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FC DALLAS vs CHICAGO FIRE
PIZZA HUT PARK, Frisco, Texas
3 p.m. CT (ABC) -- April 1, 2006 (WEEK 1) - MLS Game #1
The Brimstone Cup is again on offer as First Kick 2006 opens up with a meeting of long-time inter-conference rivals. FC Dallas opens the season for the first time in their new Pizza Hut Park home, where they last saw a terrific season come to a disappointing end, losing on penalty kicks in the Western Conference Semifinal Series. The Chicago Fire reached the Eastern Conference Championship last season, losing out on a return visit to MLS Cup by the narrowest of margins.
REFEREE: Kevin Stott. SAR (bench): Greg Barkey; JAR (opposite): Chris Strickland; 4th: Elias Bazakos
MLS Career: 119 games; FC/gm: 26.7; Y/gm: 3.3; R: 31; pens: 19
Games involving FC Dallas: P21 W9 L11 T1; FC/gm: 25.6; Y/gm: 3.2; R: 6; pens: 1
Games involving Fire: P18 W11 L4 T3; FC/gm: 31.5; Y/gm: 3.7; R: 2; pens: 2
INJURY REPORT: FC DALLAS - OUT: MF Richard Mulrooney (R ACL); QUESTIONABLE: MF Ramon Nunez (R quadriceps) ... CHICAGO FIRE - OUT: DF Tony Sanneh (R lower back strain); DOUBTFUL: MD Chris Armas (L ACL surgery); FW Andy Herron (R MCL sprain); FW Nate Jaqua (R MCL sprain)
INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: CHICAGO FIRE: FW Andy Herron (through May 13)
HEAD-TO-HEADThis is the first of two meetings as the Brimstone Cup is again on offer between the two clubs. This is the only meeting set for Pizza Hut Park; they are scheduled to meet July 15 at Bridgeview Stadium.
ALL-TIME (23 meetings): FC Dallas 12 wins (2 shootout), 42 goals ... Fire 10 wins (1 shootout), 40 goals ... 1 draw
IN DALLAS: (11 meetings): FC Dallas 9 wins (1 shootout), 28 goals ... Fire 2 wins (0 shootout), 15 goals ... 0 draws
LAST YEAR (MLS):
4/2: DAL 2, CHI 1 (Mulrooney 2, Johnson 47 - Gray 73)
6/12: CHI 2, DAL 0 (Jaqua 20; Reiter 90)
A year ago, the teams split their regular season matchups, each winning at home. They also met in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup, FC Dallas claiming a 1-0 victory at Pizza Hut Park that also gave them the Brimstone Cup.
It was the fourth consecutive year Dallas won the Brimstone Cup, awarded by supporters clubs of the two teams. The Fire won the first series in 2001, the Burn then claiming it in 2002, retaining it in 2003 when the teams leveled the series, then winning both league meetings in 2004.
The Chicago victory last year ended a four-game Dallas winning streak in the league series. Dallas has won seven of the last nine meetings in all competitions, dating back to the start of the 2002 season.
Coaches record: Colin Clarke vs. CHI: P5 W4 L1 D0 ... Dave Sarachan v DAL: P6 W2 L4 D0
FC Dallas once again start the season at home - but this year it's with a new goal, trying to make their "new" Pizza Hut Park a fortress. A year ago the Hoops moved into their new Frisco soccer-specific season late in the season, and saw their tremendous early form dip in the run to the MLS Cup Playoffs, culminating in a loss on penalty kicks to the Colorado Rapids in the second leg of the Western Conference semifinals against the Colorado Rapids.
It's the 11th consecutive season the Dallas club has opened their season at home. They have won five of their 10 MLS season openers, with three losses and a pair of draws.
It's the third time they've started off against the Chicago Fire - and the second year running. Last year, Richard Mulrooney sent FC Dallas on their way with a dream start, scoring in the second minute, and Eddie Johnson also added a goal in a 2-1 victory for the Hoops at the Cotton Bowl.
FC Dallas concluded their preseason campaign last Saturday with a 1-0 loss to the Kansas City Wizards in the Saturn Challenge Cup - Oklahoma City, played at Moore Stadium in Moore, Okla. Scott Sealy scored the game's only goal in the 32nd minute.
Here's Colin Clarke's team for the final preseason match: Ray Burse, David Wagenfuhr (Blake Wagner 52), Clarence Goodson, Michael Dello-Russo, Justin Moore, Mario Torres (Kenny Cooper 75), Mark Wilson, Aaron Pitchkolan (Dax McCarty 75), Ramon Nunez (Miguel Guante 46), Abe Thompson, Roberto Mina (Dominic Oduro 46)
"In the first half they had a pretty strong team out there, we had mostly young players and the reserves," Clarke said. "They edged the first half and probably deserved to be up 1-0 at halftime. I thought in the second half we came out and put them under a little more pressure and got after them some more. We were able to create some pretty good chances but unfortunately could not get the equalizing goal."
Clarke started a pair of players - fullback David Wagenfuhr and midfielder Ramon Nuñez - who had been slowed by injuries throughout the preseason.
"We have some tough decisions to make this week," said Clarke. "But I think we're in a good spot that we have those tough decisions to make and it will stand as a good position to be in throughout the season."
The big battle could be in attack, where Kenny Cooper, Abe Thompson and Roberto Mina are all bidding to partner Carlos Ruiz in attack. Cooper has an early edge, but he arrived in the FCD camp in midseason form after coming from Manchester United. "We've got to be careful that he doesn't hit a wall further down the line," Clarke said to the Dallas Morning News.
Ramon Nuñez started the final preseason match and played 45 minutes, though he is still hampered by a thigh injury suffered during preseason. When he is fully fit, Nuñez could figure into the playmaking central midfield role - he has changed to No. 10 this season - with Ronnie O'Brien again figuring in a wide role.
"It basically gives me more responsibility than ever," Nunez said to the Dallas Morning News. "That's something that I wanted this year, much like I want to produce as much as I can for the team."
Clarke had wanted to start the back four of Bobby Rhine, Clarence Goodson, Greg Vanney and Chris Gbandi in the 4-1 preseason victory the previous Wednesday over Atlas of Mexico, which brought a squad filled mainly with reserves. But Goodson was ill, meaning Drew Moor took his place. Still, the group - the same as finished the 2005 season - is likely to be Clarke's first choice.
Dario Sala will start in goal, with Jeff Cassar still slowed by injury. Sala describes himself as a "sweeper-'keeper", something that Clarke is still coming to grips with.
"It's different. It's not what you're used to or maybe I'm used to," Clarke said to the DMN. "But I appreciate his style. He offers some differences that are very, very good and positive. ... He's, in some ways, unorthodox but very, very effective."
Following a few weeks of inactivity due to various injuries, Cassar on Thursday visited the team's general surgeon at the Baylor Health Center to be examined for a possible hernia. Cassar received positive news as the surgeon did not feel that he was suffering from a hernia. The team's doctors will re-evaluate his injury, but he remains inactive for the home opener.
While awaiting the opening of their new Bridgeview Stadium, the Chicago Fire become the third team in MLS history to open their campaign with an extended road trip. With the home opener set for June 11, the Fire will play nine of their 11 MLS opponents on their travels, beginning with their Brimstone Cup rivals.
The Fire concluded their preseason preparations with a 1-0 victory against Chivas USA to round out their annual sojourn to Jackson, Miss. Rookie Calen Carr's goal in the 14th minute was all the Fire needed for their fourth preseason victory in five matches against MLS opposition.
Here's Dave Sarachan's team on the day: Zach Thornton, Dasan Robinson, Jim Curtin, Leonard Griffin; Justin Mapp, Ivan Guerrero, Diego Gutierrez (John Thorrington 56), Logan Pause, Thiago, Calen Carr, Chad Barrett (Floyd Franks 90).
By starting in the final preseason match, Sarachan indicated that Thornton had won the starting job between the posts, fending off fierce competition for the first-choice designation ahead of Matt Pickens and David Mahoney.
"We started Zach on Saturday and gave him the whole game,'' Sarachan said to the Chicago Sun-Times. "We're very confident in all three of our goalies, but we had to play one, and Zach had a good game. Given his experience and his form right now, he'll be the guy we'll go with in the first game.''
Sarachan has ruled out captain Chris Armas and striker Nate Jaqua for the opener, with both suffering from knee injuries. Both were able to participate in full training during the week, though he Fire boss said they might not make the trip to Dallas.
However, he has fewer worries in the back. Gonzalo Segares has been suffering from a sprained ankle and C.J. Brown from a hamstring strain, but both are expected to be available.
Coupled with the six-game suspension of Andy Herron after an incident in last year's Eastern Conference Championship, Sarachan has some selection issues in attack. Chris Rolfe has one spot outright, with Chad Barrett likely to get the nod for the other ahead of rookie Calen Carr.
Teams opening the campaign with lengthy road trips have had much different results. In 1999, while awaiting the opening of the first soccer-specific stadium in MLS, the Columbus Crew began the season with seven road contests. The Crew won five (two by shootout), claiming 11 of a possible 18 points.
In 2003, while The Home Depot Center was being finished, the Los Angeles Galaxy started their campaign with eight road encounters. After beginning the year with three draws, the Galaxy came home on June 7 without a single win to their credit, losing four and drawing four, before ending the season as the first team in MLS history to go without a single victory on their travels (0-9-6).