Fire, Red Bulls end match in scoreless draw


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."

Results didn’t show Fire’s progress against Nelson Rodriguez’s “three-year plan”


Results didn’t show Fire’s progress against Nelson Rodriguez’s “three-year plan”

Early on in his tenure as Chicago Fire general manager, Nelson Rodriguez said he thinks teams in Major League Soccer need a group of several core players to succeed in the league.

“We believe that in order to succeed for sustained periods of time at championship level within MLS you need seven-to-nine steady starters, year in and year out,” Rodriguez said in January.

As a result of that line and his continued stated belief in needing a key core group of players, every time local media is gathered with Rodriguez he is asked about that and where the team stands on that front. After all, Rodriguez also said, “Our hope would be that at the end of this season that we start to approach that number.”

So when Rodriguez hosted local media on Tuesday at Toyota Park, he was again asked about the core players and how he believes the team has progressed in that area.

“We have a core that we’ve built on,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s five, six solid players and then three or four others that could be in and out of that 11 if you want to just use that 11 as a guide. But if someone else comes along and presents an opportunity where we think we can improve that core, we will do so.”

Rodriguez wouldn’t bring up names that he believes are part of the core, but it’s believable to think Michael de Leeuw, David Accam, Johan Kappelhof and perhaps younger players like Matt Polster and Jonathan Campbell are somewhere in that mix. In the offseason Rodriguez said the Fire had four core players and mentioned Polster and Harry Shipp as two more he believed could become part of that group with continued development. Shipp was traded about a month after that comment while Polster made 24 starts this season and played for the U.S. Olympic qualifying team.

[RELATED: Disappointed in 2016, Rodriguez believes Fire have opportunity in offseason]

Results-wise, this season was not what Rodriguez had in mind in terms of progress. The Fire remained last in the league and earned just one more point than in 2015, but Rodriguez said that doesn’t change anything.

“It doesn’t alter our plans, it doesn’t alter our approach,” Rodriguez said. “But I know today that the first five games of next year are going to be under a magnifying glass for all of us. We’ll deal with that. This may be the only time that I have this job. I know for me I make sure I do it in the way that I think is best, in the way that I think leads us to building a championship program.”

For a fan base that has seen the club miss the playoffs now six of the past seven seasons, believing Rodriguez when he says the club has improved its core may not be so easy. With that in mind, Rodriguez wouldn’t evaluate his team based on what happened before he arrived, saying 2016 was “the start of a new process.”

“I respect that from the fans it’s a different continuum,” he said. “Last season was a continuation of something else, or two seasons ago if you will. This past season was the first season of a three-year plan.”

As Rodriguez and the Fire head into the second year of his so-called three-year plan, Rodriguez admitted that the lack of results this season makes progress harder to see.

“I would have liked to have seen more results, more positive results that would certainly give more validity to what we’re doing,” Rodriguez said. “I think it’s at a time when Pauno and I are trying to push standards, trying to push players out of their comfort zone, trying to push elements of the organization forward out of its comfort zone. When the results don’t accompany you, you don’t have the legitimacy that you’d like to have. So in terms of assembling talent, in terms of instituting our methodology, I think we’re OK. In terms of results I think we’re clearly behind.”

Major League Soccer playoff preview and predictions


Major League Soccer playoff preview and predictions

It’s playoff time in MLS.

The local team may be looking towards the offseason, but 12 of the league’s teams are heading into the postseason.

Two games tonight and two games tomorrow comprise the single-elimination first round. Four more teams are waiting to face those winners in the conference semifinals. Here’s a brief look at each of the four first round games and an MLS Cup prediction. (Fair warning: check out my MLS season preview to see how pointless the exercise of predicting MLS is.)

Toronto FC vs. Philadelphia Union, Wednesday 6:30 p.m.

Neither team has ever won a playoff game so that will end for one of these two. Both struggled to close the regular season. Philadelphia is winless in seven straight. Meanwhile, Toronto’s only wins in the last seven were two wins against the last-place Fire. Still, with reigning MVP Sebastian Giovinco back from injury, Toronto could make a deep run in these playoffs.

Pick: Toronto

LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake, Wednesday 9:30 p.m.

The Galaxy finished with a league-leading 16 ties and had a 3-3-8 record in the final 14 matches. Nothing about that says title contender, but LA still has a talented roster. Like Philly, RSL enters the playoffs on a seven-game winless streak. Look for an LA win because they’ve lost at home just once this season.

Pick: LA

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact, Thursday 6:30 p.m.

D.C. closed the regular season on a strong run, winning four in a row before losing its finale. Patrick Mullins has been a huge boost at forward since joining midseason. Montreal is without Didier Drogba, who appears to be leaving the club. This seems like the most unpredictable of the four first round matches, but stick with the hot hand.

Pick: D.C.

Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City, Thursday 9:00 p.m.

Seattle enters as the hottest team in the league. The 8-2-4 record since Nicolas Lodeiro’s arrival, which has also been boosted by the return of center back Roman Torres, makes the Sounders a trendy pick for a strong playoff run. Kansas City is never an easy out in the playoffs, but going into a packed crowd in Seattle while the team is playing as well as anyone in the league is a lot to overcome.

Pick: Seattle

MLS Cup prediction

FC Dallas won the Supporters’ Shield in the regular season, but is without MVP candidate Mauro Diaz for the playoffs. That could be enough of a blow to allow a team like Seattle to knock them off in the next round. Colorado, No. 2 seed in the West, is a defensive team that peaked in the first half of the year. LA against the Rapids in a conference semi would be intriguing, but I think Seattle takes either out to go to MLS Cup.

In the Eastern Conference the New York Red Bulls have been the most consistent team in the league since a 1-6 start. The Red Bulls carry a 16-match unbeaten streak into the playoffs and should be able to get by either D.C. or Montreal. In the other semi, New York City FC and Toronto is an enticing potential matchup. Both can be fun teams to watch when things are clicking. That’s a tough one to pick, but the Red Bulls should be the favorite.

Pick: Red Bulls over Sounders