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Saturday, August 13, 2011
Fire match MLS draws record, tie Red Bulls

By Charlie Corr

The Chicago Fire had a rare halftime lead on the New York Red Bulls. But as the trend has been all season, Chicago had to settle for a 2-2 draw on Saturday as the Fire tied an MLS record with their 14th stalemate of the season at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.

The Fire (2-7-14, 20 points) matched the record set by FC Dallas last season, when Dallas posted a 12-4-14 mark in the regular season and advanced to the 2010 MLS Cup against eventual champion Colorado Rapids.

Chicago continues to lag behind in last place in the Eastern Conference, and in the grand scheme of things, the Fire clearly are disappointed that they could not hold onto their 2-1 lead in the second half.

"If we're being honest, coming into Red Bull Arena and getting a point is a positive," Fire captain Logan Pause said. "We'd only be doing ourselves a disservice if we had our tails between our legs and started writing games off. But tonight we needed three points."

The Fire are now one point behind the eighth-place New England Revolution, which fell to the East-leading Columbus Crew on Saturday. Toronto FC moved up to seventh in the East standings with a surprising 1-0 win over Real Salt Lake.

As for Chicago, Dominic Oduro and Sebastian Grazzini netted back-to-back goals in response to Thierry Henry's early tally to garner a 2-1 lead into the second half. But the Red Bulls' Joel Lindpere equalized in the 63rd minute to salvage a 2-2 draw.

New York had a clear possession advantage in the match, but the Fire orchestrated a strong run in the first half.

Oduro netted his team-leading seventh goal of the season in the 16th minute to tie the score at 1-1. Patrick Nyarko, who had an effective first half with some crisp passing and movement, dished the ball to Oduro from the left side to overcome Henry's ninth-minute goal.

Then in the 24th minute, Grazzini notched his first goal for the Fire, rebounding the ball from Red Bulls goalkeeper Chris Konopka. Konopka became the fifth Red Bulls player to man the net for New York (6-6-13, 31 points) this season.

It was a promising situation for the Fire to head into the second half with a one-goal lead, especially following their 4-2 loss to the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps the previous week. But Chicago could not hang on at Red Bull Arena.

In the 63rd minute, the Red Bulls players were fuming that a hand ball was not called on defender Dan Gargan, who made his Fire debut. Lindpere was able to respond seconds later as he redirected a Dane Richards cross to the left side of the net to tie the match at 2-2.

A pivotal moment for the Fire came in the 56th minute. Forward Orr Barouch was brought into the match for Nyarko. The Fire said that Nyarko left the match because of a migraine.

The Nyarko and Oduro pairing up top, with Grazzini behind them, was effective on the offensive end. Oduro was dropped to the midfield when Nyarko was subbed out, and the match changed from that point on.

"When you lose a guy like Patrick, it definitely changes the dynamic of the game. He's such an effective and dynamic player. It's never an easy move [to make that type of substitution]."

"I think things changed when Patrick Nyarko came out," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "We had to change the way we play. Later in the game, we got tired a little bit, we dropped a little too deep and gave them space to operate. We gave away a lot of set pieces from corners."

Analysis: The Fire abandoned their one-forward formation at the start of the match, and pairing the two Ghanaians was effective in the offensive third. Nyarko's injury certainly affected the team's approach the rest of the way.

The Fire defense once again gave up multiple goals, so clearly some improvement can be made on that end. Chicago gave New York too much space to work with during stretches. At times, the Fire's back line compensated with some key deflections. Yamith Cuesta did not have a perfect match, but compared to the Vancouver game he had a remarkable difference.

Jalil Anibaba's play also was steady, and there really was not much he could do trying to get to Henry's goal. It was a solid, bending strike. However, the buildup of that play was a defensive setback because New York worked the ball with relative ease to set up Henry.

If the Fire were in the thick of a chase for the playoffs, this might have been a satisfactory outcome. But Chicago is in desperate need for victories, and nothing else.

The Fire have a three-game homestand in MLS play, though they have not posted a home win during Klopas' tenure.