Chicago Fire: D.C. United
The draw gave D.C. second place in the Eastern Conference.
United (17-10-7) went 5-0-2 in its last seven matches to finish with 58 points, one more than New York and Chicago (17-11-6). New York finished third, ahead of fourth-place Chicago, on a tiebreaker.
With New York beating Philadelphia earlier in the day, the Fire needed to beat D.C. to avoid playing in the first-round one-game elimination round.
Instead, Chicago will host fifth-place Houston in that game. It will be played either Wednesday or Thursday. The winner plays Eastern Conference champion Kansas City in the second round.
Pajoy beat Sean Johnson with a diving header in the 50th minute.
Pajoy's eighth goal of the season, and third since joining United from Philadelphia, was one of D.C.'s few good chances. United was held to two shots on goal in the first half and five for the game, including a carom by Pajoy in the 70th minute that Johnson cleared off the line.
Chicago took nine shots on goal, but only forward Patrick Nyarko beat Hamid. He right-footed a 24-yard shot low to Hamid's left side in the 16th minute for his fourth goal of the year.
Every opportunity after that, the Fire either misfired or squandered. In the last 25 minutes, Dominic Oduro, Serjill MacDonald and Jalil Anibama all had close-in opportunities that were either saved by Hamid, hit the post, flew over the crossbar, or, in the case of Oduro's last shot, were blocked by midfielder Nick DeLeon. Hamid's eight saves matched his season high.
The first item on the Chicago Fire's wish list came true when the Portland Timbers played D.C. United to a 1-1 draw on Wednesday at RFK Stadium.
A Portland victory would have eliminated the Fire from postseason contention, and the Timbers (11-14-8, 41 points) had a 1-0 lead against United thanks to Kenny Cooper's 24th-minute goal. But league scoring leader Dwayne De Rosario of D.C. evened things up in the 73rd minute. Despite a frantic finish, neither side scored another goal down the stretch.
The Fire (8-9-16, 40 points) now have to hope for a loss by the New York Red Bulls (9-8-16, 43 points) when they host the Philadelphia Union on Thursday at Red Bull Arena (7 p.m., ESPN2). If New York posts a win or a draw, Chicago officially will be eliminated from the playoff picture.
The Fire also need New York to lose by a considerable margin. The Red Bulls have the goal differential tiebreaker advantage over the Fire, sitting at plus-five. Chicago is even.
The elements were not in the Chicago Fire's favor.
They had three suspended starters. They were playing on the road. They were playing down a goal heading into stoppage time. And anything less than a win would have officially spelled the end to Chicago's small, but lingering, playoff hopes.
Fire midfielder Sebastian Grazzini tallied an equalizer and second-half sub Diego Chaves netted the winner three minutes into stoppage time as Chicago posted a miraculous 2-1 come-from-behind victory over D.C. United on Saturday at RFK Stadium.
"It was an incredible five minutes, first for D.C. and then finally for us," Chaves said. "It was really, really intense."
Chaves' goal was his first since April 23, when the Fire played to a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo. Chaves tallied four goals in the Fire's first six games to lead the team at the time, but he got out of his scoring funk at the right time as defender Gonzalo Segares assisted the game-winner.
"He was at the right place at the right time, and I'm glad he was there," Segares said of Chaves. "He's been working hard for a long time and I'm just happy that he got that goal. I'm sure that's going to motivate him."
With the victory, the Fire (8-9-16, 40 points) move to within three points of the New York Red Bulls in their fight for the final wild card spot. New York (9-8-16, 43 points) kept Chicago in the postseason picture when it fell to host Sporting Kansas City, 2-0, earlier on Saturday.
The playoffs still are a hefty task for the Fire as they need more elements to fall into place next week.
The Fire need the Red Bulls to also lose their final game of the season on Thursday when New York faces the Philadelphia Union (7 p.m., ESPN2). Chicago needs to win next Saturday's home finale against the Columbus Crew at Toyota Park. The Fire need the Portland Timbers and D.C. to earn minimal points during their final two games -- preferably a draw when Portland and D.C. face each other next Wednesday. And to top it all off, the Fire need to make up a five-goal differential with the Red Bulls (Chicago is even and New York is plus-five).
During Saturday's game-winning sequence, Segares timed his run perfectly to where he was even with D.C.'s back line when he received Orr Barouch's pass. Segares crossed the ball in from the left side and Chaves converged for the winner.
"I was worried about [being offside]," Segares said. "Orr's pass, I started screaming at him and it took a little bit longer. I took a glimpse and saw the linesman didn't have his flag raised, so I knew I was going to be able to get to the ball. I knew the ball was going to slow down and that I could catch up with it. After that, my only thought was to get the cross in."
D.C. looked like it minimally had a draw wrapped up. And then in the 89th minute, things turned toward United's favor when Santina Quaranta was fouled in the box by Segares. League scoring leader Dwayne De Rosario took the subsequent penalty kick in the 90th minute and gave D.C. a 1-0 lead. De Rosario shot toward the left side of the goal while Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson guess the opposite direction.
However, Grazzini pulled the Fire level one minute into stoppage time. Segares also assisted Grazzini's tally as the shot was struck toward the upper left corner of the goal.
The Fire entered the match with plenty of setbacks. Midfielder Pavel Pardo was serving a red card suspension after he was ejected during Chicago's 2-1 loss to FC Dallas on Wednesday. Right back Dan Gargan and center back Cory Gibbs also missed the D.C. match because of yellow card accumulation.
Michael Videira filled in for Gargan on Saturday, but he had to leave the match in the 19th minute because of a groin injury. Fire center back Josip Mikulic replaced the suspended Gibbs, but he picked up a yellow card and will be suspended for next Saturday's match against Columbus (yellow card accumulation).
Analysis: One thing is for certain -- Chicago is not going to go away as long as this miniscule postseason hope hangs around.
The final minutes of Saturday's match were almost unthinkable, but the Fire pulled off the comeback to make the upcoming week pertinent in their schedule.
People had every right to question when Chicago would make its desperate last-minute push against D.C. While the Fire did create some pretty good scoring opportunities, particularly in the first half, there just was not that swarm-the-goal burst in the final 10 to 15 minutes of regulation.
Segares said that the Fire were exhausted with about 15 minutes left. Chicago found just enough of a burst in stoppage time to force the boo birds to start chirping at RFK.
A postseason still is a long way off for Chicago considering the number of factors involved, but this team showed a tremendous amount of fight at D.C.
But the Fire (7-9-16, 37 points) will be dramatically shorthanded when they face Eastern Conference foe D.C. United on Saturday at RFK Stadium.
Defenders Dan Gargan and Cory Gibbs are suspended because of yellow card accumulation, and midfielder Pavel Pardo is out because of a straight red card from Wednesday's 2-1 home loss to FC Dallas.
"We have to finish strong," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "Every time we have an opportunity to step on the field and train or play, it's all about improving as a team. We don't believe in excuses."
"We need to regroup and go over there in D.C. and look for the win," Fire defender Gonzalo Segares said. "[The Dallas loss is] definitely a big blow for us. We've been pushing really hard these past couple of months during the late run and it got us pretty close to being in the position in which we could have been fighting for the playoffs. But with the result [Wednesday], it's just really tough to swallow. We've got two more games to play and like every other game we've got to go out there and get a win."
Segares felt that the heavy dose of cards from that match was the result of last-second frustration in trying to disrupt a superior Dallas side.
"A lot of them were when [Dallas] was on the counter and somehow we had to stop the play," Segares said. "At the beginning of the game, that's how they got many chances. Sometimes you've got to stop those breakaways. Because so many guys got cards, it's definitely going to hurt us -- Gargan, Cory and Pavel with the red card. But we have guys who can step into the starting lineup and help us in the last couple of games."
The Fire have had their share of defensive suspensions already this season, but they have some options to make due in D.C. Segares will remain at left back, Jalil Anibaba could shift to right back, and Klopas might turn to a center back pairing of Josip Mikulic and Yamith Cuesta.
Pardo's absence in the midfield will be a crucial setback as he arguably has been the team's most valuable player during his short tenure. Fire midfielder Marco Pappa will return from international duty with Guatemala.
Several weeks ago it appeared that D.C. (9-11-11, 38 points) would work itself into the playoff picture, thanks mostly because of Dwayne De Rosario's heavy scoring dose. But United is now in the midst of a three-game losing streak, most recently posting a 2-1 loss to the Vancouver Whitecaps on Wednesday.
United does have three home matches left on the docket. But with a five-point deficit from the bottom of the wild card field, D.C.'s quest for a postseason has quickly faded.
The Fire played D.C. to a 1-1 draw on Aug. 18 at Toyota Park. Sebastian Grazzini had a 59th-minute goal for a 1-0 lead, but D.C.'s Josh Wolff found the equalizer in the 73rd minute.
The Fire established an MLS record with their 15th draw of the season, surpassing the previous mark of 14 draws set by FC Dallas last season.
"It's not a record we're proud of," Fire defender Gonzalo Segares said. "We've had plenty of chances to win those games and be in a different position."
Fire midfielder Sebastian Grazzini gave Chicago a 1-0 lead in the 59th minute. But D.C.'s Josh Wolff netted an equalizer in the 73rd minute as the Fire tried to push up to get Wolff in an offside position.
Replays showed that Wolff was in fact offside, and Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas was not hesitant to point that out following the match.
"Unfortunately it comes down to an offside goal that the referees missed to tie the game," Klopas said. "... It's frustrating sometimes when you put so much into it. I've never said anything about the refs on a call like this that's been missed. It's disappointing."
The Fire dominated pretty much every phase of the match. Chicago in fact held D.C. without a shot attempt until Dwayne De Rosario's shot attempt in the 57th minute. The Fire had a 14-6 shots advantage and a 7-1 shots on goal advantage. Wolff's goal was United's only shot on goal.
Despite Grazzini's goal and his strong play on the pitch, Klopas took him out in the 72nd minute and inserted Daniel Paladini, who has not scored a goal this season. Klopas said he made that move because Grazzini was tiring.
"I wanted to push him more today, but he couldn't go," Klopas said. "He told me that he needed to come out."
However, Grazzini expressed a different sentiment afterward, stating that Klopas wanted him to rest up for Toronto FC this Sunday.
"Game after game I'm feeling better," Grazzini said. "I'm getting back in rhythm and I think I did better tonight, and the coach had told me he would take me out so I'll be available for the next match."
With the match even in the 86th minute, Klopas made two more subs, putting Orr Barouch in for Patrick Nyarko and Diego Chaves for Marco Pappa. Nyarko particularly had a strong match and created regular chances, and he was surprised that he did not go the whole way.
"I wanted to play through," Nyarko said. "Once the first 20 minutes passed in the second half, I thought I was going to go the full way. When I was being substituted, I didn't even realize it. I didn't think I was coming off. Logan [Pause] kept yelling at me to run [off the field]."
The major setback for Chicago was scoring leader Dominic Oduro, who had four strong chances to garner a goal -- three high-percentage opportunities in the first half, including a 14th-minute shot that hit the right post.
"I'm not really happy right now," Oduro said. "Those are chances that I should have put away. It's just an unfortunate part of the game. It happens. I just have to keep my head up. I should have done better."
Analysis: The missed opportunities are nothing new. Chicago has been doing this all season. What was surprising was the revelation that Grazzini was purposely being rested for Toronto.
For what purpose does that serve? The Fire's season is on the brink and they need maximum points the rest of the way.
It is clear-cut to everyone watching this Fire team -- Grazzini needs to be out there for a full-game contribution, or awfully close to a full match. The Fire do not have a midfielder who matches his repertoire.
Even if Klopas stands by his claim that Grazzini was tiring, wouldn't a Grazzini at 60 percent be more valuable than some of his other bench options?
Klopas' use of player personnel in this match was confusing, only adding to the frustration and struggles of this 2011 campaign.
The Fire play their next four games -- three in MLS action -- at Toyota Park, beginning with D.C. United on Thursday (8 p.m., ESPN2).
"We want to be at home to put some wins in a row," Fire defender Gonzalo Segares said. "We're still alive."
The playoffs would be a miraculous thought at this point for the Fire (2-7-14, 20 points), who are sitting in last place in the Eastern Conference and need to post multiple wins on this homestand just to make a minimal climb in the standings.
Chicago has been king of the draw this year, matching an MLS record with their 14th draw against the New York Red Bulls last week.
"It seems we can't escape that part," Segares said. "It's all the time. It's sickening. We have the same amount of losses as [East-leading] Columbus, but the difference is the amount of ties that could have been wins."
The Fire are coming off a 2-2 draw against the New York Red Bulls. Chicago had a 2-1 lead, but Patrick Nyarko had to come out of the match early in the second half with a migraine. The match changed from then on out, but the Fire had a positive stretch through much of the first half, netting back-to-back goals.
Nyarko's pairing with Dominic Oduro up top was a positive, with Nyarko assisting Oduro's team-leading seventh goal. The Fire might roll with that setup again against D.C.
"With their speed and Patrick's ability to dribble through guys, it helps us to get pressure off the defense," Segares said. "In the first half we were pretty compact defensively. We also had them on their heels for a couple of chances. It was a tough loss."
The Fire defense welcomes back Cory Gibbs, who had been out with a groin injury. The center back was injured in the opening minutes of a 1-1 draw against the Philadelphia Union on Aug. 3. In the two games without Gibbs in the lineup, Chicago gave up six goals -- four to the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps on Aug. 7.
It is unclear if Gibbs will immediately be thrust into the starting lineup again.
"With such a quick turnaround, the starters haven't done much," Segares said. "I think the past couple days [Gibbs] has been participating harder with the guys that have gone for the entire sessions. I wouldn't be surprised if he's on the [18-player roster]."
This is the first appearance between the two teams in league play. United (7-6-9, 30 points) topped the Fire in the preseason with a 1-0 victory in the Carolina Challenge Cup on March 9. Chicago fell behind within the first 10 minutes and had to play most of the match with 10 men because of Diego Chaves' red card ejection in the 37th minute.
D.C. has found some good form over the past two months, posting a 3-1-5 record in MLS action since mid-June and recently coming off a 4-0 win over Vancouver on Saturday. Midfielder Chris Pontius netted two goals and was named MLS Player of the Week. Teammate Dwayne De Rosario earned the previous two weekly honors as D.C.
De Rosario has been with three teams this season, and D.C. has benefited mightily since his arrival on June 27. De Rosario has six goals and three assists in seven games for United, while posting three goals and five assists in his other 15 games split between Toronto FC and New York. Charlie Davies has eight goals and Pontius has contributed seven for D.C. this season.
"It's going to be as tough as New York," Segares said. "We tried to limit [New York's Thierry] Henry, and we've got to do the same with De Rosario. He's the ring leader and they feed off of him. We have to close him out, and after that, every single line is good. They have a lot of speed and they like to go on the counter."
Pappa says Twente move is 'rumor': Dutch publication De Telegraaf reported earlier this week that FC Twente is interested in Pappa, with a reported offer of $2.1 million to attain his rights. But the 23-year-old Guatemalan dismissed the report on Wednesday.
"It's just a rumor," Pappa said to MLSSoccer.com. "I still have a contract with MLS for one more year."
A source familiar with the situation told ESPNChicago.com that the Fire organization has not had any formal discussions with FC Twente.
Pappa has had a difficult stretch of late, sitting on five goals since June 26. He also has two assists in 19 games.
In the Week 5 ESPNSoccernet.com MLS Power Rankings, the Chicago Fire went up a couple spots to 12th, following their 2-0 road victory on Saturday at D.C. United.
Back in the day, a road win at RFK Stadium would have deserved far more praise than the two-point swing given to the Fire (1-2-1). But United is out of sync. Just look at D.C.'s 0-4-0 record and 11-2 scoring deficit this season to get the whole story. United continues to sit in 16th place in the power rankings, and it would be shocking to see them out of that position anytime soon.
In an unusual sight Saturday, Arlington Heights native and target forward Brian McBride came off the bench. But when he entered the match in the 75th minute, he put in a full game's worth of contributions with an assist and the Fire's second goal.
Heading into the season, it was expected that McBride and Collins John would be the go-to guys up top in every starting lineup, with Patrick Nyarko either being the odd man out or falling back into the midfield.
The latter happened with Nyarko becoming a mainstay in the lineup thus far, and he should be considering the form that he is in at the moment. But Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos threw us another look at the roster that we were not anticipating. Utilizing McBride as a high-profile sub paid off.
"It's unfortunate that [the offense] is forming right now instead of coming together in the preseason," Nyarko said. "It's developing. We're creating chances. We just need to be focused on finishing those chances."
The Fire moved past the winless talk surrounding their first few matches. They have a pretty strong test against the visiting Houston Dynamo this Saturday.
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Don't let your eyes fool you when looking at the current MLS standings. The Chicago Fire and D.C. United are at the bottom of the totem pole several games into the season. Not something you typically would expect from these two historic Eastern Conference foes.
But that is the unusual allure building up for Saturday's game, when the Fire travel to D.C. to take on United at RFK Stadium (6:30 p.m. CT kickoff).
"We saw the [D.C. United versus Philadelphia Union] game before we went out to play on Saturday [against San Jose], and after the game, that's exactly what came to my mind -- D.C. and Chicago, down at the bottom," Fire forward/midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "We're three games into this, so there is no need to panic. We're going to come out strong and hopefully end up on top."
Of the two, the Fire (0-2-1) at least have a draw to show for their efforts, and one little swing in any of their previous matches could have changed the outcome on a more positive note. D.C. (0-3-0), on the other hand, went scoreless in its first two matches and fell to the expansion Union, 3-2, last week.
"We know they are struggling to get wins just like we are," Nyarko said. "It's going to be a tough matchup, obviously. They're playing at home. They need some points. We need some points. It sets up a great matchup. We're going for the win -- we're not going to lay down at all."
Chicago's defense has had some lapses, but United's defense has given up a league-high nine goals and will be shorthanded with Dejan Jakovic serving a suspension and Juan Manuel Pena out with a hamstring injury.
The Fire are playing better soccer than United right now, even if Chicago's record does not look glamorous on paper. D.C. already has garnered a few references to last season's five-victory New York Red Bulls, and until the team shows any sign of getting out of its funk, the edge has to go to the Fire. Even with the daunting task of trying to win at RFK.