after four previous opportunities went begging -- to finally pull into a tie atop the West after they came back to claim a 2-1 victory away to the New England Revolution.
The defending MLS champion San Jose Earthquakes also finally pulled themselves out of the Western Conference basement with a dominating 3-0 victory against the Dallas Burn at home, but while they tightened up the divisional race they couldn't overcome the Colorado Rapids, who knocked off the MetroStars 1-0 at home. But the Columbus Crew couldn't take advantage of that to move into top spot in the Eastern Conference, a late penalty pulling D.C. United into a 2-2 draw in their match at Crew Stadium.
At The Home Depot Center, the 89th-minute goal from Ruiz saved Sampson's debut from ruin, where the home side had to come back to secure a share of the points against a Fire side that carried the majority of the play.
Damani Ralph finally gave the visitors the advantage midway through the second half, collecting a pass on the right flank after a dreadful giveaway and ripping a low angled drive through a defender's legs that settled inside Kevin Hartman's right-hand post (67).
But after seemingly weathering a heavy storm over the final quarter of the match, the Fire conceded the equalizer when Cobi Jones sent Arturo Torres into the right corner, and his cross into the mixer was met by Ruiz, who saw his header just bound over the line past Chicago 'keeper Henry Ring for a tie for the league lead with 11 goals.
Earlier at Gillette Stadium, the Wizards snapped their three-game losing streak and rebounded from a midweek loss on the road, coming from behind to beat the Revolution 2-1 and end their seven-match unbeaten run.
Taylor Twellman got the home side off to a dream start, opportunistic as ever to score his fifth goal of the campaign, latching on to a pass that Pat Noonan seemed to lose in his feet before pounding it home from close range (11).
But before the half was the Wizards pulled level, Josh Wolff quickest to the rebound after a diving Matt Reis cut out a low cross, popping it over the New England 'keeper (39).
Then midway through the second half, Davy Arnaud finished off a well-worked sequence (66), Jack Jewsbury pulling back a rolling cross to the spot after Wolff had set him free on the right, the second-year striker coming from behind to hammer home first-time for his ninth goal of the campaign and give the Wizards the full three points.
The Earthquakes closed the gap from top to bottom in the West to six points after they knocked off the Burn 3-0 at Spartan Stadium, leapfrogging over Dallas into fourth place in the conference.
In a night evocative of the past, present and future of the franchise -- the Earthquakes wore 'throwback' uniforms resembling those of the NASL Earthquakes of the '70s and '80s, while taking the field carrying a banner reading 'Keep Us in San Jose!!!' -- the current-day defending champion eased to victory in a second consecutive shutout and third victory in five matches.
A searing blast on the run from Ramiro Corrales from the left corner of the penalty area gave the Quakes a lead after just four minutes, then Corrales was involved again as their lead was doubled through an own goal (24), Burn defender Cory Gibbs unfortunately turning a Corrales cross from a tight angle past 'keeper Scott Garlick, a 12th-minute substitute for starter Jeff Cassar after he was hit in the face on the full from a blast by Ronnie Ekelund.
The Earthquakes then capped the scoring seven minutes after the break with some wonderful stuff, Richard Mulrooney chipping the ball forward to Brian Ching, who chested down a pass to Landon Donovan before spinning to collect the return on the one-two, hammering home from inside the area for his joint league-leading 11th goal of the season.
In Denver, the Rapids maintained their hold on third place, winning a second consecutive match by shutout while sending the Eastern Conference-leading MetroStars to a second 1-0 loss in a row. It was a fifth consecutive home shutout for the Rapids, who last allowed a goal in Denver on June 19, a span of 491 minutes.
Jordan Cila once again rose up to torment his hometown club, slipping in to force home the rebound of a powerful long-range drive from Mark Chung that Metros 'keeper Jonny Walker failed to hold (54). Earlier in the season, the Long Island native had scored twice in the Rapids come-from-behind 3-2 win against the MetroStars at Giants Stadium.
In Columbus, the home-standing Crew failed to capitalize on the MetroStars loss despite extending their unbeaten streak to a club record nine matches (matching the mark set in 2001), conceding a late penalty before sharing the spoils in a 2-2 draw with D.C. United as all four goals came from free kicks.
Alecko Eskandarian gave the visitors the lead in the 35th minute, hammering a free kick through the wall from some 22 yards and leaving Crew 'keeper Jon Busch as it whistled inside his left-hand post.
But the Crew drew level before the break, Duncan Oughton slipping behind the United defense and rising up to nod home Simon Elliott's free kick floated into the area (43). The Crew then took the lead after the interval through a powerfully-taken free kick of their own, Ross Paule ripping a drive from 25 yards that sailed over the wall and past United 'keeper Troy Perkins (54).
Yet United pegged back the Crew -- some consolation perhaps for the late equalizer they allowed last weekend to the Revolution -- when Dema Kovalenko's chip into the area was adjudged to have been handled by Frankie Hejduk. Jaime Moreno stepped to the spot and sent a blistering shot underneath the crossbar to maintain the two clubs mid-table positions in the Eastern Conference.
On Wednesday, the Crew moved within striking distance of the MetroStars atop the East with a dramatic 2-1 victory against Kansas City, the midweek win the first of two games in hand they own over the division leaders.
Preki made his return to action after missing the entire season to this point after a preseason injury, but it was Kyle Martino who at the heart of all the key moves in the Crew victory. In the 43rd minute, Martino was taken down in the box by Wizards defender Shavar Thomas, and Ross Paule sent the Crew into the break with the lead when he converted from the penalty spot.
Just after Martino was stopped cold by Wizards 'keeper Tony Meola when he was through all alone, the Wizards raced to the other end and equalized through substitute Taylor Graham, who headed home a Diego Gutierrez cross (79) from the left. But Martino grabbed the winner in stoppage time, ripping home a blast from just outside the area to send the Crew to victory.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.