Chicago Fire: Patrick Nyarko
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Defender Joaquin Velazquez and striker Juan Agudelo scored midway through the second half to lead Chivas USA to a 4-1 victory over the Chicago Fire on Sunday.
Velazquez gave Chivas (2-1-1) a 2-1 lead on a header in the 73rd minute. He directed midfielder Edgar Mejia's long cross from the left side past goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi before Chicago's defenders could react.
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.
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Patrick Nyarko scored in the opening minute and Daniel Paladini had a goal in the 19th to lead the Chicago Fire to a 3-1 victory against the Houston Dynamo on Sunday night.
Alex scored in second-half stoppage time to seal the win as the Fire (13-8-5) moved two points ahead of the Dynamo for third place in the Eastern Conference.
Brian Ching scored in the 90th minute for Houston (11-7-9), using his left knee to deflect Brad Davis' corner kick into the net. The late goal spoiled Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson's bid for a fifth shutout of the season. Johnson finished with five saves, including a difficult stop on Je-Vaughn Watson a minute earlier.
Nyarko picked off a pass intended for Dynamo defender Jermaine Taylor, ran 40 yards, and beat goalkeeper Tally Hall 50 seconds into the match. It was the second-fastest score of the year for Chicago. Dominic Oruro scored 25 seconds in against Toronto on April 21.
Houston forward Macoumba Kandji nearly scored on a Chicago defensive miscue in the 13th minute, but caromed the ball into the net with his right shoulder and was called for a hand-ball violation.
Paladini made it 2-0 when his right ankle deflected Sherjill MacDonald's pass behind Hall from seven yards out six minutes later.
Alex got his first goal for the Fire on a 20-yard lob shot off the right post into the net about 3 minutes into stoppage time.
The Fire, who posted a 9-9-16 record and put together a winning record in the final third of the season, anticipate that a bulk of this year's team will be retained for next season. That would be a big change of pace considering how hectic the player movement was after the 2010 campaign.
"We did a lot of that last year," Klopas said of the previous personnel changes. "Obviously we have to look to get better. With the expansion draft (Nov. 23, Montreal Impact) there's a possibility that you might lose a player there. Like any team you're looking to get better. I think we feel very good with the base that we have. Now we've got to continue to build on that, and that's the important thing."
Klopas spent much of Thursday's post-training fielding questions regarding whether key players within the 2011 roster will definitely be back next season.
As of now, midfielder Marco Pappa is under contract through the 2012 season, and midfielder Sebastian Grazzini's one-year contract goes through July of next year. The same tone remains with midfielder Pavel Pardo, who wants to return and the organization wants to see return. But an extension is not set at the moment.
Klopas said that Ghanaian forwards Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro were set with the team for the 2012 season, though the players have not echoed that sentiment.
"It will be up to management to see if I'm coming back or not," Oduro said on Thursday.
"I have another team option for next year that hasn't been picked up," Nyarko said last week. "They have to let me know by Dec. 1, so I'll wait on that."
So there clearly is plenty of work needed in solidifying the pieces for next year, but the overall feeling among the organization is that it wants the core group intact.
"I would love it if management keeps the team because as you saw in the last 10 games we had a great record," Oduro said. "We lost only two games out of those 10, which is pretty impressive. We had it together. So it would be nice to have everybody back. At the same time, you always need one or two players to fill in some gaps, and I think we should be fine."
Reports have recently surfaced regarding the possibility of goalkeeper Sean Johnson going on a trial with Manchester United and forward Orr Barouch heading to Maccabi Haifa (Israeli Premier League). While Klopas did not confirm the validity of those potential moves happening, he does anticipate Fire players in the future training elsewhere to maintain an active offseason.
"In the future, we're going to be doing more things like this because we do have relationships now with other clubs," Klopas said. "With some of the players I think it's important for their growth to be in an environment where they continue to train. We'll be looking to do more things like that with some of our players who want to, because it is a long break."
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Chicago Fire midfielder Sebastian Grazzini's hamstring problems continue to persist. Heading into the Fire's home finale against the Columbus Crew on Saturday at Toyota Park, Grazzini's status could change day by day.
Grazzini netted a stoppage-time equalizer during the Fire's dramatic 2-1 come-from-behind win over D.C. United on Saturday. But on Wednesday he cut his training short because of the left hamstring injury that has plagued him off and on for nearly a month.
"He was out here earlier running, jogging, but when he tries to open up a little bit, he still feels it," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said following Wednesday's training. "We'll see how he feels. He's day-to-day."
The Fire are in wait-and-see mode regarding the importance of Saturday's match, which will include a sold-out fan base at Toyota Park. Three other teams are involved in the hunt for the last remaining wild card spot, though the odds of Chicago sneaking in are incredibly small. The New York Red Bulls currently hold the final postseason position with 43 points, and the Fire need them to lose Thursday's match to the Philadelphia Union, among many other factors.
"Obviously we're going to watch and see what happens," Klopas said. "But what I talked about with the group is just the things that we can control. It's great if some things go our way. The most important thing is our focus on Saturday, making sure we finish the season strong."
The Fire are coming off a victory over D.C. that seemed improbable after Dwayne De Rosario's penalty kick in the 90th minute. Grazzini's equalizer and Diego Chaves' winner created a moment that still is buzzing among the Fire locker room.
"I've never been in games like that, ever," Klopas said. "It's great when you're at the end of something like that because there's so much for team spirit, for morale, for the guys who put so much into it. The game's never over until the final whistle. It's great when you're on the winning side of that."
"We were absolutely in shock," Fire forward Patrick Nyarko said. "I didn't know what the hell was going on those last couple of minutes, but it shows the character of this team. We didn't keep our heads down. We just kept fighting till the end. It was one of the most incredible games and comebacks I've been a part of, and it was amazing to be on that side and not on the other side."
Kinney undergoes surgery: Fire right back Steven Kinney underwent sports hernia surgery on Wednesday. Though Kinney had performed some light training in recent months, the team was not expecting him to return for the end of the season. Kinney has not played in an MLS game in the past year, rupturing his right Achilles tendon on Oct. 23, 2010, against Chivas USA. He had surgery in the offseason, but then a groin strain set Kinney back during his return.
Expansion draft on Nov. 23: Major League Soccer announced Wednesday that it is holding the 2012 MLS Expansion Draft on Nov. 23 of this year. The league's 19th team, the Montreal Impact, will select 10 players during the 10-round draft. Former Fire midfielder Jesse Marsch is the Impact's head coach.
Grazzini, who injured his hamstring during the first half of Chicago's 3-2 win over the New England Revolution, is expected to miss Wednesday's match at Real Salt Lake.
The midseason acquisition had a goal and an assist before his departure. Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas told MLSSoccer.com this week that Grazzini would not play against Salt Lake, which is coming off its worst loss of the season, a 4-1 defeat at D.C. United. Grazzini is listed as questionable on the MLS Injury Report.
Klopas likely will return to Baggio Husidic in the midfield for the Fire (6-8-15, 33 points). Husidic replaced Grazzini during Sunday's win over the Revs, and it will be a tough task to match Grazzini's skill set and activity.
"Baggio came in and my message to him was he's got to get the ball and make those passes like Sebastian," Klopas said. "At first he was looking to get behind more and left a little bit of a gap."
Fire defender Cory Gibbs will return from his one-game suspension. For the first time since Chicago's Aug. 27 win over the Colorado Rapids, the Fire will have all of their available defensive options.
On offense, Chicago has tallied five goals and benefited from an own goal in its past two matches against Chivas USA and New England. And for the first time this season with the Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko pairing up front, each forward netted a goal against New England. Oduro's rolling right along with a team-high 11 goals, and for Nyarko it was his first of the season.
Everyone already is familiar with Nyarko's ability to set up players, as evidenced by his team-leading seven assists. But Klopas wants to see Nyarko become more proactive in attacking the goal.
"I've told him at times that he needs to be more selfish, especially now that he's playing on top," Klopas said. "When he gets opportunities as a forward, he's always looking to make that pass. But sometimes he needs to be selfish and finish plays off himself. I was happy for him. Whether he gets assists or getting a goal, that's great for his confidence."
"As a striker you've got to do that," Nyarko said. "But that's not my personality. That's not how I play. I look to play, I look to find people -- the easiest spot to get us a goal and to help the team win. Maybe sometimes I could be [more selfish], but I don't look at it from that standpoint. Especially like I missed a goal [Sunday] that I could have passed to Dom. But I think he was offside. If he wasn't, I would have passed it. That's my game. That's unselfish."
RSL's offense is lead by Alvaro Saborio, who has 10 goals and has scored in Salt Lake's past two matches.
Salt Lake (15-8-6, 51 points) has stamped a playoff spot, and it will take a dominating run and a Los Angeles Galaxy collapse for RSL to think about earning the Supporters' Shield. The Galaxy has a 10-point lead on Salt Lake and a seven-point lead on Seattle Sounders FC.
The pressure is all on the Fire this Wednesday. Chicago sits six points behind the New York Red Bulls who own the final wild card spot at the moment.
The Fire and Salt Lake played to a scoreless draw on June 22 at Toyota Park.
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire made an early push on the offensive end, and they needed every goal to overcome a late lapse on the defensive end against the New England Revolution on Sunday. Chicago tallied three first-half goals and edged the Revs, 3-2, in front of 14,576 at Toyota Park.
Fire midfielder Sebastian Grazzini had a goal and an assist before leaving the match in the 25th minute because of left hamstring tightness. Dominic Oduro netted his team-leading 11th goal, and Patrick Nyarko's first goal of the season proved to be the game-winner as the Fire took a 3-0 lead into halftime.
It was a much needed victory for Chicago in order to stay within reach of the bottom of the wild card pack. The New York Red Bulls moved back into the final wild card position on Saturday with 39 points after posting a 2-0 win over the Portland Timbers.
"There was a lot on the line -- do or die, I think, for both clubs," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "We came out and we had a very good start to the game."
The Fire (6-8-15, 33 points) still have to make up a six-point deficit over five games, and they will not have much time to rest as they travel to Rio Tinto Stadium to take on Real Salt Lake. As for the Revs (5-13-12, 27 points), their hopes for the postseason have just about faded, though the last-place Eastern Conference squad has not mathematically been eliminated just yet.
Grazzini was having a strong match with a goal and an assist. But he was replaced by Baggio Husidic after he hurt his hamstring.
"I just got a little stiff," Grazzini said. "The same as the [Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup] game against Richmond. I feel all right, but I'm going to try to work hard to get back as soon as possible."
It is hard to say if Grazzini can make a quick enough recovery in time for the Fire's Wednesday match at Real Salt Lake.
"I'm not sure because I haven't been looked at by the doctors yet," Grazzini said through a translator. "But hopefully [Monday] we'll be able to get that taken care of, and then hopefully be back by Wednesday because I would like to play."
"I don't know the extent or how serious the pull is," Klopas said. "But we'll have to see how he feels [Monday]."
On Sunday, Grazzini netted a penalty-kick goal in the fifth minute for a 1-0 lead. The Fire earned the opportunity after Revs goalkeeper Matt Reis tripped up Nyarko in the fourth minute. Grazzini then assisted an Oduro goal in the ninth minute for a 2-0 advantage. Grazzini had a couple of chances to slot the ball to Oduro as the Revs' defense broke down in tracking Oduro.
Nyarko then got into the scoring column in the 30th minute with an open-net goal after Reis made a poor attempt to clear the ball with his foot. That gave the Fire a 3-0 halftime lead for the first time at home since a 4-0 victory over the Revs on April 3, 2008.
The Fire maintained their three-goal cushion for most of the second half, but Revs midfielder Ryan Guy tallied an unassisted score in the 90th minute, followed by his second goal a couple minutes into stoppage time.
"We're kicking ourselves a little bit because we made it a little tougher on ourselves at the end," Nyarko said. "But it's a win. We set the tone early and we got ahead early. That was the key in this game. We still had a couple of chances to put the game away, but that's how it goes."
Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson actually was tested pretty regularly, but he had a beat on most of New England's scoring chances, coming up with a game-high eight saves. His counterpart, Reis, made three saves.
Analysis: The Fire will take the closing minutes to heart, but this match clearly was in Chicago's control. Chicago had its most productive first half of the season, while the Revs looked every bit like a non-playoff team that they are about to become.
The Fire should be concerned that Grazzini has not had a healthy stretch with the Fire. While Husidic did not have a poor performance on Sunday off the bench, it is not even fair to compare him against what Grazzini brings to the pitch with his control and the ability to create scoring opportunities.
Klopas smartly gave Oduro and Nyarko some rest in the second half in gearing up for Salt Lake this Wednesday. RSL will be eager to erase its horrific 4-1 loss to D.C. United over the weekend.
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire could not have drawn up a better start. The only question was whether Chicago could finish, especially playing down a man.
In an up-and-down match that included a two-goal lead followed by a level second half, the Fire's Dominic Oduro came to the rescue with a shorthanded, game-winning goal in the 85th minute to lead Chicago to a 3-2 victory over Chivas USA on Saturday in front of 15,246 at Toyota Park.
"These are the kinds of games that are very exciting, for sure," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "Memorable ones, things you can build on. You kind of feel that in the past, maybe the team would not have found a way to pull this one out."
The Fire had to play much of the match down a man when defender Cory Gibbs was issued a red card for fouling Chivas' Michael Lahoud in the 37th minute.
Chicago blew a two-goal lead for the first time this season. But the Fire found an opportunity to garner their third win in four league games when Oduro finished a strong buildup from Diego Chaves and Patrick Nyarko, who had the set-up pass from the left.
"I looked at first and saw that Dom was wide open," Nyarko said. "I had the other option of shooting, which the goal was a clear chance enough. But I made the easy play. Dom was wide open and he was onside. I laid the ball and he made it for an easy finish."
As for Gibbs' questionable red card, replays showed that the amount of contact looked like it was far less than Lahoud's body language showed during the live run of play.
"It was a hard tackle," Gibbs said. "Would I have given a red? No. Definitely, probably a yellow. But that's the referee's discretion. It was just unprofessional of me at the time, and I hold responsibility for it. The call was made and it was a red. At the end of the day, I hold responsibility for the situation we were put into."
"I know he went hard -- maybe the studs were up," Klopas said. "But I didn't see something different than the one that Patrick was down [in the seventh minute against Chivas defender Michael] Lahoud, because the studs were up on that one, too. I thought it was a little bit harsh, the red, for sure. I thought it was maybe a yellow. But I'd have to see it. I haven't seen the play."
Gibbs will now have to serve a one-game suspension when the Fire host the New England Revolution on Sept. 25 at Toyota Park. On Saturday, Gibbs' provided a strong start for Chicago, heading home a Sebastian Grazzini corner kick in just the second minute for an early 1-0 lead against Chivas.
The Fire then benefited from a Juan Pablo Angel own goal in the 26th to gain a 2-0 lead.
However, Chivas worked its way back into the match with Angel's 61st-minute tally and Nick LaBrocca's 63rd-minute score to tie the score at 2-2.
"I felt we gave up those two goals really easily," Nyarko said. "It was up to us to show our will there, to gut it out. We were just waiting, sitting, waiting for our opportunity to pounce. Luckily we got it toward the end of the game."
The Oduro goal gives him 10 on the season, and he is the first double-digit scorer for the Fire since Damani Ralph in 2004. The goal also gave Gibbs something to cheer about away from the pitch.
"Seeing Oduro score that goal, it almost pulled me out of the grave," Gibbs said. "I was really down on myself."
Analysis: Anything less than a win would have further dampened the Fire's faint playoff chances, but Chicago rose to the occasion on Saturday.
Though the defense did surrender a couple of goals, the back line and, of course, goalkeeper Sean Johnson have to be commended on this one. The back line had to shuffle things around with Gibbs' red, and Johnson continues to impress with some huge saves. He had Angel's number on more than a few occasions en route to six saves on the night.
The loss of Gibbs for New England will be a bit of a setback, but Chicago seems to have things covered when right back Dan Gargan returns from his one-game suspension.
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.
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson got his first competitive look at goalkeeper David de Gea during the Red Devils' 3-1 victory over the Chicago Fire on Saturday.
The Fire certainly tested the 20-year-old Spanish goalkeeper during their World Football Challenge match, tallying seven shots on goal and 21 shots in all.
De Gea made six saves and allowed the game's first goal from Fire defender Cory Gibbs in the 13th minute. After that, de Gea posted a clean sheet the rest of the way.
"I think that when he had to do something, he looked comfortable," Ferguson said. "He's technically very good, and that was impressive I thought. Always handling shots. They were all technically good. When they scored their first goal I thought maybe he could have come for it, but when I saw it again he had absolutely no chance. From that respect, he's done everything right."
De Gea had several key saves, but probably the biggest came near the end of the first half. Fire defender Gonzalo Segares created the attack on the left side and beat Gabriel Obertan to feed the ball to Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko in the middle. Nyarko tried to shoot toward the left side of the frame. But de Gea made a kick save to keep the match close at 1-0 heading into halftime.
"Gonzalo got it out wide and I thought he was going to cross it, but he just came straight to me," Nyarko said. "So I had to quickly react to it. I just touched it and hit it. De Gea made a great save. I thought it was going in. I wish it went in."
Overall, it was a satisfactory performance for the newcomer, who ultimately is expected to be the team's replacement for the retired Edwin van der Sar.
"He did well," Man U midfielder Ryan Giggs said. "His distribution is good. He's confident. Obviously he would have liked to have kept a clean sheet, but it wasn't meant to be today."
Between de Gea's language barrier and being thrust into the Man U spotlight, the Spanish goalkeeper has quite a bit on his plate to get into the flow of things.
"For me, I don't have a problem [communicating with him] because I speak Spanish, as well," Man U defender Patrice Evra said. "I sometimes translate what he says. But it's not easy for him to come to play for Man United."
The Ghanaian duo has followed Man U's brand of soccer since they were kids. And like tens of millions of other Red Devils fans, they have appreciated everything from afar. That changes when the Fire face the defending Premier League champs at 4 p.m. Saturday at Soldier Field (ESPN2) as part of the World Football Challenge.
"I've never been to Old Trafford," Oduro said. "I've only seen them on TV, but I've enjoyed it a lot. For me to be on the field with them, this is just going to be a dream come true. It's an amazing feeling. ... Hopefully I can score a goal against them."
"My family was in tune with the Premiership, and I picked Man United," Nyarko said. "I couldn't tell you why to this day. At some point I just picked them. Most of it was just the sake of argument at school, so we would talk about the passion of foreign teams in the EPL. I watch every single game that I can. They're an amazing team."
More than 50,000 folks will pack Soldier Field, wearing their choice of red-clad apparel. Nyarko and Oduro immediately latched on to the Red Devils' history, making for one of the most unique experiences in their soccer careers. Both players have the utmost admiration for Man U.
"When I was a kid I fell in love with David Beckham, Andy Cole and all of those guys," Oduro said. "Dwight Yorke from Trinidad and Tobago. It was all about United and nobody else. They always play hard and have a winning mentality."
"It's amazing how this team gets up and plays tremendous second halves," Nyarko said. "It's a standard -- a winning team, winning in the present."
Both players immediately reference the Red Devils' 1999 Champions League comeback against Bayern Munich as their standout Man U moment, which is a popular choice considering the Red Devils leveled and then took the lead in second-half stoppage time.
"They scored two goals within like two minutes to win the Champions League, and I remember watching that and shouting with joy at the end," Oduro said.
"That was an unbelievable season," Nyarko said. "I watched every game during that season. They went through tribulations and still came out on top. Everyone wrote them off during the final."
Man U's head coach has been "Sir" Alex Ferguson ever since that match, knighted shortly after that victory. For about a quarter of a century, the Glasgow, Scotland, native has set a precedent for his managerial position with the Red Devils.
"He is hungry and no matter whether he's starting to rebuild with new blood, he gets the job done," Nyarko said. "The discipline he instills in the game works to perfection."
The Fire duo now takes to the pitch against Wayne Rooney, Portuguese winger Nani and a good portion of the Red Devils' main weapons. After Saturday's match, Oduro and Nyarko already are mulling over which player they would like to exchange jerseys with.
"I'd love to trade with Rooney, [Nemanja] Vidic -- I know somebody who wants Vidic's," Oduro said. "Nani, too. One of those three would be an honor, but I'm going for Vidic."
"Ryan Giggs -- all day, any day," Nyarko said. "I could watch him over and over again. He's one of my favorite players ever in the game. He's a legend and a tremendous player. I love him to death. Hopefully he will see this!"
Premiership trophy on display: Man U's Premiership trophy is going to be on display at the Aon Center's south courtyard, 200 E. Randolph St., from 9 to 11 a.m. Friday. An appearance by a former Red Devils legend is scheduled for 10:15 a.m. that day. Aon Corporation is Man U's official shirt sponsor.
While Chicago has struggled in the scoring column, Oduro has netted four of his five goals over the Fire's past nine matches (Chicago only has seven goals during this stretch). Oduro is tied for the team scoring lead with midfielder Marco Pappa, and Oduro's goal total also equals a season high.
But there lies a dichotomy in that Oduro's scoring rate could -- or should -- be better. Oduro tallied Chicago's lone goal during a 1-1 road draw against Chivas USA last weekend. But Oduro created multiple chances during the first half where he could have added to the Fire's early lead.
"I will guarantee that I'm going to get chances and try as much as possible to get the ball on frame," Oduro said. "It's better for me to get the ball in the right spot, or hopefully for a rebound for one of our midfielders to get the ball into the net. I was beating myself up about that [after the Chivas game]."
Earlier this year, the Fire sent forward Calen Carr to the Houston Dynamo in exchange for the 25-year-old Oduro. Carr has missed the entire season with a concussion injury. Oduro, on the other hand, has increasingly become an effective presence in the offensive third.
"This team has been good to me," Oduro said. "I think I've literally found my mojo over here."
It certainly has been a different setting than Oduro's predecessor. Oduro opened the 2011 season in Houston, but his Dynamo tenure came to an abrupt halt after the team's home opener against the Philadelphia Union. It was during that 1-0 loss on March 19 when Oduro missed a gift of a scoring opportunity in the 68th minute -- a potential tap-in goal that sailed well over the crossbar.
Houston shipped Oduro to Chicago, and he has not looked back.
"It came to me as a surprise," Oduro said. "But that's history right now. Houston is in the past. Right now I'm with the Chicago Fire and that's what I want to concentrate on. I just want to help my team get to the next level."
Oduro's speed is uncanny, and he has worked tremendously hard to make that his weapon on the pitch. During his time with FC Dallas, Oduro trained with four-time Olympic gold medalist and U.S. sprinter Michael Johnson to fine-tune his stride.
So any MLS defense knows that it cannot completely shut down Oduro's opportunities. His quickness sooner or later will create some chances.
"My speed helps me out during the game, and I've been working on it," Oduro said. "It's a gift and a talent, and I just thank God for giving me that talent. I'm using it to my best abilities, as far as I know."
Now that Pappa has been back with the team following his Guatemalan national team duty during the CONCACAF Gold Cup, Oduro has moved out of the midfield and up front where he is more comfortable.
"He creates problems for any team when you play him on top," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "The threat is for him to get behind [the defense], but then with his pace, a team that doesn't play us high will give us a lot more room in the midfield where our players now have to find the game a lot more. He's a threat with his pace, and his work ethic is great. He makes very good runs. He's been a great addition."
"Playing up top is what I've been doing all my life," Oduro said. "I'm more comfortable up there. But I'll play anywhere on the field to help my team. That's my number one priority."
One natural fit for Oduro has been teaming up with fellow Ghanaian Patrick Nyarko. Nyarko, who led the Fire in assists last season with 10, made the transition to the midfield a couple seasons back. There is potential in this becoming a regularly effective playmaker-attacker tandem.
"We carpool together, so we talk all the time," Oduro said. "We talk on the field, off the field, when we're playing video games, during lunch. We have such a great understanding of when, where and how to play the ball. Patrick and I have a really good chemistry on the field."
As for Oduro's finishing, his misses tend to be amplified because he creates chances at close range. Like any attacking player, it is something that Oduro continues to refine.
"You work 100 mph and you have a split decision to make -- whether to put the ball on frame, whether to stop the ball and make a chip," Oduro said. "There's a whole lot of stuff going through your mind. But at the same time, you're just trying to run as fast as you can to try and beat that defender and get that ball in the net. Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes it doesn't.
"That's what I'm trying to work on," he said. "Practice makes perfect, and I believe I'm going to reap the results."
K.C. has spent its first 10 matches on the road, but Sporting finally get to play on the home front when they open Livestrong Sporting Park on Thursday against the Fire (9 p.m. kick-off, ESPN2). The new 18,500-capacity facility and the long-awaited home opener for K.C. certainly will create a festive atmosphere.
"It's a beautiful stadium and it's exciting, with a lot of energy," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said Wednesday following training. "From a mental standpoint, we've got to be ready from the start."
"If we step out there and play our game and deal with the pressures in the first 15 minutes, I think we can calm the crowd down and play soccer," Fire midfielder Corben Bone said. "It's going to be a great venue and I can't wait. It's going to be exciting. But I think we can use that to our advantage and get up for it ourselves, come out with a lot of energy and hopefully play good enough soccer where the fans are not going to matter really."
Chicago (1-4-7) is four points ahead of last-place Sporting (1-6-3) in the Eastern Conference standings. The Fire start a three-game road trip that also includes the Columbus Crew on Sunday and the New England Revolution on June 18.
The Fire's ongoing winless streak has reached 10 games (0-4-6), though Chicago is coming off a strong defensive effort during a scoreless draw against Seattle Sounders FC. Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson posted his first shutout of the season with three saves as he has reacquired the starting slot.
Defensive lapses had been a regular occurrence for much of the season, including Chicago's lone win over K.C. and especially during another stadium-opening match -- a 4-2 loss at the Portland Timbers' Jeld-Wen Field. Following that April 14 match, Johnson lost the No. 1 goalkeeper status to Jon Conway. But Johnson has reacquired the starting job for the past two matches, posting draws against the San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle.
"I can only get better and look back at that stuff and try and improve," Johnson said. "I think I'm definitely getting into a rhythm. It's important to try and find a little consistency and stay at that level. That's a challenge for myself and the team, as well, to build on the last game and make it better going forward."
The Fire have not had a moment this season where the defensive and offensive sides of the ball are clicking simultaneously. Chicago is averaging only one goal per game over the 10-game winless streak (the 4-2 loss to Portland included own-goals from each team). Forward Diego Chaves' early-season scoring surge has since been held in check, and Cristian Nazarit is just working his way into the mix.
"He's still adjusting to the league -- the physicality of the players is stronger and the pace of the game is faster," Klopas said of Nazarit. "But his game fitness has been better, and every game he's going to get better."
The Fire created a few good looks last week during the first half against Seattle, but Chicago relied on some optimistic long balls and did not pose much of a threat in the second half.
Now that Patrick Nyarko is seeing some time again on the pitch following his concussion injury, and fellow Ghanaian Dominic Oduro has provided a regular dose of energy, that speedy flank combination could generate some much-needed offense as the Fire continue to play without Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa (CONCACAF Gold Cup duty).
"We need to concentrate on our passes, switch the ball and not get caught on the counter," Bone said. "If we can use Dominic's speed late in the game whenever their defense is tired, we can catch them on the counter, as well."
With the draw, the Fire set a team record with a 10-game winless streak. During the stretch, the Fire are 0-4-6, and they are now 1-4-7 overall during the season.
"We didn't get the win, but I felt there were a lot of positives going away from this game," Klopas said.
One positive was the play of midfielder Daniel Paladini. He had a strong match and tested Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller in the 27th minute. Paladini's strike from about 25 yards out was destined for the upper left corner of the goal, but Keller stretched out to his right to make the save and maintain the scoreless affair for Seattle (5-4-6).
"[Fire captain] Logan [Pause] said he saw me celebrating. I kind of was," Paladini said. "But I saw [Keller's] hands go up. It was a great save."
Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson recorded all three of his saves in the first half as the Chicago defense posted its second shutout of the season.
The bulk of both teams' scoring chances came in the first half. Chicago tested Keller early, as he was forced to make four of his game-high five saves in the opening 45 minutes.
The Fire's Diego Chaves had a crisp strike in the 12th minute that went directly to Keller, and in the 31st, Keller saved another Chaves attempt and was able to hang onto the rebound when the Fire's Cristian Nazarit rushed in.
Defensively, the Fire held Seattle in check. Other than the first 10 minutes of the match -- where Seattle's Lamar Neagle had strong scoring chances in the sixth and ninth minutes -- Chicago's defense limited the Sounders' offense.
"I thought we set the tone and we created the better chances than they did," said midfielder Patrick Nyarko, who entered the match in the second half. "We gave up nothing in the back. Everyone was scrambling. Everyone was covering for each other. I personally think it was our best game this season."
Both teams' offenses were limited in the final third throughout the second half. Chicago had one shot on goal and Seattle did not even record a shot on goal in the final 45 minutes.
"I think we had an opportunity to be a little more simple and connect passes," Klopas said. "I think we weren't as sharp doing that -- maybe the final pass, or the outlet pass out wide. I think we had moments in transition."
Analysis: The Fire still have plenty of kinks to work out, but there were enough positives out of this match to lean on moving forward.
The first half was a promising start as Paladini and Corben Bone actually compensated well for the absence of Guatemalan international Marco Pappa, who is away for the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Paladini was aggressive and he covered a bunch of ground on both ends of the pitch. Bone had some creative moments, though he was less active in the second half and Klopas properly subbed him out.
Klopas' in-game management during his debut was valid. Bone's and Cristian Nazarit's activity lessened during the second half, and Klopas tried to maintain some attack against the Sounders' defense.
The winless cloud continues to linger, however, as Chicago did not gain any ground on Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia.