Fire kick off season with draw to FC Dallas

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Fire kick off season with draw to FC Dallas

Saturday, March 19, 2011
Posted: 10:39 p.m.

Associated Press

FRISCO, Texas (AP)Milton Rodriguez scored in the 19th minute to help FC Dallas escape with a 1-1 tie against the Chicago Fire in the season opener for both teams on Saturday night.

Rodriguez redirected a pass from Zach Loyd with his right heel into the left corner of the net from just inside the top of the goalies box.

Diego Chaves, making his MLS debut, scored in the 17th minute after he rebounded a deflected save off the right hand of goalkeeper Kevin Hartman and scored from 8 yards away.

Chicagos Cory Gibbs had the initial shot.

Loyd started the game in place of Jair Benitez, who missed the game with a suspension for spitting on an opposing player in the teams exhibition game against Houston on February 12th.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Fire lose Open Cup epic in Cincinnati after penalties

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AP

Fire lose Open Cup epic in Cincinnati after penalties

CINCINNATI — A few days ago Dax McCarty was talking about the Chicago Fire trying to win every trophy they were competing for this season. The hopes of winning one of those trophies ended Wednesday night.

The Fire lost in penalty kicks to USL team FC Cincinnati after 120 minutes of goalless soccer. A crowd of 32,287 in Cincinnati, the second biggest crowd in U.S. Open Cup history, waited and waited and waited some more, but finally got what they wanted.

It was all about the goalkeepers before penalty kicks with the Fire’s Matt Lampson and Cincinnati’s Mitch Hildebrandt combining for 17 saves. Hildebrandt improved on his crazy good night by denying Nemanja Nikolic, Arturo Alvarez and Juninho in penalty kicks. Bastian Schweinsteiger was the only Fire player to convert a penalty in four rounds. Cincinnati missed its first penalty, but converted the next three.

"We wanted this competition," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said. "It is important for the club and it is important and a possibility for us to get trophies and win trophies for our team, for our club. But now we have to move forward and we have to think about playoffs. That’s all that is left and we have to now understand that this is something that we have to keep working hard. The team is doing well, but these kind of defeats are good red flags for the team to understand that we can not relax."

In regulation, the Fire huffed and puffed in the first half, but didn’t really create much danger in front of Cincinnati’s goal. At halftime, the Fire had 78 percent of the possession, but couldn’t manage a shot on target.

"First half we were a team that was dominating and having a lot of opportunities, but that’s what happens in these kind of games," Paunovic said.

Cincinnati’s game plan to defend deep and counter was stifling the Fire’s attack. The Fire only managed shots from outside the box that all missed the target in the first 45 minutes. Matt Polster had an open shot in the box following a corner kick, but it was deflected wide by a sliding defender.

"It’s very frustrating in a game like that to do everything I could for 120 minutes and play against a team that puts 11 guys behind the ball and then tries to counter," Lampson said. "They played it to perfection. Their goalkeeper stood on his head. He had an incredible game, but it’s just very frustrating that we couldn’t put one in."

The home crowd didn’t have much to cheer in the first half, but Lampson made the only save of the half when he came off his line to deny Danni Konig.

Both the atmosphere and the game livened up in the second half. Both teams had multiple quality chances and both keepers came up with big saves. Lampson saved the game to deny a breakaway for Jimmy McLaughlin in added time just before regulation ended.

In extra time, Cincinnati thought it had the go-ahead goal from Andrew Wiedeman in the 110th minute, but it was called back for a close offside call.

Hildebrandt and Lampson both came up with huge saves in the final minute of extra time to send the match to penalties. The two goalkeepers seemed to be dueling with crucial saves.

"I know Mitch, he’s a great guy," Lampson said. "It’s great to see him do well, but at the same time I want us to score. It’s not going to change how I do my job. I’m going to do it as best as I can and I had to do my job well tonight to keep us in the game so no real one-upmanship."

The Fire finished with 70 percent possession and 26 shots, 10 on target. Cincinnati had chances of its own with 20 shots and seven on target.

“We did a lot this game," Fire midfielder Juninho said. "We created a lot of chances. We didn’t put balls inside of the net on this night. This is one night to forget about it and focus on the next game.”

The Fire had been unbeaten in 10 straight games and had as much momentum as anyone in Major League Soccer. They ran into a minor league team that has aspirations of joining them in MLS in the near future and Wednesday night was a showcase for Cincinnati as an MLS market.

As for what's next for the Fire, the team returns to league play Saturday against Vancouver at Toyota Park. A dejected group will have to regroup in three days.

If the Fire stay on the trajectory they've been on, there will be more big games ahead. When asked if the team can learn anything about playing in a big game atmosphere, a devastated Paunovic couldn't muster much of a response.

“The experience of losing is hard," he said. "I’ll think about it and let you know."

Fire to resume U.S. Open Cup at packed house in Cincinnati

Fire to resume U.S. Open Cup at packed house in Cincinnati

Since arriving this winter, Dax McCarty has been the one to raise the expectations for the Chicago Fire and continued to do so after the Fire beat Orlando.

He raised the question to himself if it was realistic for the Fire to win MLS Cup, the Supporters’ Shield and the U.S. Open Cup and he said “Why not?”

The Fire’s U.S. Open Cup hopes take center stage on Wednesday when the team plays at FC Cincinnati in the round of 16. The Fire beat Saint Louis FC in the team’s first match in the tournament and even though Cincinnati is another USL team like St. Louis, things should be different.

Cincinnati is trying to showcase itself as a future MLS market and had a crowd of 30,160 for the 1-0 win against the Columbus Crew last round, which was a record for a U.S. Open Cup match played before the final. Another big crowd is expected when the Fire come to Nippert Stadium.

While cities like St. Louis and San Diego have run into trouble getting stadium deals done, Cincinnati has only had positive momentum so far in the expansion process. For example, there’s a story from USSoccer.com saying Cincinnati is the capital of American soccer.

Cincinnati’s ambition is clear in the statement from team president and general manager Jeff Berding when it was announced that Wednesday’s match will be broadcast on national TV.

“We look forward to showing off our great city as the hottest new soccer market to the rest of country,” Berding said.

To add to the spectacle of the match, a local brewery from each city placed a bet on the match in the name of charity.

The Fire brought mostly a first choice lineup to Missouri in the win last round. Of the Fire’s most common starters, only Bastian Schweinsteiger, David Accam, Nemanja Nikolic and Joao Meira sat out.

This time around Accam and McCarty will be out with their national teams. Nikolic did travel this time around.

The two teams met in the preseason, with the Fire winning 3-2 back on Feb. 22.

Cincinnati features a pair of former Fire players in Austin Berry (2012 MLS Rookie of the Year) and Corben Bone. Cincinnati is 5-5-5 in the USL this season, but as coach Alan Koch said after the team beat Columbus, “The beauty of cup soccer is anything can happen in one game.”