Fire, Chivas USA Play to a Draw at Toyota Park

Fire, Chivas USA Play to a Draw at Toyota Park

Saturday, May 1, 2010
Updated: 11:18 p.m.

By Justin O'Neil
Special to CSNChicago.com

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Fire were unable to extend their two-game winning streak Saturday, failing to hold onto a second half lead in a 1-1 draw against Chivas USA at Toyota Park. The match saw both teams with chances to win in the second half, but ended with a point for each.

Both teams were in the midst of recovering from mediocre starts to the season. The Fire had begun to hit their form, and after two losses and a draw in their opening three games, the team earned back-to-back 2-0 wins. Chivas USA came to Bridgeview looking to improve their dreadful road form. The Southern California club had not managed a road goal in their previous two road games, both losses, and had been outscored 5-0 away from home.

The Fire opened the scoring on its first true chance of the match from a fantastic team build up in the 53rd minute. Marcus Pappa chipped a pass to a free Patrick Nyarko on the right wing in the penalty area, and Nyarko did well to bring control the ball and slide it across the goal to Baggio Husidic for the goal.

The goal was Husidics second of the season and Nyarkos fourth assist of the season, tying him with the L.A. Galaxys Landon Donovan for the MLS lead.

The Fire appeared to be in control, but a substitution and change of tactics by Chivas USA head coach Martin Vasquez altered the course of the game. Striker Maicon Santos was brought on in the 68th minute for midfielder Michael Lahoud as Chivas pushed forward.

It took less than 10 minutes to prove dividends and Santos was able to get a free header off a Sacha Kljestan corner and score the equalizer.

Shortly after the goal, Chivas shifted back to a four-man midfield, taking off striker Justin Braun in the 79th minute for midfielder Chukwudi Chijindu.

Chivas continued to push forward in the closing minutes of the match, but the Fire defense did well to clear a series of dangerous crosses.

Nyarko had the Fire's best chance for a winner in the 80th minute, controlling a cross in again on the right side of the Chivas penalty area and beating his defender, but Chivas goalkeeper Zach Thornton did well to cut down the angle and save Nyarkos effort.

Referee Jasen Anno denied the Fires penalty claim in the 89th minute when substitute Stefan Dimitrov, on the pitch for just seconds, went down on a cross into the penalty area and three minutes of stoppage time produced no further chances for either team.

The Fire were left to feel they had let a game slip away.

We didnt have a good night, head coach Carlos de la Cobos said through a translator. We had some real opportunities. We had a chance to make it two-nil, but we didnt take opportunity of that. We had a lack of concentration, especially on the set piece where they score the goal.

You go into these games expecting a win, and we just got a draw, Nyarko said. In the end, I thought we had the better of the chances.

Both teams appeared to plan their tactics around shutting down the oppositions captains.

Fire captain Brian McBride started as the lone forward, as de los Cobos opted to start with a five-man midfield. McBride did a decent job of fighting for the ball and holding it up for his teammates as the Chivas USA defense marked him tightly and physically until he was substituted in the 88th minute.

Twenty-four-year-old Chivas captain Sacha Kljestan, playing in a free role in the middle as a secondary striker, distributed the ball well, but was locked down by the Fire defense from making any dangerous runs. Kljestan managed two decent efforts from outside the box and the best effort came from a free kick in the second half, but Dykstra had his post covered and made the save. Kljestans excellent corner provided the assist for the lone Chivas goal.

The match lacked chances for both teams for much of the match, and the first half ended without either keeper being truly tested.

Midfielder Justin Mapp aggravated a leg injury in warmups, and had to be substituted in the 22nd minute.

Fire midfielders Pappa and Nyarko made the biggest attacking efforts for the squad in the first half. Pappa had a nice period of play, with a dangerous cross in the 25th minute from the right side to the far post, but no Fire attacker was there to meet the cross.

Pappa managed one of two shots on goal for Chicago in the first half. Thornton easy corralled Pappas long effort in the 39th minute and Thornton did well to punch curling ball off a free kick by Peter Lowry.

NotesTickets for the Fires May 30 friendly with 17-time Italian champion and seven-time European champion AC Milian went on sale Saturday. Attendance for Saturdays match was 13,224. ... McBride scored his 200th career MLS point with an assist in last weeks 2-0 win over D.C. United.

Daniel Johnson went on a winding journey to become the Fire's first pick

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USA TODAY

Daniel Johnson went on a winding journey to become the Fire's first pick

Daniel Johnson’s path to first round pick in Major League Soccer has taken a number of different paths.

It all led to Johnson being selected by the Chicago Fire with the No. 11 pick in Friday’s draft. As Johnson himself said, not many players have an easy path to the pros, but his youth career had a number of key turns.

For starters, Johnson headed to England at 13 years old to train in Premier League team West Ham United’s academy. He spent three years and a half years there, but had to come back to America after work visa issues ended his tenure there. (One of the noticeable things he held onto from his time in England is the way he says Premier League like the English with the short e in the word premier.)

Coaches at West Ham compared him to Joe Cole, who came up with West Ham and had 56 caps with the English national team.

“I learned so much about myself when I went over at 13," Johnson said. "I didn’t expect to learn as much as I did about myself off the field. I was over without parents and had to mature at an alarming rate really to survive and be successful. On the field, it was incredible being in that sort of environment and learn everyday being around pros. Being really a young pro because that’s what it takes to make it there.”

Being a young American in a well-respected Premier League academy and being compared to an English national team player gave Johnson a huge confidence boost. When he had to leave the club, it was a huge setback.

“I felt like I was successful over there and maybe was on track to have that sort of impact or have that sort of opportunity in the Premier League,” Johnson said. “Having that opportunity sort of taken away from me by factors outside of my ability on the field was devastating, honestly. That experience and dealing with that adversity taught me so much about how I deal with adversity and that everyone has a different path to their goals.”

[MORE DRAFT COVERAGE: Fire trade No. 3 pick to New York City FC]

When it came time for Johnson to pick a college to continue his career, he was now out of the loop. Johnson by his own admission knew “next to nothing” about college soccer, but was being recruited by Division I programs.

His dad was a baseball player at Maryland and his dad’s father also went to Maryland so that became the first school he visited. Johnson knew it was one of the top programs in the country. He met with coach Sasho Cirovski and committed early on.

In two years at Maryland he made just one start, struggling for time on talented teams. Maryland made the national championship game in Johnson’s freshman year in 2013 and won the Big Ten regular season and tournament titles in his sophomore year.

“He got stuck with a glut of midfielders,” Cirovski said on the league’s draft day broadcast. “Maybe he was a little young. We had some key guys in the midfield. (Current Toronto FC midfielder) Tsubasa Endoh in there and guys that played his position so he couldn’t get up there. We supported his decision to find a new place and he revitalized his career at Louisville.”

Johnson transferred to Louisville, but didn’t hold a grudge. When Johnson stood on the podium at the draft after being selected by the Fire he thanked both Maryland and Louisville.

“I wish I had done a little more research, but it was just a case of me not fitting into the system and a combination of different philosophies that Sasho and I had,” Johnson said. “We had a good relationship, but during my time there we were a really successful program so it’s really hard to make a case for changes, especially someone who is going to come in and really change your style when you’re being successful playing one way.”

Johnson got connected with coach Ken Lolla at Louisville, who Johnson said was focused on development. In two years with the Cardinals, he started all 41 matches and emerged as a pro prospect.

Earlier in his career Johnson had been a central attacking midfielder, calling himself a “10.” Lolla had him play out wide at Louisville. He said it’s been a learning curve to adjust to the position the past two years, but has become comfortable as a winger. His preferred spot is to play on the left wing and cut inside as a right-footed player, but he’s still learning to play both sides.

“I’m comfortable on the wing, playing more of an inverted winger on the left, but also being able to do some of the things that a more traditional winger does if I’m deployed on the right,” Johnson said. “Still working on my left foot and being able to provide those things on the left.”

[MORE DRAFT COVERAGE: Fire trade into second round to make two picks]

Johnson was a stand out at the combine, especially in the first game of the combine. Johnson drew and converted a penalty kick and had two assists in the first half. His draft stock seemed to soar in the week leading up to the draft. The attention Johnson was getting from around the league certainly went up, although general manager Nelson Rodriguez said the Fire had watched Johnson the past two years at Louisville.

“I think a product of combine performance I met with 20 teams so on Wednesday I started at 8 a.m. and skipped both breakfast and lunch and dinner,” Johnson said. “In the meeting process I think the longest time between meetings I had was 15 minutes so they ended up blurring together. Calling my mom that night and sort of giving her the update there were a few teams that stuck out, but Chicago was one that I remembered from the entire meeting.”

Johnson said it was his longest interview of the day.

“He has certain qualities that we think are different from the qualities that we have within the team right now,” Rodriguez said. “We think he can also slide inside and play a central role because he’s good on the ball and he’s a good decision maker.

“He has a real reverence for the game. He’s very descriptive in how he appreciates the game and the artistry of the game.”

Johnson’s winding journey has included two continents and two colleges. He thinks his background and skillset make him rare among young Americans.

“I feel like I am a unique case in terms of young American attacking players, especially being a product of an academy like West Ham and having unique training,” Johnson said. “I’m really excited to just get started and show what I can do.”

Fire trade into second round to make two picks

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USA TODAY

Fire trade into second round to make two picks

The Chicago Fire entered draft day with no second round picks, but traded with Toronto to land two early second round picks.

The Fire sent $75,000 in targeted allocation money to Toronto for the fourth and fifth picks in the second round. The Fire then took Louisville goalkeeper Stefan Cleveland with the 26th overall pick and followed up by taking Guillermo Delgado with the 27th pick.

Cleveland was a college teammate of the Fire's first round pick, Daniel Johnson, at Louisville. The Fire have two goalkeepers under contract in Matt Lampson and recently signed Jorge Bava. Cleveland could be one of the early favorites for the No. 3 goalkeeper spot, although he doesn't have a guaranteed contract and will likely face competition in preseason camp.

"We really like his approach to goalkeeping, his comfort away from the line, his steadiness, there’s an overall maturity to his game that we liked and we really like our goalkeeper corps now," Fire general manager Nelson Rodriguez said. "We think there’s a nice blend of hierarchy, age and experience so we feel very good about how that competition will begin at the start of training camp.”

Delgado, 22, was born in Madrid, but left Spain to play college soccer for Delaware. He quickly stood out with 15 goals and five assists as a freshman. He notched double-digit goals in all four years, including 12 goals and eight assists as a senior. He finished his collegiate career with 49 goals and 19 assists in 78 matches.

"I'm excited and thrilled to give everything I have on the field during the next year," Delgado said on the draft podium.

An extra wrinkle on the Delgado pick is that he would count as an international player for the Fire, as confirmed by the club. That gives the Fire nine international players with only eight international slots for them. That means either Delgado has an uphill climb to make the roster or the Fire have moves coming involving either a trade for an international slot or a move to trade away a current international player.

Soon after the draft Rodriguez was asked if Delgado was worth the pick as another international player.

“We selected him so that’s the answer," Rodriguez said. "What we believe is this is a very good player. A player who is dynamic off the ball, knows how to find space, knows how to exploit it. A proven finisher and has good pedigree. He got his soccer education, if you will, in Spain. Again a player that we believe adds a different element to what we currently have.”