RIDGELAND, Miss. - A first half goal from forward Chris Rolfe and an insurance tally from midfielder Jesse Marsch in the second half helped give the Chicago Fire an impressive 2-0 victory over the MetroStars in an exhibition match played in front of a crowd of 5,786 fans at Freedom Ridge Park in Ridgeland, Miss. The match marked the Fire's 2005 preseason finale, and the result gave the "Men in Red" a 6-4-2 finish in exhibition play during the spring.
"I'm very pleased with our effort here tonight, especially in regards to how we were able to move the ball around the field and communicated," said Fire Head Coach Dave Sarachan. "It was a fitting ending to a great week here in Mississippi. We were treated like royalty down here and appreciated all the efforts from the people involved. The hospitality was terrific, we got the training we felt we needed and we finished it all off with a good game tonight."
After going scoreless against FC Dallas in last year's affair in suburban Jackson, the "home team" wouldn't take long to display some dangerous scoring chances. Those opportunities came via crosses from both flanks, with hometown hero Justin Mapp providing the first chance from the right side in the fourth minute, a pass that failed to find a teammate after just missing a streaking Mario Ivan Guerrero in the left side of the area. In the 12th minute it was Guerrero who sent one into the area, but Metros goalkeeper Zach Wells came just off his line to beat Rolfe to the ball, keeping Chicago off the board.
However, Rolfe and Guerrero would not be denied on their next opportunity to link up, as Rolfe was able to finish the Honduran's cross in the 15th minute to give the "Men in Red" the lead. Guerrero would take the ball for a 40-yard run down the left side before whipping in a pass to Rolfe, who easily finished past Wells from six yards out to give the Fire the 1-0 advantage. The tally was the rookie striker's fourth of the preseason, tying him with midfielder Thiago for the team's scoring lead in exhibition play this spring.
Guerrero would suffer a strained right groin on the play and, despite trying to play through it, would exit the match in the 22nd minute for Gonzalo Segares. The Fire's best opportunities during the remainder of the half came on back-to-back rushes on goal around the half-hour mark. In the 29th minute, Mapp made a run down the right side and created a shooting lane after cutting towards the middle of the field. However, his low effort from 22 yards out aimed towards the left post was smothered by Wells. Rolfe made a similar run just a minute later, but his shot from the same spot went just wide of the left post.
The Fire would again come out the aggressors out of the halftime break, and this time it took just 10 minutes for Chicago to break through. The score came off a set piece, as Mapp's corner kick from the right side found Nate Jaqua directly inside the goal box. Jaqua's shot was stopped by Wells, but the rebound fell to a waiting Jesse Marsch, who patiently slotted the ball into a nearly wide open net just yards from the goal line, giving the veteran midfielder his third tally of the preseason and the Fire a 2-0 lead. The Fire nearly pushed the advantage to three goals, but chances from Rolfe, Jaqua and Thiago in the final 15 minutes threatened the Metros' net without providing a tally.
The "Men in Red" will travel back to Chicago on Saturday morning before taking the remainder of the weekend off. The squad will train in Chicagoland for the first time in nearly two months this Monday, Mar. 28 when it practices at its training facility on the campus of Lake Forest College from 10:15 a.m.-12:00 p.m. CT, with media availability set to follow the session. Weather permitting, the Fire will train at Lake Forest through Thursday, Mar. 31 before departing for Dallas, where it will square off against Brimstone Cup rival FC Dallas at the Cotton Bowl on Saturday, Apr. 2 at 7:30 p.m. as part of MLS First Kick 2005.
Fire Lineup (4-4-2): Zach Thornton, Kelly Gray, Jim Curtin, C.J. Brown (Jack Stewart 86), Leonard Griffin, Justin Mapp (Hollis Donaldson 88), Chris Armas (Logan Pause 72), Jesse Marsch (Scott Buete 81), Mario Ivan Guerrero (Gonzalo Segares 22), Nate Jaqua (Will Johnson 86), Chris Rolfe (Thiago 76).
MetroStars Lineup (4-4-2): Zach Wells, Chris Leitch, Carlos Mendes (Seth Stammler 80), Jeff Parke (Jason Hernandez 80), Jeff Agoos, Ramon Bailey (Jerome Robins 80), Gilberto Flores (Tim Regan 65), Amado Guevara (Mark Lisi 46), Michael Bradley, Sergio Galvan Rey, John Wolyniec.
CHI - Chris Rolfe 4 (Mario Ivan Guerrero 2) 15
CHI - Jesse Marsch 3 (unassisted) 55