Chicago Fire

Fire, Red Bulls end match in scoreless draw

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Fire, Red Bulls end match in scoreless draw

Sunday, Aug. 8, 2010
11:39 PM
Associated Press

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. (AP) -- On the field with some of soccer's biggest names, Sean Johnson stole the show.

The Chicago Fire goalkeeper made seven saves Sunday night, including two on shots by Thierry Henry and another by Juan Pablo Angel in stoppage time, to preserve a 0-0 tie against the New York Red Bulls. It was only the second Major League Soccer game for the 21-year-old Johnson.

"We should have won the game," said Henry, who doesn't expect to miss any time after leaving the game in the 45th minute with a groin injury. "We had chances to win the game, but Chicago and their goalkeeper had a great game."

The Fire and Red Bulls have dominated Major League Soccer headlines with their big-name acquisitions over the last few weeks, and the chance to see all the stars drew a crowd of 21,868, the largest ever for a Fire game at Toyota Park.

Mexico captain Rafael Marquez, who followed Barcelona teammate Henry to New York, was in the starting lineup for his Red Bulls debut. Freddie Ljungberg was playing his first home game since being traded to Chicago from Seattle on July 30, and Mexico international Nery Castillo was greeted with fireworks when he came on in the second half, his first appearance since Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine loaned him to the Fire.

But it was Johnson who made the difference.

The Red Bulls peppered him with five shots on goal in the second half, including a shot by Angel at the beginning of stoppage time. Positioned just inside the 6-yard box, the Red Bulls captain got his head on the ball and swung hard. But Johnson got a hand on the ball, punching it clear.

"I'm disappointed. I think we should have won the game," Angel said. "We had a number of chances, we just couldn't put them away."

Henry, playing in his second MLS game, gave New York its best chances in the first half. In the 20th minute, he stopped Fire defender C.J. Brown with a stutter step and took a shot from close range, but Johnson stopped it easily. Ten minutes later, Angel fed Henry on the run, but he got tangled up with a defender in the box and Johnson smothered the ball.

But he tweaked his groin -- he left New York's exhibition against Manchester City with a similar injury -- and left in the 45th minute.

"For me, it's the preseason," said Henry, who signed with New York on July 14 after being released by Barcelona. "Guys out there are fully fit and it's not easy to try and get fit. But I'm going to try and do it as fast as I can."

Chicago's offense has suffered since the departure of Cuauhtemoc Blanco, lacking the creative touch that made the Fire so dangerous up top. But the trade for Ljungberg appears to have solved that. He had several nice give-and-gos with McBride -- but he blew a chance to give Chicago the lead in the 43rd minute.

McBride made a nice run up the right side, looking for Ljungberg all the way as Ljungberg charged to the left post. McBride made a perfect cross, but Ljungberg duffed the shot just inside the 6-yard box.

"I'm very happy because Freddie adapted very fast with all the teammates. He's a big professional and looked very good to me," Fire coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "Nery Castillo, when these guys have more knowledge of each other, I'm sure we will improve in front, in the attack."

With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

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With push for playoff seeding in full force, Fire head to Philadelphia with key absences

There aren’t many easy games left on the Fire’s schedule, but Saturday’s game in Philadelphia appears to be one of the more winnable games remaining even if it is on the road.

The Union have a respectable 7-4-3 home record, but are out of the playoff race and are winless in six straight. The Fire hope to pick up a second straight road win, keep pace with New York City FC and stay ahead of red-hot Atlanta in the race for the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference.

The game will be televised on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.

While on paper the game is winnable, the Fire will once again be significantly shorthanded in midfield. Bastian Schweinsteiger and Juninho are both out with injuries. Schweinsteiger will miss his third straight game while Juninho will be out for two in a row. The Fire beat D.C. United 3-0 with Dax McCarty pairing with Drew Conner in central midfield last weekend.

With Joao Meira returning from injury as a sub in that win against D.C., coach Veljko Paunovic could run a similar lineup to the one from last week or elect to go with three centerbacks in an altered formation. Either way, the Fire remain without key pieces during a time of year when the team wants to be hitting its peak with the playoffs just over a month away.

“You want to get your top 11 group on the field together so they can get games, but if that’s not the case then you can also get guys experience and you can get younger guys in games that mean something and that matter because there’s no substitute for experience,” McCarty said. “You can’t replicate that in training. Guys like Drew Conner, guys like Djordje (Mihailovic). Those guys that are going to be very important for us in our playoff push and our depth heading into the playoffs.

“That’s the reason why depth is so important in MLS because while you would love to be able to count on your first 11 every single time you step on the field, (but) that’s not the case. I think we’ve seen that throughout the whole season. I don’t think we’ve had our first 11 group on the field together for months so you want depth and obviously it’s important to get guys healthy."

The extent of Schweinsteiger’s injuries hasn’t been clear. He had a bruise on his calf from a collision during the match in Montreal on Sept. 2, but also has a thigh injury. Schweinsteiger appeared to be nearing a return last week when he was running and working out in training separate from the group, but he was not at training on Tuesday or Wednesday this week, which implied a setback.

When asked about Schweinsteiger’s status, Paunovic has remained coy.

“Basti is very important for the team,” Paunovic said. “We want him as soon as possible. We will provide all the help that we can. As soon as we can have him back it’s going to be very important for the team. Also during that time we have guys who are prepared and ready and want to step in.”

Everyone knows he is a key absence, but the team has a solid 2-1-3 record without him this year.

“It doesn’t take a genius to see the positive attributes that he brings to the team,” McCarty said of Schweinsteiger. “He’s been one of our best players and obviously he’s a focal point for the way that we do things, not only defensively, but attacking as well. He’s a guy who teams have to account for whenever he’s on the ball. His vision, his ability to make plays within the game, knowing what the game needs and what time, you can’t substitute that. It makes my job easier, it makes our strikers’ jobs easier, so it’s a big loss not having him on the field.”

Chicago Fire at Philadelphia Union

Where: Talen Energy Stadium (Chester, Penn.)

TV: CSN + (channel finder)

When: Coverage begins at 5:30 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live

Records: Fire (14-9-6, 48 points), Union (8-12-9, 33 points)

Podcast: How the playoff race is shaping up for the Fire

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USA TODAY

Podcast: How the playoff race is shaping up for the Fire

The Fire have gone three games without a loss so Shane Murray (MLSsoccer.com) and Dan Santaromita discuss the team's recent performances and if the team is back to its best form.

Next, hear from Dax McCarty as he talked to reporters after training on Tuesday.

Finally, Dan and Shane give the latest on the lengthy Fire injury list and look at the playoff picture in the Eastern Conference.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below: