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Thursday, October 23, 2008
Chicago vs. New York play-by-play

This year's MLS playoff race is going right down to the wire with the final slate of regular-season games. The meeting between Chicago and New York (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2 and is a pivotal clash that will have repercussions for the teams vying for a postseason spot.

There's no doubt that this matchup is full of intrigue: it's a showdown between dueling Designated Players, Chicago's Cuauhtemoc Blanco and New York's Juan Pablo Angel, of longtime U.S. national team heroes Brian McBride and Claudio ... er, scratch that.

More importantly, it's also another chance for Fire fans to boo former coach Juan Carlos Osorio in high-def. With both teams being guided by overly defensive-minded coaches, we might also see a 8-2-1 formation face off against a 9-1-1 formation for the first time in history.

The Red Bulls' lineup is also in a state of flux due to the suspensions of "vitamin-shop malfunction" victims Jon Conway and Jeff Parke. Conway's place in goal will continue to be taken by new folk hero Danny "Boomer" Cepero, while Red Bulls' fans will probably be hoping that comedy defender Gabriel Cichero doesn't make the starting lineup. If Cichero is indeed present from the onset, MLS statisticians might as well adjust the scoreboard now to 1-0 in favor of Chicago to save themselves the effort during the game.

I'll be working up a live play-by-play during tonight's game, with the usual caveat that publishing speed depends on the whim of the rather temperamental cyberspace blog servers that we employ. See you all later.


OK, we're all set and just waiting for the teams to take the field. The Red Bulls control their own playoff destiny tonight against the Fire. The Fire are already in the playoffs, so it's unclear just how motivated they'll be other than the natural inclination to show Osorio that he made a mistake by switching teams. If the hate is strong, expect a 10-0 beatdown for the Red Bulls.

As for New York, Red Bulls' fans expect the team to make the playoffs this year. Anything less and you have to wonder whether or not the team has actually taken a step backward under Osorio from the Bruce Arena era. Random server speed update: It seems slow tonight, so apologies if the blog updates slowly.

With Cepero set to start again, expect multiple mentions of his long-range goal against the Crew over the weekend. At least he'll finally be known for something other than being the lowest-rated player on EA's FIFA '08. Presumably his agent has already been on the horn to EA to have his kicking power rating adjusted for FIFA '10.


It's raining, the teams have taken the field and we'll be starting shortly. Given the kickoff time, I just want to take this opportunity on behalf of the "MLS Primetime Thursday" crew to thank the kids from Oak Lawn-Hometown Middle School in Bridgeview, IL. who are staying up late to watch this. Extra credit for all of you. In fact, if you can also see Toyota Park Stadium from your window, double extra credit.

The Red Bulls' lineup is as as follows: Cepero, Kevin Goldthwaite, Cichero, Andrew Boyens, Chris Leitch, Juan Pietravallo, Dave Van Den Bergh, Jorge Rojas, Seth Stammler, Mike Magee, Juan Pablo Angel.

Cichero and Leitch starting simultaneously in the back line? Red Bulls' fans must be weeping already.

The Fire lineup is: Jon Busch, Diego Gutierrez, Wilman Conde, Bakary Soumare, Brandon Prideaux, Justin Mapp, Logan Pause, Stephen King, Blanco, Chris Rolfe and McBride.

1 min: And we're off.

3 mins: Nothing much happening. Blanco falls over on the right wing and pleads for a foul. Nothing is forthcoming even though Blanco falls to the ground clutching his face. Then again, he does that a lot so it's hard to take it seriously.

5 mins: The first real attack of the night, Pietravallo gathers the ball from about 40 yards out and considers his options. He has Angel to his left and Magee to his right, but decides that the more prudent choice is to hit a tame dribbling puff shot about 25 yards wide.

6 mins: Still no real cohesive build-ups, but the Red Bulls are, to no surprise, playing with more vigor. The Fire are playing with all the urgency of a team that knows it has a playoff spot booked against an opponent that its owned during the regular season.

9 mins: After three minutes of seriously dull soccer, we finally have a corner. Van den Bergh curls it in but it fails to beat the first defender and the Fire break.

10 mins: GOAL! Chicago 1-0. I take it all back, the Fire score after a beautiful counter attack. Blanco started it by laying it off with an audacious backheel to Pause who threaded it to Mapp on the right. Mapp carried it to the edge of the Red Bulls penalty area and then slipped a beautiful reverse pass to rookie Stephen King who beat Cepero and crossed it for Rolfe to head into a wide-open net. Rolfe was the only Chicago player in the vicinity, surrounded by four New York defenders who were too preoccupied with ball-watching to notice him.

14 mins: The Red Bulls seem to be in a state of shock, they'd pretty much had most of the possession before that goal from the Fire.

15 mins: The Fire are starting to gain a foothold in midfield now, with the Red Bulls unable to string two passes together.

16 mins: Angel takes it upon himself to pick up the ball from midfield and carries the ball up the field and takes on Conde, but Conde does just enough to force Angel to shoot high and wide from about 25 yards out.

18 mins: Magee gathers a long throw in at the edge of the penalty area and slides it across to tee it up perfectly for Stammler to drive it, but a Fire defender slides in and blocks the shot. That's better stuff from the Red Bulls.

20 mins: It's early yet, but the Red Bulls appear tentative with the burden of countless underachieving seasons in their franchise history weighing them down. A cynic could argue that it's good to see that the Red Bulls aren't complacent about their fear of failure. Despite already being experts at it, they practice whenever they get the chance.

21 mins: Blanco chips in a long pass into the Red Bulls' box but it's headed out straight back to him. He takes a running wind-up while the Red Bull back line seems to stand around, but luckily Blanco's shot is tame and straight at Cepero.

23 mins: The Fire are stroking the ball around nicely, even in this rain. Pretty, but ultimately futile. They've just completed a 659-pass sequence which went almost all the way to the edge of the Red Bull box before being passed all the way back and ending up with their goalie Busch.

26 mins: Other than a wonder goal from Angel, it's hard to see where a goal will come from for the Red Bulls, who look shockingly tame in attack. It's a far cry from last year when they had Jozy Altidore, Dane Richards and Angel terrorizing defenses.

27 mins: Blanco completes his 75th elaborate flick/backheel of the night as the Fire continue to move it around the field and deny the Red Bulls possession. Pietravalla decides he's had enough of that and hacks Blanco down. He receives a yellow card for his efforts.

28 mins: From the resulting free kick, McBride clips a nice ball wide to Rolfe, who's in acres of space but surprisingly lets the ball run under his foot and out of bounds.

31 mins: Blanco at the heart of yet another move, lays it off to McBride who tees up from the top of the box and drives a ferocious shot that Stammler blocks before it reaches Cepero.

32 mins: GOAL! Chicago 1-1 New York. Angel to the rescue again for the Red Bulls. Van den Bergh breaks down the left and centers in a perfect cross which Angel heads home. The marking from Conde was slack there but it was a terrific finish.

34 mins: McBride has the ball on the left and is tackled by Leitch, it looks like a foul but the ref doesn't see it that way. The Red Bulls break and Van den Bergh dribbles around the top of the Fire box trying to get it on his left foot, but Soumare comes flying in to make a great tackle.

35 mins: McBride is splattered at midfield by Pietravallo. A reckless challenge and even more so for someone already on a yellow, he's lucky to escape without punishment there.

36 mins: So apparently today, British police said they found a naked burglary suspect trapped in the chimney of a supermarket in the northern English town of Pemberton. Police say they have "no idea" how the man got there. In related news, Red Bulls fans also stated they have "no idea" how Pietravallo got into the Red Bulls starting lineup.

37 mins: GOAL! Chicago 2-1. Rolfe strikes again with a fantastic goal, from a corner the Red Bulls head it out of the box but it falls to Rolfe on the edge of the box. Rolfe chests it down and one-times it with a volley into the goal. There was nothing Cepero could do about that. Can Angel bring the Red Bulls back one more time?

41 mins: The Red Bulls' midfield is almost non-existent right now and the Fire are controlling things in the middle with ease. After Blanco holds the ball on the edge of the Red Bulls box for about 30 seconds, teasing a couple of New York defenders, he releases it to the right where Prideaux

43 mins: GOAL! Chicago 3-1. Rolfe gets his hat trick and this time it's courtesy of some shambolic defending from the Red Bulls. A long headed clearance finds Blanco who pulls off yet another cheeky flick to Rolfe who's wide open in acres of space as Boyens and Cichero wonder what's going on. Rolfe leaves them in his wake, strides forward and slams it past Cepero.

45 mins: Mapp with a promising break for the Fire but loses control as he tries to beat a Red Bulls defender and falls over comically in a vain attempt to earn a free kick. He's obviously been watching video tapes of a certain Portuguese winker based in Manchester. He's lucky he didn't get a booking for that.

HALFTIME: And that's the end of the half. The Red Bulls have been all over the place and aside from the Angel goal have rarely threatened the Fire goal. At this rate, their postseason prospects are looking precarious.

46 mins: The second half is under way and Pietravallo has been replaced by Macoumba Kandji for the Red Bulls. Kandji is a former USL standout and bears a slight physical resemblance to Chelsea's Didier Drogba, Red Bulls fans can only hope the resemblance doesn't end there.

50 mins: Not much change from the first half, the Red Bulls are still having trouble maintaining possession, although Rojas has dropped back deeper now in an effort to see more of the ball.

52 mins: GOAL! Chicago 4-1. McBride finishes a fantastic move from the Fire. After breaking up a Red Bull attack, Rolfe does brilliantly to send Gutierrez free down the wing from the halfway line. The New York back line looks like it's treading water as Gutierrz centers the ball past three Red Bulls defenders and McBride runs onto it to slam it home. Game over. At this point, the only question is how long before Blanco is subbed off. There's not a whole lot of point keeping him in the game any longer.

55 mins: Almost another clean break from the Fire. Blanco with yet another audacious flick and only a heavy touch denies McBride the chance to break free and off to the races.

56 mins: This has been a clinic by Blanco who's controlled the game all night long with subtle touches and flicks in the attacking third. Who said Designated Players were overrated? If you think MLS is overpaying them then consider this: We live in a world where Heidi Montag and Spencer Pratt can afford a $12 million home in Malibu.

61 mins: After a dull five minutes or so, Kandji almost gives the Red Bulls hope with a fierce shot from range that narrowly clears the bar. Oh who am I kidding, this game is a lost cause for New York. Short of bringing on Leo Messi, Kaka and Cristiano Ronaldo, the Red Bulls are done.

64 mins: Just how bad is it for the Red Bulls? Chicago's Prideaux just tried a 40-yard piledriver. Yes that's right, he of the zero career MLS goals just tried to score from the next zip code, and he almost pulled it off too.

66 mins: Kandji gets on the end of a long cross in the Fire box but is erroneously called for offside. That's a poor decision by the linesman. The camera closes in on Kandji and my lip-reading skills reveal to me that he's uttering a few choice curse words. Then again, he's probably just saying "that one was wrong" in Senegalese.

70 mins: Somewhere and somehow Dane Richards has come on for Jorge Rojas. Actually it was five minutes ago but I stopped paying attention after Rolfe scored the fourth goal for the Fire. Speaking of Richards, he just burst into the Chicago area past two Fire defenders and only an onrushing Busch prevented Richards from making the scoreline less embarrassing.

72 mins: The Red Bulls are mounting a mini-revival here and just earned a dangerous free kick outside the Chicago box. Angel lines it up but drives his shot tamely into the wall. In the meantime Mapp is subbed out for Daniel Woolard. Mapp's been his usual enigmatic self tonight, drifting in and out of the game and only showing flashes of his ability.

74 mins: GOAL! Chicago 5-1. If only to underline just how lackadaisical Mapp has been, his replacement Woolard just took the ball, drove right up the middle of the Red Bull defense, laid it off to Rolfe on his right and headed home the return pass. That was ridiculously easy and yet more blame can be placed on the center back pairing of the Red Bulls who parted like the Red Sea there. Did I mention that Cichero is a defensive liability?

75 mins: Lindsay Lohan just got fired from her guest stint on Ugly Betty. In the same vein, the Red Bulls should fire their entire defense. To say they've been borderline pathetic is being kind. A set of traffic cones rooted in cement would have provided more resistance tonight.

78 mins: Kandji almost pulls one back for the Red Bulls, running onto a nice through ball as Conde fell asleep, rounds Busch and steers a shot goalbound only for Soumare to clear it off the line.

81 mins: Rolfe exits to a standing ovation for his performance tonight and is replaced by rookie Patrick Nyarko. What's the line on Nyarko scoring within two minutes of coming on too like his fellow rookie Woolard?

84 mins: McBride exits to a standing ovation and is replaced by Mike Banner. In the meantime Blanco has deviated from his masterplan of completing 725 consecutive backheels and instead tries to score a goal. His long-range free kick is on target, vicious and palmed over by Cepero. A good save for the embattled keeper.

87 mins: GOAL: Chicago 5-2 New York. A poacher's goal from Kandji, who guides home a cross from Richards. Richards and Kandji have looked sharp since coming on as subs, although in fairness their performance comes with an asterisk since the Fire defense has probably fallen asleep from lack of activity in this game.

FULLTIME. Chicago 5-2 New York. The game draws to a close mercifully for the Red Bulls. With everything that was at stake, that was a shocking performance and Osorio needs to ask some hard questions of his squad. For the Fire, this game is the perfect confidence booster ahead of next week's clash with the Revolution.