karcz 46), M-Jesse Marsch (Scott Buete 30), M-Boyzzz Khumalo (Chris Rolfe 46), F-Nate Jaqua (Chad Barrett 46), F-Damani Ralph (Justin Cook 46).
U.S. U-17 MNT (4-4-2): GK-Evan Newton, D-Michael Balogun (Parica Marosevic 77), D-Carlos Borja, D-Richard Edgar, D-Blake Wagner, M- Jeremy Hall, M-Gabriel Farfan (Ryan Peterman 63), M-Neven Subotic, M-Michael Farfan (Anthony Wallace 57), F-Omar Gonzalez, F-Eddie Ababio (Eric Avila 71).
2005 Chicago Fire Preseason Results
Date -- Opponent -- Site -- Score/Time -- Record
2-10 -- University of Central Florida -- IMG Academy - Bradenton, FL -- 4-1 W -- 1-0-0
2-11 -- FC Dallas -- IMG Academy - Bradenton, FL -- 3-1 W -- 2-0-0
2-14 -- U.S. U-17 Men's National Team -- IMG Academy - Bradenton, FL -- 3-1 W -- 3-0-0
Chicago Fire 2005 Preseason Calendar (Dates/times subject to change)
Feb. 7 - Feb. 25: Training Camp at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL
Mar. 1 - Mar. 11: Training Camp in Guadalajara, Mexico
Mar. 18 - Mar. 26: Training Camp in Jackson, MS
Monday, Mar. 28: Training at Lake Forest College practice facility begins (Time TBD)