Chicago Fire: Colorado Rapids
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Mike Magee scored on a penalty kick, Austin Berry headed in the tiebreaker in the opening minutes of the second half, and the Chicago Fire beat the Colorado Rapids 2-1 on Wednesday night.
Magee tied the score in the 23rd minute with his fifth goal in five matches -- three in MLS play and two in the U.S. Open Cup. The goal was set up by Rapids defender Marvell Wynne's handball in the penalty area. Magee converted with a right-footed kick that beat goalkeeper Clint Irwin to his left.
Berry got the winning score in the second minute after halftime for the Fire (4-7-3). Chicago captain Jeff Larentowicz fed the ball in from outside the penalty area, and Berry was open in the right crease for the header, his first goal of the season.
Jamie Castrillon opened the scoring when he stripped the ball from Berry in Chicago's half of the field and scored on goalkeeper Sean Johnson on a 22-yard blast in the 17th minute to put Colorado (5-6-5) ahead. The Rapids lost their second straight and extended their winless stretch to 0-2-1.
The Rapids pressed hard during four minutes of stoppage time at the end, but forward Tony Cascio hit the right post from a yard out in the 91st minute, and forward Deshorn Brown was called for a handball to negate an apparent goal a minute later.
Irwin entered the game with a league-low 0.85 goals-against average, but was beaten twice in the first 47 minutes and was called on to make six saves in all. Johnson's single save was on Castrillon in the 38th minute.
"Wells is a steady, dependable player that has proven himself in MLS," Fire coach Frank Klopas said in a statement. "He will provide additional depth and coverage on the wing and in the midfield as we continue to make our push for the MLS Cup Playoffs."
Thompson, a veteran of 75 MLS regular season matches, will be available to play Wednesday when the Fire play on the road against Toronto FC.
Thompson joined the Rapids in 2010 from the New England Revolution and was a member of the Colorado squad that won the 2010 MLS Cup.
Drafted fifth overall by the Revolution in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft, Thompson played in 71 regular season appearances in three seasons for the Revolution.
Saturday's match marks the start of a Western Conference-heavy schedule over the next month. After Saturday, Chicago takes a two-week break from MLS action but hosts the USL Pro's Richmond Kickers on Tuesday in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup semifinal.
The Fire have posted a 1-0-1 mark on their current homestand, most recently earning a 2-0 win against Toronto FC last Saturday.
Wins have been difficult to come by for the Fire (3-7-15), and posting back-to-back victories would be something that this organization has not seen since topping D.C. United and the Houston Dynamo on April 17 and 24, respectively, during the 2010 season.
The Rapids (10-6-11), despite the absence of forward Conor Casey (torn left Achilles tendon), have not missed a beat this year. Colorado is in the midst of a six-game unbeaten streak (4-0-2) and is at the top of the wild-card race.
"They're a good, solid, consistent team," Fire defender Dan Gargan said. "That's what happens when you keep a good core together. They know about one another, they know each other's strengths and weaknesses, and they play a solid game. They defend well from the back to the front, and they have some good leaders in the back and in their central midfield."
Gargan originally was drafted by Colorado in 2005 and spent several seasons with the Rapids. The right back credits Rapids midfielder Pablo Mastroeni as someone who has shaped his career. So for a second straight week, Gargan is going up against some familiar faces after netting a goal against his former Reds last week.
"I learned a lot from Pablo when I was in Colorado," Gargan said. "He's certainly a great guy to be leading that team. So it's going to be a tough game for us, but it's one that we want to come out with three points again. I think that we feel that we're playing some good football, and we want to hopefully do whatever we can to make a push for the playoffs."
The Fire played to a 1-1 draw against Colorado in the first league meeting between the two sides on April 30 at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. Marco Pappa gave the Fire a first-half lead, but the Rapids' Andre Akpan found the equalizer early in the second half. Also this year, Chicago defeated Colorado, 2-1, on March 30 in an Open Cup play-in match in Peoria, Ill. Fire rookie defender Jalil Anibaba had the game-winner, striking from a good 35 to 40 yards out.
Though Casey has been out since mid-July, the Rapids have had a balanced attack this season. Casey, Caleb Folan and Jeff Larentowicz are tied for the team lead with six goals apiece. Sanna Nyassi has four goals and three assists on the year, and MLS All-Star Omar Cummings leads the Rapids with six assists while contributing three goals.
Former Fire goalkeeper Matt Pickens has started in all 27 of the Rapids' regular-season games this year, posting six shutouts and 60 saves.
Fire second-year goalkeeper Sean Johnson posted his fifth shutout of the season last week against Toronto. In that match, Dominic Oduro tallied his team-leading eighth goal.
The Rapids had a Tuesday match in the CONCACAF Champions League, playing to a 1-1 draw against Real Espana. Larentowicz netted Colorado's first-half goal, but Real tallied an equalizer in the 90th minute.
Hurricane affects weekend schedule: With the impending arrival of Hurricane Irene along the Atlantic coast, Major League Soccer has made several adjustments within this weekend's schedule. Saturday's match between D.C. United and the expansion Portland Timbers at RFK Stadium has been postponed, and a new date will be announced next week. The Philadelphia Union's match against the New England Revolution, originally scheduled for Sunday, has been moved to Wednesday at PPL Park. And the New York Red Bulls' Sunday game against the Los Angeles Galaxy has been rescheduled for Tuesday, Oct. 4, at Red Bull Arena.
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.
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.
The major difference is that Colorado has three victories in its pocket this season, while Chicago sits with only one.
"We're both desperate for points," Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "We're not going to settle for a tie up there. We're going in for the win. We desperately need the points, and we've played well up there the last couple of years. But we're just unfortunate to not have come out of there with a win."
The Fire (1-3-2) will be without their captain, however. Defensive midfielder Logan Pause strained his hamstring on Wednesday and will not see the pitch Saturday. Also missing from the fray again is defender Cory Gibbs (hamstring), who played for Colorado in 2008 and 2009. Gibbs' replacement, Yamith Cuesta, performed admirably during the Fire's recent 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo.
Colorado (3-3-0) will have some key absences, as well, with forward Conor Casey expected to miss the match with a hamstring injury. The big story resonating throughout the league is the 10-game suspension of Rapids midfielder Brian Mullan, whose severe tackle caused Seattle Sounders FC midfielder Steve Zakuani to break his leg. Mullan was red carded for the incident and would have missed Saturday's match against the Fire anyway. But the league tacked on nine games to Mullan's suspension, and he was fined $5,000.
The Fire and Rapids squared off during a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup qualifier match in which Chicago pulled off a 2-1 victory on March 30 at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. Chicago defender Jalil Anibaba tallied a memorable game-winner from approximately 40 yards away.
That marked the Fire's last taste of victory. Since returning to league play after that Open Cup match, Chicago has posted three losses and a draw.
"Mentally, we all need to get a win back in the locker room and make guys happy," Nyarko said. "It's going to be a good game. We played them in the Open Cup and we beat them, so they're not going to allow us to beat them two times in a row. It's going to be a dog fight."
It will be a vastly different Rapids squad compared to the Open Cup match. Former Fire goalkeeper Matt Pickens did not make the trip for Colorado, and the Rapids also played without forward Omar Cummings and midfielders Jeff Larentowicz and Pablo Mastroeni, just to name a few.
Chicago is coming off a draw against Houston in which the Fire carried a 1-0 lead deep into the second half, only to see the Dynamo net an equalizer. Diego Chaves contributed his team-leading fourth goal of the season for the Fire, but Houston's Bobby Boswell scored on a set piece in the 83rd minute to take a point on the road.
"We just really need to impose ourselves," Nyarko said. "Sometimes I think we get naive, like the last game. We scored a goal and then we just shut it down. We just decided to defend for the entirety of the game, and that's not going to help us."
This year's MLS Cup had its slow moments, but the finish was action-packed.
The Colorado Rapids benefited from an own-goal in overtime and went on to beat FC Dallas, 2-1, on Sunday for their first MLS title at BMO Field in Toronto. Colorado's Mac Kandji punched the ball off of Dallas defender George John's leg for the game-winner in the 107th minute.
"Honestly, I don't mind how they come," Rapids head coach Gary Smith said during the post-game press conference. "If they're winners, it doesn't matter. The overriding thought is they must be under some pressure to make that mistake."
Kandji injured his leg on the play, forcing Colorado to play for about 15 minutes with only 10 men. Dallas had some potential scoring moments down the stretch, but the Colorado defense was up to the task, including a huge save from former Chicago Fire and current Rapids goalkeeper Matt Pickens in the 121st minute to turn away a John strike.
Rounding up the scoring, Colorado's Conor Casey tallied a second-half equalizer to earn MLS Cup MVP honors, and MLS regular-season MVP David Ferreira had Dallas' lone goal in the first half.
Here are some highlights and thoughts from Sunday's MLS Cup:
Pickens prevails: Between Dallas goalkeeper Kevin Hartman and Pickens, it was the former Fire goalkeeper who had the busier night. Pickens came up with five saves, none bigger than the 121st-minute stop against John.
John's strike was bound for the inside of the left post, but Pickens dove to his right and lunged just enough to get his left glove on the ball and turn the shot away. Pickens made some other noteworthy stops, reacting well in the 71st minute when a shot deflected off a Rapids player, made a stop on Ferreira's 118th-minute strike toward the right post, and punched away a couple of key Dallas crosses.
But Pickens' back line deserves a bunch of credit for limiting his chances. There were several Dallas flurries where Pickens' defense blocked the ball from even reaching the goal area.
Pickens' counterpart, Hartman, made only two saves on the night. Hartman was the big story following his team's Western Conference victory over the Los Angeles Galaxy. In regulation, Hartman had the match's clutch save in the 62nd minute, diving to his left to deflect a Jeff Larentowicz shot.
Marquee contributions: So much was made about how this MLS Cup did not include the New York Red Bulls, or the Los Angeles Galaxy's Landon Donovan and David Beckham. But Colorado and Dallas peaked at the right moment and earned the big stage. Both teams' marquee players stepped up on the scoring side, as well.
Two completely different styles of attacking players showcased what they are best at.
On Dallas' side, Ferreira's uncanny knack for finding space led to the match's first goal in the 35th minute. Marvin Chavez provided a perfect cross from the right side as Colorado's Anthony Wallace allowed Chavez enough space to the right. Pickens tried to step up and intercept the ball at the top of the goal box, but Ferreira just got his foot on the ball and placed it into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead.
For Colorado, Casey muscled his way around the offensive third all game, and in the 56th minute he reaped the rewards with a game-tying goal. Jamie Smith crossed the ball in from the left side and it was up for grabs among Casey, Hartman and Benitez. All three converged and were on the ground. The ball briefly sat on the pitch before Casey stuck his right foot out and poked the ball into the net.
The one marquee player who played only a minor role Sunday was Rapids forward Omar Cummings. By the 98th minute, Smith decided to bring in Kandji for Cummings, who was injured and was not effective in the second half. He did have a couple of noteworthy moments in the first half, showing some beautiful work with the ball in the 37th minute to nearly equalize the match 2 minutes after Ferreira's goal. Cummings also had a header that went wide left in the 29th minute.
Key non-call: With the match still scoreless, referee Baldomero Toledo was the subject of a non-call during the 27th minute. Casey and Dallas defender Jair Benitez tangled in the box and Casey took a fall. Casey and the Colorado side were fuming about the lack of a whistle and penalty kick opportunity.
The only thing that could have gone against Casey was that he made the initial contact against Benitez. But after that, Benitez kicked Casey with his left foot, then appeared to trip Casey with a desperate lunge.
Whether Casey made an exaggerated motion to signify the trip is up for debate. But there was contact, and Toledo should have blown his whistle. It should have been the first clear-cut scoring opportunity of the match, and it would have changed the tone of the game.
It's a moot point, though, with Colorado netting the win.
2011 playoff change: At halftime of Sunday's MLS Cup, MLS commissioner Don Garber joined the ESPN booth to reveal that next season will include 10 playoff teams, and increase from the this year's eight-team field. Garber did not have specifics about the system, other than to respond to how this year we saw four Western Conference teams at the semifinal round, and that it should not happen in the future.
"It doesn't make sense to have two Western teams playing in the Eastern Conference final," Garber said. "We will find a way to solve that for next year. We need about 30 days to figure that one out."
With two new teams coming into the league for 2011, the regular-season schedule will increase to 34 games. But why should the playoff field increase by two?
There is little incentive to put together a superb regular season. As long as you can survive the playoff line, MLS likes the fact that parity will create an equal opportunity for everyone. Garber was presented with an opportunity to explain how to reward say the Supporter's Shield winner, but he dodged the issue with ambiguities.
Increasing the number of playoff teams is a bit premature. A double-digit playoff picture would be more appropriate when MLS reaches 20-plus organizations.
Neither goal was produced during the run of play, but the Chicago Fire will certainly take a 2-2 draw against the host Colorado Rapids on Saturday in Major League Soccer action at Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.
The game's front line starters each had a goal -- Collins John and Brian McBride for the Fire, and Omar Cummings and Conor Casey for the Rapids. John's first goal in a Fire uniform came in the 25th minute off of Marco Pappa's corner kick, and McBride's second-half penalty kick tied the score at 2-2 in the 51st minute.
The Fire improved to 1-1-0 and now prepare for their home opener April 10 against the San Jose Earthquakes at Toyota Park in Bridgeview. Three of the Fire's next four games are at home.
On Saturday, Chicago played without defender Wilman Conde at center back, who was questionable for the game already because of a foot contusion. That meant another Fire youngster stepping into the fold early in rookie defender Kwame Watson-Siriboe.
"It's a very hard place to play," Watson-Siriboe said of the high altitude at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. "Plus they have two fantastic players in Conor Casey and Omar Cummings. Cummings is very quick and very fast, and I had to adapt to it. The first 20 minutes in the first half, it wasn't good. But the second half we did a lot better."
The Rapids had the upper hand early on when Cummings found plenty of space to hammer home a 13th-minute goal from long range past Fire goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra. Though Cummings' strike was top-notch, the Fire midfield and defense gave Cummings too much room to work with.
"I would say it was more of still learning how to play with each other, learning how to close the space and learn to push up as one," Watson-Siriboe said. "As time goes on, we will be more cohesive."
But in the 25th, the Fire responded. Pappa's corner kick was a perfect placement, with John notching the header to tie the score at 1-1. Pappa pinpointed the best part of the Fire attack because McBride was also lurking in the area, and only one Rapids defender was in the vicinity.
Colorado regained the lead when Pappa made a poor defensive decision and was called for a foul on the Rapids' Colin Clark in the box. Casey easily converted the PK when he placed the ball in the opposite direction of Dykstra's dive, giving the Rapids a 2-1 lead in the 41st minute.
The tables turned in the second half when Rapids defender Marvell Wynne fouled the Fire's Patrick Nyarko in the box. McBride netted the game-tying goal and Chicago held on the rest of the way.
Proper spacing on the field and strong run of play go hand-in-hand. The Fire looked like they fell shorter in both areas during this match compared to their 1-0 season-opening loss to the Red Bulls. The final score just didn't mirror this fact.
Chicago capitalized on its two scoring moments off of the corner and PK. But the Fire's attack was lackluster at best.
At times this looked like the Fire team of last season in that several stretches included playing some unncessary long ball, back and forth with the Rapids. Neither team appeared to be a tenacious offensive threat, and toward the end it was apparent that the Fire were willing to hold on tight for the road draw.
The Fire missed Conde in this match, both on the defensive end and in transition to muster some offense.
Next weekend's home environment will be a welcome boost to this team when it hosts San Jose. Hopefully for the Fire's sake, 2010's home slate will turn around from last year's 5-4-6 showing.
Since moving to Dick's Sporting Goods Park, the Rapids are 3-0-0 in their home openers. The Fire also hope to continue turning around their harsh road record against Colorado -- just three wins in 15 matches.
"For us, it's always a challenge. I know the record," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "We need to prepare well and go to Colorado and change the history so we can return home with a good result."
Saturday should be an interesting clash between the teams' front lines. The Rapids (1-0-0) typically fall into the conversation of having one of the best forward combinations in MLS with Omar Cummings and Conor Casey, who earned some playing time with the U.S. Men's National Team and posted some clutch goals for Colorado last year.
Cummings was practically a one-man show during the last Fire-Rapids match, scoring two goals on Aug. 23, 2009, before the Fire netted three second-half goals for a 3-2 victory at Toyota Park.
Brian McBride and Collins John could team up at the start of Saturday's match for the Fire (0-1-0). The former Fulham forwards only played together for a portion of last week's loss to the Red Bulls before Justin Mapp was subbed in for McBride. Patrick Nyarko started the match up front instead of John against New York.
The Rapids changed up their midfield and defensive line a bit heading into this season. One recent switch came shortly before Colorado's 1-0 victory over host Chivas USA. Colorado acquired defender Marvell Wynne, who moved from his typical outside back slot to center back for the Rapids.
Colorado typically enjoys the home-field advantage, as the team clearly showed in 2009 with an 8-2-5 record and a 25-10 scoring advantage at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. But the Fire handed the Rapids one of those defeats, posting enough Fourth of July fireworks to hold on for a 2-1 victory.
Prediction: Chicago Fire 2, Colorado Rapids 2