Ralph's hat trick steals show vs. United

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    CHICAGO, Ill.
    3 pm CT (ESPN2)

    Peter Nowak makes his first return to the club where he made his name in the USA, leading D.C. United into Soldier Field for the first time as coach. The host Chicago Fire won for just the second time in their usually impregnable home fortress last weekend, yet are still tied for the Eastern Conference lead. D.C. United won for just the second time in nine matches last weekend in New England, yet trail the East co-leaders Fire and MetroStars by just a single point.

    REFEREE: Kevin Stott. SAR (bench): Richard Eddy; JAR (opposite): Jose Andrade; 4th: Marcel Yonan
    MLS Career: 100 games; FC/gm: 26.2; Y/gm: 3.3; R: 26; pens: 18
    Games involving Fire: P15 W9 L4 T2; FC/gm: 31.4; Y/gm: 3.8; R: 2; pens: 2
    Games involving United: P23 W13 L8 T2; FC/gm: 26.1; Y/gm: 3.1; R: 9; pens: 3
    INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: CHI: Dipsy Selolwane (Botswana, June 5 v Tunisia) ... DC: Ryan Nelsen (New Zealand; Oceania Nations Cup)
    SUSPENDED: none
    YELLOW PERIL: none

    HEAD-TO-HEAD ALL-TIME (17 meetings): Fire 7 wins (0 shootout), 23 goals ... United 7 wins (0 shootout), 25 goals ... 3 draws

    IN CHICAGO (8 meetings): Fire 4 wins, 13 goals ... United 2 wins, 10 goals ... 2 draws

  • This is the second of the four meetings between the two Eastern Conference clubs, the first of the two in Chicago. They'll play again at Soldier Field on Sept. 4, before facing each other for the final time on Sept. 18 at RFK Stadium.
  • The teams met on April 24 on East Capitol Street, Chicago scoring and winning for the first time in the season, 1-0. Damani Ralph's goal just before the hour (57) was the Fire's first after 327 scoreless minutes, just a half-hour shy of the longest goalless streak to open a season.
  • The goal was a terrific individual effort, Ralph turning past one defender in the middle of the field some 35 yards from goal then simply outrunning a pair of defenders before slotting the ball home from 12 yards out. It sent United to defeat for a second consecutive week after opening the season with a win and a draw.
  • This is the team Peter Nowak sent out (3-1-4-2): Nick Rimando - Bryan Namoff, Ryan Nelsen, Mike Petke - Brian Carroll - Earnie Stewart (Joshua Gros 72), Dema Kovalenko, Ben Olsen, Bobby Convey - Alecko Eskandarian (Ronald Cerritos 62), Jaime Moreno (Freddy Adu 72).
  • Here's Dave Sarachan's team (3-2-3-2): Henry Ring - C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin, Kelly Gray - Logan Pause, Chris Armas - Justin Mapp (Dipsy Selolwane 64), Andy Williams (Craig Capano 88), DaMarcus Beasley - Nate Jaqua, Damani Ralph.
  • A year ago, United won two of the four league meetings between the two teams (with one draw), but the Fire eased to victory in both legs of their conference semifinal series.
  • The teams played to a scoreless draw on April 19 in Washington - the third consecutive scoreless draw in the series - then United won the next two meetings, winning 2-0 at home on June 7 (Etcheverry 37 pen, Kovalenko 45), then 2-1 at Soldier Field on July 12 (Marsch 6 - Ivanov 9, Olsen 45). The Fire then won 3-1 at home on Aug. 16 (Razov 45, Marsch 61, Beasley 74 - Stoitchkov 8 pen).
  • The Fire then won 4-0 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference semifinal series in the MLS Cup Playoffs, winning 2-0 both away on Nov. 1 (Williams 4, Razov 94+) and at home on Nov. 9 (Ralph 17, Razov 55).
  • When United won at Soldier Field last year, it was their first away victory in the series since May 2, 1998 - the first-ever meeting of the two clubs - Chicago winning three of the next five home encounters (two draws).
  • As a player with Chicago, Peter Nowak tasted victory in five of his nine meetings with United - including a 2-0 victory in MLS Cup 1998.
  • Ben Olsen leads active United players with 4 goals, 4 assists against Chicago. He's one of three current United players with 4 goals against Fire, along with Ronald Cerritos (4 goals, 3 assists - none with United) and Jaime Moreno (4 goals, 2 assists - all with United). The only other current United player with a goal v Chicago is Dema Kovalenko.
  • Jesse Marsch leads the Fire's all-time list against United with 4 goals, 2 assists; second is current United boss Nowak (2 goals, 3 assists). Chris Armas also has 2 goals, 3 assists for his career v United (1 goal, 3 assists with Chicago), and Ante Razov has 2 goals, 2 assists.
  • Coaches record: Dave Sarachan v COL: P5 W2 D2 L1 ... Peter Nowak vs. CHI: P1 W0 D1 L0

    The Chicago Fire ended their three-match winless run, winning for the second time in four home matches with a 1-0 victory against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday night. The Fire needed the victory to maintain pace with the rest of the Eastern Conference, still tied atop the division with 13 points from nine matches, along with the MetroStars.

  • It was a controversial goal from Nate Jaqua that gave the Fire a first victory since May 1, as Chicago goalkeeper Henry Ring was credited with his league-leading fifth shutout.
  • Jaqua's 66th-minute drive hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced straight down before coming back over the line into the six-yard box. Referee Ricardo Valenzuela, however, was unmoved by the protests of Rapids goalkeeper Joe Cannon and the goal was allowed to stand.
  • "It was good to get a win," Fire defender Jim Curtin said. "We played much better. We limited their chances to two in the first half. Toward the end it got a little crazy, but we played solid defense. Ring made two big saves when he needed to."
  • Fire coach Dave Sarachan made three changes to the team that lost 3-1 to the Columbus Crew the Sunday before, and returned to a 4-4-2 scheme. Kelly Gray came into the back four, in central defense for an ill C.J. Brown. Orlando Perez made his first start of the year at left back as Logan Pause was dropped from the midfield, and Nate Jaqua took Justin Mapp's place on the right flank.
  • Here's Sarachan's team (4-4-2): Henry Ring - Evan Whitfield, Jim Curtin, Kelly Gray, Orlando Perez - Nate Jaqua, Chris Armas, Andy Williams, DaMarcus Beasley - Damani Ralph (Logan Pause 89), Ante Razov.
  • Most of the post-match discussion centered on the goal. "I thought it was a goal," Jaqua said. "When I hit it, I thought it was going in. It was a definitely a questionable call, and it's been my experience that in those types of plays the lineman won't make the call unless he's sure."
  • Fire boss Sarachan wasn't as certain, and neither was Rapids coach Tim Hankinson. "Over the course of the season, you get some of those and you lose some of those,'' Sarachan said. "I'm pleased it was ruled a goal, and we'll take it.'' Said Hankinson: "It's a shame a game like tonight is decided by someone not in a player's uniform. It steals from the effort the players put in."
  • Forward Dipsy Selolwane left the Fire after the match to fly to Africa, where he will join the Botswana national team in advance of their World Cup qualifier in Tunisia this weekend. "It'll be the biggest game I've ever played," Selolwane said. "Tunisia is Africa's No. 1 team now. We have a slight chance."

    D.C. United won for the first time this season on their travels, taking advantage of an early own goal to claim a 1-0 victory against the New England Revolution at Gillette Stadium on Saturday evening. United needed the full three points to stay within a point of Eastern Conference leaders MetroStars and Chicago Fire, who also both won.

  • Taylor Twellman endured a rough night, missing a second-half penalty kick before being injured as D.C. United took advantage of an early own goal to record a 1-0 victory against the New England Revolution, who are now five points adrift of United in last place in the East.
  • Revolution defender Brian Kamler turned a low cross into his own goal after just five minutes to give his former club the game's only goal, then in the second half, Twellman saw his goal-scoring drought when he pushed his penalty wide though United rookie goalkeeper Troy Perkins guessed correctly with his dive.
  • Things went from bad to worse for the New England striker later in the match when he was taken from the field with a strained right hamstring, having now gone 561 minutes without scoring.
  • "We didn't play like we wanted to play, but we've played a couple of pretty games this year where we haven't gotten the results," midfielder Earnie Stewart said. "Today we did, so we're a happy group right now."
  • United coach Peter Nowak made three changes to the team that lost 2-1 in Colorado the weekend before, also returned to his favored 3-5-2 scheme.
  • The biggest change was in attack, where Jaime Moreno was out to a thigh injury, Ronald Cerritos coming in alongside Freddy Adu in attack. Ben Olsen and Bobby Convey returned from injury to make their first starts in three and four weeks respectively, coming in for Dema Kovalenko, who was away at the Hristo Stoitchkov testimonial in Barcelona, and defender David Stokes.
  • Here's Nowak's team (3-1-4-2): Troy Perkins - Brandon Prideaux, Mike Petke, Bryan Namoff (David Stokes 46), Brian Carroll, Earnie Stewart, Ben Olsen, Bobby Convey (Kevin Ara 89), Joshua Gros, Freddy Adu (Alecko Eskandarian 56), Ronald Cerritos.
  • "We got lucky," said Nowak. "Today the soccer part wasn't good, but the result was OK."
  • Adu felt that his fourth start of the season was the most physical encounter he had seen as a professional. "If I get knocked, the knocks that they feel like are not a foul, sometimes I'll go down, just because I'm still working on my strength," Adu said. "I'm so much younger and not as strong as they are. I have to choose my words [carefully]. Peter [Nowak] told me that if I'm getting knocked down, he'll take care of it or the rest of the guys will take care of it. It's a little harsh. I'm not mad at anybody, it's just in this game. I didn't get any calls."
  • Nowak took Adu off after 57 minutes, for Alecko Eskandarian. "Freddy did all right, he got kicked a couple of times in the first half," said Nowak, who substituted Adu with forward Alecko Eskandarian. "We don't want to risk anything. We know that with our injury situation, we want to make sure he's ready for the next game. That's why we made the substitution."
  • Moreno has been unable to participate in full training this week, and his availability is in question for the weekend.
  • Ryan Nelsen was unable to play in New Zealand's first two matches in the final round of Oceania qualifying for the 2006 World Cup, a 1-0 loss to Australia and 3-0 victory against Solomon Islands. New Zealand has to finish in the top two to get into a home-and-home playoff to determine the region's representative in another home-and-home playoff against the fifth-placed South American team.
  • Chicago's match will be the first for Nowak back at his former club, which he led to an MLS Cup championship in their first season. "I am very excited to come back," he said. "It is a very important game for us, for both clubs. The first game was a pretty good match-up and we are very excited to come to Chicago and show what we can do. ... But we will see what we can do to make things better."