Pace slows, Fire manage draw vs. Dallas

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire dug themselves into a bit of a hole, but a Brian McBride goal allowed the Fire to salvage a 1-1 draw against FC Dallas on Thursday night in MLS action in front of a crowd of 12,552 at Toyota Park.

If the Fire's busy May schedule has taken its toll, Thursday showed some indications that there were some heavy legs on the Chicago side. The pace of the second half slowed down quite a bit Thursday.

"The first half was pretty lively. The second half, fatigue set in," Fire midfielder Justin Mapp said. "It's a lot of minutes for a lot of these guys. It's no excuse, but a little fatigue in the last 10 to 15 [minutes]."

Dallas (2-2-6) wasted no time taking advantage of some poor Fire defending in the 6th minute. Chicago's Wilman Conde attempted to take away the ball, one-on-one, against Dallas' David Ferreira. Ferreira won that battle, then made a strong cut inside to elude Fire defender C.J. Brown, struck the ball, and found the upper left corner of the netting for a 1-0 Dallas lead.

But in the 40th minute, the Fire (2-3-4) tied the score up at 1-1 with a McBride header. Mapp played a perfect ball that was away from Dallas defender George John and went right to McBride, who headed it over Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman. McBride went to Mapp right after the goal and said "excellent ball."

"I had the ball on the left and had some time, saw they weren't really close to him," Mapp said. "I just tried to put it in a dangerous area. Give him credit for getting on the end of that and finishing it."

The Fire had the brunt of the scoring chances in the first half. Dallas only put one shot on goal in the first 45, though on two occasions Dallas had a potential scoring opportunity but the squad was called offside on both counts.

The easiest scoring chance of the match for the Fire was in the 36th minute, though Chicago could not capitalize. Mapp had a cross from the left side that went through Dallas' defense and reached Fire midfielder Mike Banner on the far right post. Banner had beaten Dallas defender Jair Benitez and goalkeeper Kevin Hartman was away from the play. It was a perfect opportunity that needed to be a Fire goal, but Banner shot the ball over the net.

"That was a sitter," Banner said. "I missed it. It should have been a goal. I really don't know what happened."

Fatigue could have been part of the downfall in scoring chances for the Fire in the second half. But the strategy switched, too. Fire goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra played a lot more long balls from the back, and he felt slowing down the game was a good way to compensate for Dallas' speed.

"We kept losing the ball in transition, which was killing us," Dykstra said. "We had a little bit of the wind at our back, so sometimes you can slow the game down. ... They're a quick team. They like to transition. They like to keep the game pace high. So slowing it down -- whether it was fatigue or strategically -- it kind of helped us out."

Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos did not start midfielder Marco Pappa, but brought him in for Banner in the 68th minute.

"Marco hasn't had a good performance in the last few games," De los Cobos said. "A player has to play the full 95, 96 minutes. Scoring a goal doesn't mean that you had a good game. I know that Marco can give us the work I want."

Analysis: The Fire have one more chance to try and find a win this month with A.C. Milan coming to Toyota Park on Sunday. This has been a tough stretch for Chicago, and as usual there were some opportunities on the horizon.

De los Cobos' decision to take Mapp out in the 58th minute was a bit confusing because he was responsible for assisting McBride's goal and he would have had another assist if not for Banner's mishap. Mapp might not have had the smoothest of games, but his creation was there. Instead, Fire forward Collins John came into the match and had minimal impact.

John's only noteworthy effort was in the 75th minute, when he was on the receiving end of a good pass from Patrick Nyarko. John cut to the right side and tried to make a big turn to put the shot on goal. But the shot hit the right side netting.

Chicago heads into its seventh match of May this weekend. The Fire will need to find some energy to stay with the Italian club.