and in doing so pulled the Chicago Fire out of a tie atop the Eastern Conference as Week 10 of the Major League Soccer season concluded over the weekend.
Ralph scored all three goals as the Fire showed signs of returning to their dominant form at their Soldier Field home with a 3-0 victory against D.C. United. That result, coupled with the Dallas Burn's 2-0 victory against the MetroStars at the Meadowlands, put the Fire all alone in first place in the East.
Also on Saturday, the Kansas City Wizards rebounded from a disastrous late loss at midweek to the New England Revolution with some late heroics of their own, winning and scoring for the first time on the road this season in a 2-1 victory against the Los Angeles Galaxy. On Sunday, another bid for late heroics fell short for the Revolution. Jose Cancela's second penalty kick of the game was punched away by goalkeeper Jon Busch in stoppage time as the Columbus Crew won for the fourth consecutive match, 2-1 at Gillette Stadium.
In Chicago, Ralph connected for his first career hat trick as the Fire rolled to victory, winning at home for the second consecutive week. All three goals by the Jamaican international were real striker's goals, all coming from sharply-angled shots in the area.
In the first half, he fought off defender David Stokes before firing between 'keeper Troy Perkins' legs from the right side (15), then in the second half, he ran onto a perfectly-weighted through ball in the left side of the area to again beat Perkins (55).
Then 14 minutes later, he collected a high, looping overhead cross from Nate Jaqua before hammering a drive from an impossibly tight angle just under the crossbar. United again failed to win back-to-back contests, losing for the eighth time in 10 games.
At Giants Stadium, the Dallas Burn again struck with a lethally quick counterattack to score two second-half goals and claim a victory against the host MetroStars.
Ronnie O'Brien played provider on both goals. On the first (51), he played a neat 1-2 with Eddie Johnson before getting to the byeline to cut back a low ball to the corner of the six that Johnson swept home. Then, just as the clock ticked over 90 minutes, O'Brien quick pass set Toni Nhleko free to race in alone on Metro 'keeper Jonny Walker, and just minutes after failing on a similar attempt he made no mistake in rounding him to slot home with ease.
At The Home Depot Center, the Wizards came back from a goal down to win for the first time on their travels and send the Los Angeles to defeat at home for the first time this season, on the night when longtime Galaxy campaigner Mauricio Cienfuegos was honored in a tribute match before the league contest.
Alejandro Moreno gave the Galaxy a lead on 59 minutes to also pull into a tie for the MLS goalscoring lead, turning home a Ricky Lewis knockdown of an Andreas Herzog cross. But just six minutes later, Francisco Gomez gave Kansas City their first goal on the road of the campaign, stabbing home a loose ball in the Galaxy penalty area.
Then four minutes from time, Josh Wolff was set free on the left before whipping a low ball across the face of goal that Diego Gutierrez slid in to turn home and give the Wizards the three points, easing the sting of a late midweek loss to New England.
On Wednesday, Pat Noonan brought the injury-wracked Revolution back from the dead, scoring twice in the final five minutes to cap a hat trick to give New England a 3-2 victory in Kansas City.
Noonan gave the Revs a 16th-minute lead when he headed home a Steve Ralston cross, but the Wizards scored goals four minutes apart to take the lead. Josh Wolff's mis-hit shot from close range pulled the home side level on 33 minutes, then Davy Arnaud was quickest to an ill-advised back pass, looping it over New England 'keeper Matt Reis.
But Noonan stunningly struck back in the 86th minute for a Revolution side that added marksman Taylor Twellman to its injury ranks last week, finally pounding the ball home from a goalmouth scramble that saw no fewer than four attempts at goal.
Then just on the stroke of 90 minutes, Noonan powerfully turned home a Shalrie Joseph cross to give the Revolution the match-winner, just their second victory on the campaign and snapping the Wizards eight-match home league unbeaten streak.
The Revolution nearly reprised the effort at home four days later. Frankie Hejduk's diving header to pot the rebound of a Matt Reis put the Crew ahead in the second half (53), but Cancela pulled the Revolution level (62) with a cheeky chip from the spot after Hejduk had pulled down Steve Ralston on the edge of the area.
But Jeff Cunningham converted his own penalty six minutes later after he was hacked down by New England defender Avery John, then three minutes into added time, referee Ricardo Salazar pointed to the spot for a third time when Chad Marshall clattered into Shalrie Joseph.
Cancela again tried his chip, but this time Crew 'keeper Jon Busch held his ground and pushed the attempt over the bar to extend the Columbus winning streak to four games and their unbeaten streak to six since losing their first three games of the season.