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7:30 pm CT (CSN-DC)
The last two times the Eastern Conference rivals met a couple of wild matches have been the result, the teams each winning by a 4-3 scoreline at home. They face off in the first league game after the All-Star break looking to build on their pre-recess form, the Fire still holding onto a share of the Eastern Conference lead, while United have started to put together a steady run of results that has them in third place in the division. Each team also advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup at midweek, defeating New England Revolution and Richmond Kickers respectively.
REFEREE: Jair Marrufo. SAR (bench): Nate Clement; JAR (opposite): Richard Eddy; 4th: Marcel Yonan
MLS Career: 32 games; FC/gm: 31.0; Y/gm: 3.5; R: 7; pens: 16
Games involving Fire: P9 W3 L3 T3; FC/gm: 34.1; Y/gm: 3.3; R: 3; pens: 5
Games involving United: P8 W5 L1 T2; FC/gm: 35.0; Y/gm: 4.5; R: 2; pens: 3
INJURY REPORT: CHICAGO FIRE: OUT: MF Craig Capano (L torn ACL surgery); DF Leonard Griffin (abdominal strain); GK Matt Pickens (R groin strain); QUESTIONABLE: FW Nate Jaqua (L ankle bone bruise); MF John Thorrington (L hamstring strain); DF Gonzalo Segares (L ankle sprain) ... D.C. UNITED - OUT: FW Alecko Eskandarian (concussion); DF David Stokes (ankle sprain); QUESTIONABLE: DF Tim Merritt (plantar fasciatis)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: DC: Bobby Boswell (through Aug. 6)
HEAD-TO-HEAD This is the fourth and final league match between the Eastern Conference rivals this season, the second of two in a row in Chicago after playing the first two in Washington. The teams have each won one game in a pair of goalfests after starting the season series with a 1-1 draw.
ALL-TIME (23 meetings): Fire 10 wins (0 shootout), 38 goals ... United 9 wins (0 shootout), 37 goals ... 4 draws
AT CHICAGO (11 meetings): Fire 7 wins (0 shootout), 23 goals ... United 2 wins (0 shootout), 14 goals ... 2 draws
THIS YEAR United came away with a draw and a victory from their home half of the series this season. On April 9, the teams settled for a draw with goals on either side of halftime in United's home opener.
Mike Petke put United ahead just before the break when he raced onto the end of a Christian Gomez freekick from the left flank and touched it home from close range (40). But just after the break the Fire pulled level when Ivan Guerrero set rookie Chris Rolfe free in alone on United 'keeper Nick Rimando. He made no mistake for his first professional goal, driving a low shot home from just inside the penalty area.
On June 15 at RFK Stadium, United twice came back from deficits to claim a wild 4-3 victory. The Fire took the lead with two goals in eight minutes late in the first half. Chris Rolfe gave the Fire the lead when he snuck in as defender Brandon Prideaux casually dealt with a long ball played into the United box, the rookie striker deflecting past a stunned Nick Rimando (30). Then Nate Jaqua doubled the lead, Justin Mapp putting in a precise far post cross where Jaqua rose up to head past a stranded Rimando.
But United pulled a goal two minutes before the break after Santino Quaranta was hauled down in the area and Jaime Moreno clinically converted from the spot for United's first goal in 323 minutes. Then two minutes after the restart, Christian Gomez tapped home a rolling Quaranta cross from the right corner that was helped on by a clever dummy from substitute Alecko Eskandarian.
Yet Gonzalo Segares again nosed the Fire in front with his first professional goal, Rolfe chasing down the ball in the corner before laying it back for a first-time strike by the Costa Rican fullback (62).
Gomez though responded with his second of the night, a near carbon-copy of his first, Kovalenko freed on the right before driving a low cross to the back post where the United midfielder had the simplest of touches (73).
Rookie center back Bobby Boswell was then the unlikeliest of heroes from another unlikely source, defender David Stokes, who skipped down the right flank before floating a cross that fell at Boswell's feet at the far post and he made no mistake in putting the chance over Zach Thornton.
On June 29 at Soldier Field, the Fire again took a lead and United almost came back, this time falling short in a wild 4-3 loss in a match that saw referee Kevin Terry whistle for three penalty kicks.
The Fire took an early lead, Gonzalo Segares freeing Justin Mapp down the left flank, and he whipped in a low cross that Nate Jaqua tapped home at the far post for his team-leading seventh goal of the season (11). But United pulled level just three minutes later, a neat through ball from John Wilson sending Christian Gomez alone behind the Fire defense, and he buried a left-footed strike past Zach Thornton.
But the Fire scored twice in two minutes just before the break to grab hold of the match. First Chris Rolfe was clipped and taken down in the United area, Jesse Marsch stepping up to knock the penalty home (40). Then after intercepting a lazy pass, Thiago showed some real flair, looping the ball over the head of a defender before ripping a volley over Nick Rimando into the upper corner.
Yet just after the break United closed the gap. Wilson sent in a cross from the right touchline that Nana Kuffour slipped in to head home past Thornton for his first MLS goal (47).
The Fire restored their two-goal margin just after the hour when Jaqua was hauled down in the box by Bobby Boswell while trying to complete a one-two, and this time Ivan Guerrero took the honors, making no mistake (61). United then received a penalty of their own four minutes later, Freddy Adu taken down in the box by Thornton and Moreno coolly dispatching the spot kick, but the visitors could get no closer.
Here's Dave Sarachan's team (4-4-2): Zach Thornton - Logan Pause, Gonzalo Segares, Jim Curtin, Ivan Guerrero - Thiago (C.J. Brown 46), Scott Buete, Jesse Marsch, Justin Mapp - Nate Jaqua (Andy Herron 72), Chris Rolfe (Lubos Reiter 78)
Here's Peter Nowak's team (3-4-1-2): Nick Rimando - Brandon Prideaux (David Stokes 46), Bobby Boswell, John Wilson - Dema Kovalenko, Brian Carroll (Freddy Adu 46), Clyde Simms, Joshua Gros - Christian Gomez (Jamil Walker 78) - Nana Kuffour, Jaime Moreno.
HISTORY A year ago, the Fire won the first three meetings between the teams before United claimed a victory in their final encounter.
Chicago won the first meeting on April 24 at RFK Stadium as Damani Ralph scored the game's only goal (57), then Ralph hit for a hat trick for all the scoring at Soldier Field on June 5 (15, 55, 69).
The Fire then claimed a 3-1 victory at home on Sept. 4 (og 29, Mapp 65, Gray 83 - Stewart 58), before United started their rampaging run to the MLS Cup title with a 3-1 victory at home on Sept. 18 (Gomez 8, Eskandarian 20, Olsen 40 - Williams 90 pen)
United's victory on Sept. 18 ended a four-match Fire winning streak in the series. Streaks have been a feature of the series lately - that four-match Fire streak answered a two-game United winning streak, which had followed a string of three consecutive scoreless draws.
oaches record: Dave Sarachan vs. DC: P11 W5 L4 D2 ... Peter Nowak v CHI: P7 W2 L4 D1
The Chicago Fire begin the second half of the campaign tied for the top spot in the Eastern Conference with 36 points from 21 matches, level with the New England Revolution though they've played two more matches. In their last game before the All-Star break, the Fire saw a six-game unbeaten streak snapped in a 4-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids in Denver on July 23.
The Rapids responded to an early goal with two quick ones of their own, Alain Nkong hitting for a double while Jeff Cunningham again took over the league's goal scoring lead. Rookie Will Johnson - making his first-ever MLS start, gave the Fire a dream start, taking a pass across the top of the area before hammering a wicked strike past Joe Cannon inside his right-hand post (16).
But the Rapids answered quickly, taking the lead with two goals inside of four minutes. Kyle Beckerman's tackle in midfield won the ball to Cunningham, and after he raced at the heart of the Fire defense he laid the ball off to Nkong, who curled the ball inside the far post with a fine finish (23).
Then two defenders combined for the go-ahead goal, Ritchie Kotschau's ball putting Eric Denton in behind the Fire back four, and he ripped home a shot from a tight angle on the left, bouncing off the inside of the back post (26).
The Rapids finished off the match with two goals in the final quarter-hour. Cunningham scored his league-leading 10th goal of the campaign to finish a sequence of possession, Jean-Phillipe finding Nkong in the box before he immediately slipped Cunningham through, and he knocked it home just ahead of a challenge (75).
Nine minutes later Nkong completed his double, intercepting a pass in midfield before racing into the Fire area and driving home a low angled shot. He then did his best "Get Smart" imitation, taking off his shoe to dial home and tell family and friends the good news.
Fire coach Dave Sarachan made three changes to the team that played to a 1-1 draw the weekend before at home to the Columbus Crew. Jack Stewart made his first MLS start, coming in at left back for Gonzalo Segares who was slowed by injury, while Will Johnson also saw his first professional start, coming in for Scott Buete. Andy Herron also returned to the first team, starting for the injured Lubos Reiter.
Here's Sarachan's team (4-4-2): Zach Thornton, Logan Pause, C.J. Brown, Jim Curtin (Scott Buete 84), Jack Stewart - Will John (Samuel Caballero 46), Will Johnson (Chad Barrett 71), Jesse Marsch, Justin Mapp - Andy Herron, Chris Rolfe
"It was a pretty promising start with getting the first goal but we had too many opportunities that we gave away," said Sarachan. "A number of mistakes were made [that] led to us directly getting punished and we didn't take advantage of the momentum of getting the first goal. Our passing and our movement was poor, and they took advantage of that and we never recovered."
TEAM NEWS There was good news and bad news during the week for the Fire attack. Thiago had recovered enough to start in the Fire's Open Cup match, but Nate Jaqua aggravated a bone bruise on his left ankle and has not been able to participate in full training during the week. The two went down with injuries in the June 29 win against United, and Chicago hasn't scored more than one goal in their four league matches since, though they have won two and drawn one in that time.
"We feel we have the depth that can carry on without them, but at the same time, we lost some attacking punch," said Sarachan. "Obviously, if we get Thiago back and Nate back, it'll help us in that part of the field."
On Wednesday, the Fire did get three goals - two in extra time - as they advanced to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup with a 3-2 victory against the New England Revolution at Lusitano Stadium in Ludlow, Mass.
Andy Herron pounded home a volley to give the Fire an 18th-minute lead, but the Revolution pulled level just four minutes later as Shalrie Joseph headed home a Jose Cancela cross.
The Fire then claimed the tie with two goals in four minutes in extra time. C.J. Brown knocked home a deflected corner kick (96) before Herron completed his brace, picking off a weak back pass before finishing calmly. Andy Dorman scored in the final minute from long range to complete the final scoreline.
Here's Sarachan's team (4-4-2): Zach Thornton, Ivan Guerrero, Jim Curtin (Will John 69), C.J. Brown, Samuel Caballero, Justin Mapp, Jesse Marsch, Thiago (Scott Buete 57), Logan Pause, Chris Rolfe (Chad Barrett 80), Andy Herron (Will Johnson 105)
"At the beginning of the year, we said that we wanted to have two trophies," said Sarachan. "We take this competition seriously. There are those who may think that this is a good competition that they can use for the young guys. We want to win."
On Saturday, long-time Fire defender and former Czech international Lubos Kubik will be honored by the club as the third member of the Ring of Fire. Current United boss Peter Nowak and Frank Klopas were the first two honorees.
D.C. United begins the second half of the season tied for third place in the Eastern Conference with 29 points from 19 matches, level with the Kansas City Wizards and with a match in hand. They are a point ahead of fifth-place MetroStars, while trailing joint leaders Chicago and New England by seven points. In their last match before the All-Star break, a dramatic Freddy Adu goal gave United a 1-0 win against the Los Angeles Galaxy at The Home Depot Center.
D.C. United's impeccable match management closed down the Los Angeles Galaxy for 90 minutes on a blistering-hot day before a moment of Adu magic gave them the full three points and handed Steve Sampson his first-ever home loss since taking over the club.
Two minutes into stoppage time, Adu chased down a header won by D.C. defender Brandon Prideaux before dribbling by and shaking off the challenge from the Galaxy's Ugo Ihemelu. Drifting left, Adu then created the space in front of defender Tyrone Marshall to rocket a shot that slightly deflected off Marshall's leg and past goalkeeper Kevin Hartman into the upper corner.
United boss Peter Nowak kept his team the same for the third consecutive match, making no changed to the team that drew 1-1 with the Kansas City Wizards three days earlier at Arrowhead Stadium.
Here's Nowak's team (3-4-1-2): Nick Rimando - Brandon Prideaux, Bobby Boswell, John Wilson - Dema Kovalenko, Brian Carroll, Clyde Simms, Joshua Gros - Christian Gomez (Jamil Walker 71) - Freddy Adu, Jaime Moreno (Shawn Kuykendall 89)
"We were OK with them having it and knocking it around (around midfield). We knew that wouldn't hurt us. Playing during the day on this big field, you can't pressure up there. You have to drop off. Once they go into our defensive third, that's when we would pressure. We did a good job," said Prideaux.
TEAM NEWS Of course, the big talking point after the Galaxy game was Adu's goal. "We told our forwards 'pick your spot,' and Freddy was just picking his spot and he did very well with it. I am happy for him because he was working very hard over the last 5-6 weeks to connect with his teammates," Nowak said.
"This season, I know what to do with it because my movement off the ball has gotten a lot better," Adu said. "I wasn't frustrated (at the lack of attacking). Last year, I would've been. You have to have patience. I was very impatient last year. Usually (in a late-game situation) you want to hold the ball. You want to kill time. But the midfield was so open." Said Josh Gros: "We see that all the time in practice. It's not surprising to us. We're just glad he's doing it in the game now."
During the All-Star break, United released English winger Steve Guppy. He had started the first four matches of the league campaign, but had been sidelined for nearly three months with Achilles' tendonitis.
As well, forward Alecko Eskandarian, who has missed six weeks with a concussion, won't be able to resume full training for at least two more weeks.
On Wednesday, United gained some revenge for a year ago when they defeated the USL First Division Richmond Kickers (second tier) 3-1 in the third round of the U.S. Open Cup. Freddy Adu gave United a 26th-minute lead with another long-range strike that found the back of the net.
McColm Cephas equalized for Richmond in the 68th minute, but Christian Gomez sealed United's passage with two goals in six minutes, converting from the penalty spot after Dema Kovalenko was tripped up in the area (76) then knocking home a cross from Adu (81).
Here's Nowak's team: Troy Perkins - Brandon Prideaux, John Wilson, Bobby Boswell (Bryan Namoff 46), Freddy Adu, Brian Carroll (Ben Olsen 46), Josh Gros, Clyde Simms, Dema Kuvalenko (Shawn Kuykendall 76), Santino Quaranta, Jaime Moreno (Christian Gomez 46)
"There were moments where we put ourselves into a bad spot, into bad position, and we had to chase the game," Nowak said to The Washington Post. "We made some unnecessary errors, which we've made in a couple games lately, and if we can eliminate that, we'll be pretty competitive."