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."

Notes from the rewatch: A deeper look at David Accam's big game

Notes from the rewatch: A deeper look at David Accam's big game

It's not often that teams win games in MLS by four goals, especially when a red card wasn't involved.

After the Chicago Fire couldn't score one goal against Orlando when the Lions went down to nine men for more than a quarter of the match earlier this month, the Fire put up a four spot against Orlando at Toyota Park on Saturday. The Fire were dominant in every aspect of the game.

David Accam had one of his best games for the Fire and the team had arguably its best performance of the season.

It takes two for a blowout in MLS

There have been 10 games in MLS this season decided by four goals or more. Out of that group, two of those involved red cards (including the Fire's 4-0 loss at Atlanta in March) and two of those were Minnesota's first two games as an MLS team when it was thought they could be the worst team in league history. Blowouts happen in MLS, but the relatively balanced play in the league means both the winning team had to be very good and the losing team had to be very bad.

The Fire may have had its best performance of the season. Nemanja Nikolic said the team was near perfect after the match (in the video above).

Meanwhile, Orlando was without its leading scorer (Cyle Larin) and was coming off a game Wednesday halfway across the country in Seattle. Those factors, plus an overall lethargic showing from Orlando (coach Jason Kreis said his team "didn't have enough energy" at the start of the match) made the Lions susceptible to the beatdown they received.

The expected goals didn't lie

Soccer analytics are still nascent, but expected goals is one of the stats getting more attention. Expected goals (click here for the longer, better explanation) track the position of all shots taken in a match and quantify the likelihood of that shot going in. Shots from close are more likely to score so they are worth more expected goals. Each shot's percentage of scoring is added to produce the team's expected goals total.

Often in blowouts, the winning team's expected goals total is lower than the actual goal total because in order to score a large number of goals it probably took a couple low-percentage shots scoring. Teams don't typically create several high-percentage scoring chances in a match. It takes a screamer from distance or a goalkeeper flub to get a high goal total, and the expected goal total won't go up with that as a result.

However, the Fire's expected goal total from Saturday was actually above four. Including the penalty kick, the Fire's expected goal total finished at 4.26, one of the highest totals in the league this year. Meanwhile, Orlando had a miniscule .16 from three long-distance shots.

The Fire scored two goals early and kept creating chances. Nikolic was denied on a close-range volley in the first half and missed an open shot in the second half or else he could have scored more than the one goal.

Without going deeper into the stats, the takeaway is that this game was a blowout, was always going to be a blowout and didn't require particularly efficient finishing from the Fire to be a blowout.

Accam: "I thought I could do anything on the pitch"

Accam's hat trick got the headlines, but he also had an assist on Nikolic's goal. On the assist he showed something he hasn't done often. Look where Accam received the ball on that play:

This is Accam as a playmaking attacking midfielder for one play. He received the ball just past midfield off a turnover, but it wasn’t a classic counter. Orlando had five players behind the ball and he had two Fire players, Nikolic and Luis Solignac, in front of him. He turned, put a move on Antonio Nocerino to give himself the space to set up Nikolic, made the pass and Nikolic finished with his first touch.

Accam's first goal was about positioning. He found a way to get open in the six-yard box, and the backheel was just the exclamation mark to finish the play. His second goal was classic Accam getting behind a defense and being almost too patient to shoot before scoring into an open net.

He showed a little bit of everything Saturday.

Michael de Leeuw tracking Kaka

Just watch Michael de Leeuw, a natural forward, recognize Kaka running into open space and then cut him off and intercept a pass intended for the Brazilian.

Dax McCarty named to U.S. national team roster for Gold Cup

Dax McCarty named to U.S. national team roster for Gold Cup

After the Chicago Fire's 4-0 win against Orlando on Saturday, midfielder Dax McCarty said his goodbyes to his teammates and got an extra handshake and a good luck message from coach Veljko Paunovic.

That's because McCarty was preparing to leave the Fire to join the U.S. national team for the upcoming Gold Cup, CONCACAF's regional tournament. McCarty was named to the 23-man roster that will take place in the tournament, which runs from July 7-26.

The U.S. will play against Ghana on July 1 in a tune-up. Fire winger David Accam will be a part of that Ghana team and is also away from the Fire. McCarty and Accam will both miss the U.S. Open Cup game in Cincinnati on Wednesday and the MLS game against Vancouver the same day as that friendly.

MLS is taking a break during Gold Cup group play, but will resume as the knockout round begins. If the U.S. gets to the semifinals, McCarty would miss three MLS games (July 1 vs. Vancouver, July 5 at Portland and July 22 vs. New York City FC). He would also miss a potential Open Cup quarterfinal if the Fire beat FC Cincinnati.

McCarty has been called in regularly under coach Bruce Arena, but has only played in friendlies. With the Gold Cup drawing mostly from MLS players, with European-based players getting a break during the club offseason, McCarty could see more playing time.

Fire right back Matt Polster was also included on the preliminary roster, but was not on the final 23-man roster. Former Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson was also on the team.

Here is the full roster:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Brad Guzan (Atlanta United FC), Bill Hamid (D.C. United), Sean Johnson (New York City FC)

DEFENDERS (8): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca, Mexico), Matt Hedges (FC Dallas), Eric Lichaj (Nottingham Forest, England), Matt Miazga (Chelsea, England), Justin Morrow (Toronto FC), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna, Mexico), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

MIDFIELDERS (9): Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana, Mexico), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Joe Corona (Club Tijuana, Mexico), Dax McCarty (FIRE), Cristian Roldan (Seattle Sounders), Kelyn Rowe (New England Revolution), Kenny Saief (Gent, Belgium), Gyasi Zardes (LA Galaxy)

FORWARDS (3): Juan Agudelo (New England Revolution), Dom Dwyer (Sporting Kansas City), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders)