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Saturday, April 30, 2011
Fire tie Rapids, cap off winless April

By Charlie Corr

Two struggling teams in need of a victory each wound up with a draw as the Chicago Fire and Colorado Rapids played to a 1-1 stalemate Saturday at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.

Fire midfielder Marco Pappa tallied his third goal of the season, but Chicago once again could not hang onto a lead. The Rapids' Andre Akpan netted the equalizer in the 49th minute and each team wound up with a point.

The Fire (1-3-3, 6 points) capped off a winless April, going 0-3-2 while getting off to its worst start in team history. This year marks the first time that the Fire have posted only one victory through their first seven games of the season.

Chicago sported a 4-1-4-1 formation in an attempt to emphasize a strong possession game, but it was Colorado (3-3-1, 10 points) that ended up holding a roughly 2-to-1 edge in the possession department.

Marco Pappa
Marco Pappa's goal in the 43rd minute was the only goal for the Fire in Saturday's draw with the Rapids.
Nevertheless, the Fire got on the scoreboard first in the waning minutes of the first half. Gaston Puerari provided a precision pass toward the right corner of the pitch to Dominic Oduro, who then found Pappa in the box to garner the 1-0 lead in the 43rd.

The Rapids, in the midst of a three-game losing and scoreless streak, tied things up with Akpan's goal in the 49th minute. For the past two games, Fire defender Yamith Cuesta has replaced the injured Cory Gibbs (hamstring). Until this moment, Cuesta had provided some stout defense in the back. But he allowed too much room for Akpan to work with, and Akpan took advantage, shooting to the far left of the goal past Fire goalkeeper Jon Conway to tie things up at 1-1.

"To give up the goal after coming out flying high, this did not work out the way that we wanted it to," Oduro said. "At the end of the day, I think that our game plan worked out a little bit. But if we would have won this game, we could have taken some pressure off of ourselves."

Conway made his third straight start and he came up with six saves for the Fire. Former Fire goalkeeper Matt Pickens had two saves for Colorado.

The Fire offense did not put too much on frame during the game, but Chicago had some spells where the team could have put a dent on the scoreboard.

Puerari's free kick strike from the left side was punched over the crossbar by Pickens in the 78th minute. Another strong chance came in the 14th minute when Gonzalo Segares missed just wide left and hit the outside netting of the goal. Puerari had the dish from the center of the pitch as Segares made a decisive run down the left side to open up some space. But Segares' strike went wide of Pickens and the goal frame.

Chicago played without defensive midfielder Logan Pause, who was out with a hamstring injury. Pappa wore the captain's arm band.

The Rapids were without striker Conor Casey and midfielder Brian Mullan, who was issued a 10-game suspension for a vicious tackle against Seattle Sounders FC's Steve Zakuani.

Analysis: Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos went with some new pieces in the middle of the pitch with midfielder Daniel Paladini making his MLS debut and Corben Bone also getting the start. Oduro played on the right flank instead of up top.

But when all was said and done, the Fire's central midfield did not accomplish what De los Cobos wanted in the possession game. Offensively, the Fire could have had a greater impact. Bone had some decent chances if he pulled the trigger earlier. The Fire's lone striker, Diego Chaves, resorted to a couple of long strikes that didn't pan out. Oduro had a decent first half, but his game tapered off. The Patrick Nyarko substitution for Oduro in the game's final minutes was almost pointless by that stage.

A key moment for the Fire came in the 37th minute when defender Josip Mikulic had to leave the game because of a shoulder injury he sustained in the 27th minute. Mikulic attempted to tough it out, but eventually Dasan Robinson entered the match. The absence of Mikulic was a huge loss, and the back line as a whole was shaky coming out of halftime.

So this puts Chicago in the midst of its worst start in team history -- a winless April, a five-game winless streak and only one victory through seven games. Is it still too early in the season to panic?

The Fire are fortunate to be playing in the Eastern Conference and in a league where a meager two-game winning streak can begin to turn things around. The silver lining for Chicago is that its four-game May schedule includes three franchises with losing records: the Vancouver Whitecaps, Toronto FC and the San Jose Earthquakes.

It is imperative for the Fire to make some type of move during that stretch. If the downward trend continues, who knows what types of shakeups are in store for this franchise.