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.

As rumors pile up, Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez says team has a "sense of urgency"

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USA TODAY

As rumors pile up, Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez says team has a "sense of urgency"

As the beginnings of a cold Chicago winter start to take hold of the city, the rumor mill has started to heat up for the Chicago Fire.

Major League Soccer’s clubs are not able to make official moves until after MLS Cup takes place on Dec. 10, which means rumors will remain just that for another week and a half. So when Fire general manager was asked about a potential Sean Johnson trade, as was reported yesterday, he wasn’t able to comment in a substantive way.

“Sean had a good season for us,” Rodriguez said Friday afternoon. “There’s a trade moratorium until after MLS Cup and like every player on the team we’re constantly evaluating opportunities and possibilities.”

Compare that to what Rodriguez said last December about transfer rumors involving David Accam and it’s not hard to notice the difference. Rodriguez vehemently denied anything regarding Accam then and the Ghanaian stayed. This time around regarding Johnson, Rodriguez said the team is “evaluating opportunities.” There is a three-hour trade window on Dec. 11 in advance of the expansion draft for Atlanta and Minnesota on Dec. 12.

Rodriguez said there have been discussions about trades before the expansion draft.

“We have been having several conversations with a few different teams,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve called and inquired about players and discussed possibilities about acquiring players and also have received calls from teams inquiring about our players. I think there’s a general mood around the league that people want to get those deals done in advance of the expansion draft so that they know who they’re protecting and otherwise.”

Teams will be able to protect 11 players and homegrown players will not be eligible for selection. As the roster currently stands, the Fire have 17 players under contract and four homegrown players so only two players would be left unprotected and that’s before a potential Johnson trade.

As far as acquiring players from outside the league, Rodriguez said the staff has been busy scouting both college games and foreign leagues. Coach Veljko Paunovic and assistant Marko Mitrovic “remain abroad” while scout Matt Pearson has returned after watching players live in October and November.

Nothing seems to have changed in regards to what Rodriguez said the team needs. He still spoke of “players who represent leadership, experience, poise on the ball, particularly in the central midfield slots,” and a “gamebreaker” who can create or score a goal.

Some of the rumored names this offseason are of a higher profile than last winter. While following through on such moves is all that matters, Rodriguez said things are different in the way the front office has approached this offseason.

“I think what we all feel is a sense of urgency that we need to win,” Rodriguez said. “We need to prove that we can win and we need to win consistently. That’s our mindset.”

Rodriguez, assistant Logan Pause and goalkeeper coach Aleksandar Saric have been scouting college games. Rodriguez said the decision to sign homegrown players from college has not yet been made. The plan is to wait until the end of the college season for all teams to talk with coaches and families of prospects. North Carolina freshmen Cam Lindley and Mauricio Pineda, Indiana junior Grand Lillard and Indiana sophomore Andrew Gutman are some of the Fire’s top prospects in college. Indiana was recently eliminated from the NCAA Tournament, but UNC’s Elite Eight game is tonight.

As for some of the players the Fire declined options on last week, there is a chance that some will return like the way Razvan Cocis did last season after the Fire didn’t pick up his option.

“We are still in discussions on a few of the players whose options we did not select, but we’re still talking to them to see if the possibility to bring them back still exists,” Rodriguez said.

Sean Johnson reportedly nearing trade to Atlanta in busy day of Fire rumors

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USA TODAY

Sean Johnson reportedly nearing trade to Atlanta in busy day of Fire rumors

With the MLS Cup final still nine days away, Major League Soccer teams can't make trades until the day after Toronto hosts Seattle for the league's championship, but that hasn't stopped the rumor mill from churning out some juicy potential Chicago Fire moves.

Sam Stejskal of MLSSoccer.com reported that a deal that would send Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson to expansion team Atlanta is nearing completion. The report says the Fire would receive general allocation money in return for the 27-year-old. If the report is accurate, Johnson would be traded after MLS Cup and before the expansion draft.

Johnson, who has spent his entire pro career with the Fire, is from Lilburn, Georgia, a suburb of Atlanta. The local ties, combined with the fact that Matt Lampson began the season as the Fire's No. 1 goalkeeper, has fueled speculation that Johnson could join his hometown club in its expansion season.

The Fire had picked up Johnson's option, along with eight others, last week. If the Fire had not picked up Johnson's option he would have gone into the league's re-entry process, which would have meant the Fire would not have received anything in return for him if a team selected him.

To go further down the rabbit hole of potential moves, Paul Tenorio of FourFourTwo reported that American national team goalkeeper Brad Guzan is "exploring" a return to MLS. Guzan, who is currently with Middlesbrough in the Premier League, would be subject to the league's allocation order. The Fire have the top allocation spot until the expansion teams, Atlanta and Minnesota, move into the top two spots once the current season ends after MLS Cup. Atlanta will have the top spot in the allocation order and the Fire would have the third spot, also behind Minnesota.

Guzan is a Chicagoland product who went to Providence Catholic. It would be irresponsible to connect the Johnson report to the Guzan rumor without any more information to go on, but if Johnson is traded Guzan could potentially become an option for the Fire.

Finally, in a busy day of Chicago Fire-related rumors, ESPNFC reported that the Fire are in the running for Hungarian striker Nemanja Nikolic, who is currently with Legia Warsaw. Nikolic, 28, has scored 13 goals in 28 appearances for the Polish club this season and has reportedly been linked with Premier League team Hull City.

Throw this fresh pile of potential offseason moves in with the ongoing Bastian Schweinsteiger rumors, who by the way actually played for Manchester United on Wednesday in a four-minute substitute appearance, and the Fire's offseason is promising to be active.