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Saturday, March 12, 2011
Fire play Battery to scoreless draw

By Charlie Corr

For once in the Carolina Challenge Cup, the Chicago Fire did not have to deal with a man-disadvantage situation during Saturday's tournament finale. But despite numerous chances on the offensive end, Chicago came up empty as the Fire played the host Charleston Battery to a scoreless draw at Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, S.C.

Earlier in the day, D.C. United and Toronto FC played to a 2-2 draw, and United repeated as Carolina Challenge Cup champion. United posted wins over the Fire and Charleston earlier in the tournament. Charleston earned second place, the Fire third and Toronto fourth.

The Fire had been on the wrong end of the officiating during the Carolina Challenge Cup, with defensive midfielder Logan Pause red-carded in the opener against Toronto and Uruguayan forward Diego Chaves ejected in the second game against D.C.

During a crazy nine-minute stretch in the first half of the Fire's match on Saturday, three players were ejected. The Battery's Stephen Armstrong (30th minute) and Mark Wiltzee (35th minute) were shown straight red cards, and the Fire's Mike Videira received a second yellow card and ejection in the 38th minute.

But Chicago could not find the back of the net despite a 10-on-9 advantage on the pitch for much of the game. Former Fire goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra, who recently joined the Charleston squad, maintained a second-half clean sheet. Charleston's Keith Wiggans manned the Battery net in the first half.

It took some time, but the Fire finally tested the Charleston defense in the second half. In the 55th minute, Patrick Nyarko nearly found the goal on the far right post, but Dykstra was there for the stop. In the 63rd minute, Gabriel Ferrari had a strong strike above the box and Dykstra pushed the ball over the crossbar.

The Fire's best challenge came on a free kick from Daniel Paladini in the 75th minute. His dangerous strike hit the near left post as he was able to drive the ball past Dykstra, but the Battery escaped to maintain the scoreless draw.

Before the cards started flying out, the Battery had the better challenges against the Fire defense. Zach Prince provided a sound cross from the right side and Armstrong's one-timed shot forced Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson to leap up for the save. The ball appeared as though it would have gone under the crossbar if not for Johnson.

At that stage of the match, Johnson had made three saves, while the Fire had not put a shot on goal. But with Charleston losing a pair of players later in the first half, the game naturally opened up for Chicago. Armstrong was shown a red for elbowing Fire forward Gaston Puerari, and Wiltzee was ejected for an unnecessary challenge against Fire open-tryout winner Pari Pantazopoulos.

Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos went with a much different starting lineup to get a look at some players on the roster bubble. Pantazopoulos and 2011 draft pick Davis Paul both started, while many regulars did not dress for the match, including forward Chaves, midfielders Marco Pappa, Bratislav Ristic and Pause, and defenders Cory Gibbs and Josip Mikulic.

Fire defender Dasan Robinson, who missed the team's Florida trip and a bulk of this preseason with a hip injury, returned to the lineup as a second-half replacement for Corben Bone.