Fire beat San Jose, maintain unbeaten streak

Fire beat San Jose, maintain unbeaten streak

July 4, 2013, 12:00 am
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Len Ziehm

Mike Magee finally went a game without scoring a goal for the Fire on Wednesday night. No big deal, though.

Magee, who had a goal in his first seven games since coming to the Fire in a trade with Los Angeles, delivered the pass that set up Chris Rolfe’s game winner in the 84th minute of a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes at Toyota Park. Magee’s extraordinary goal streak ended on the same day he was named Player of the Month in Major League Soccer.

"I’m so excited that we got this win, that’s all that matters," said Magee. "We’re two points out of a playoff spot with a game in hand. I know it’s too early to be counting points, but I feel like we are in control of our own destiny, so this win is massive."

While the Fire’s MLS record is still a mediocre 6-7-3, the club is 4-0-2 in its last six league matches and unbeaten in its last nine across all competitions. In the playoff race the Fire climbed to sixth in the Eastern Conference with its 21 points. Fifth-place Houston (6-6-5), which holds the last playoff spot, has 23.

One of the other teams ahead of the Fire in the East, fourth place Sporting Kansas City (7-5-6), comes to Bridgeview for a Sunday matinee match -– the second of another three games in eights nights stretch, all at home. That period ends with a friendly, against popular Mexican opponent Club America on Wednesday.

The Fire reaches the midway point in its MLS regular season against SKC. Last season was the first since 2009 in which the Fire qualified for postseason play. The record then was 8-5-4 at the midway point and the Fire stood fourth in the East, so there’s still plenty of work to be done.

And, while the additions of Magee and central defender Bakary Soumare have already done wonders for the Fire, more help could be coming in the next few days. The secondary transfer window opens on Tuesday.

The real star of Wednesday’s win was rapidly improving midfielder Dilly Duka. Dangerous all night, Duka scored from 12 yards out off a pass from Gonzalo Segares in the 36th minute and set up Patrick Nyarko for a tap in with a great cross from the left side in the 47th. 

"Everything is just going well right now," said Duka. "In a sports career it’s all about moments. It’s a marathon, so you have to stay positive and keep going."

He’s done that. So has Paolo Tornaghi, the little-used backup goalkeeper who will finally get his chance to play regularly with Sean Johnson on national team duty. Wednesday’s match was the first of possibly five straight for the Italian netminder. Tornaghi wasn’t perfect – he seemed to lose sight of the ball on the first San Jose goal, when Alan Gordon scored on the second of his two headers right in front of the net – but coach Frank Klopas was satisfied.

"That position is never easy, especially when you need rhythm, you need games," said Klopas. "Paolo did well."

Once again the Fire gave up the first goal – an increasing cause for concern – and the club also blew a 2-1 lead when the Earthquakes (5-8-6) tied it at 2-2 in the 72nd minute. Tornaghi could hardly be blamed for that one. One of the San Jose corner kicks hit two Fire field players – Jalil Anibaba and Joel Lindpere – before going into the net for an own goal.

Rolfe’s concluding goal produced the Fire’s 13th comeback victory since Klopas took over from Carlos de los Cobos in May, 2011. Klopas’ record is an interesting one. His teams have been traditionally slow starters, going 7-11-5 in matches played from March through May. In regular season matches played from June through October, however, the Fire is 24-12-14 under Klopas.

This last win came against a weakened team. While the Fire was without just Johnson, the Earthquakes were missing leading goal scorer Chris Wondolowski, Nana Attakora, Marvin Chavez and Clarence Goodson. All were on national team duty for the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Wondolowski and Goodson are with the U.S., Attakora with Canada and Chavez with Honduras. San Jose also had to play without midfielder Shea Salinas, who was handed a one-game suspension on Wednesday for elbowing an opponent in Saturday’s victory over Los Angeles.

The Fire-San Jose match was the first in a stretch of significant soccer action with a Chicago spin over the Fourth of July weekend.

On the Fourth, Thursday, the Chicago Red Stars welcome the Western New York Flash to Lisle for a National Women’s Soccer League match. The teams played to a 2-2 draw earlier in the season, but the rosters of both were decimated by national team commitments then. That won’t be the case this time. The Red Stars will have Erin McLeod in goal (she was with Canada in the earlier match) and the Flash, riding a nine-game unbeaten streak, will have U.S. stars Carli Lloyd and Abby Wambach.

On Friday Johnson could be in goal when the U.S. faces Guatemala in San Diego, Calif. – the last tuneup before the month-long Gold Cup begins. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann has said his first 11 vs. Guatemala figure to be his same first 11 when the Gold Cup starts next week. Johnson is one of three goalkeepers on the U.S. squad, the others being Bill Hamid of D.C. United and Nick Rimando of Real Salt Lake. A sidelight to that match is the debut of ex-Fire star DaMarcus Beasley as the U.S. captain. Klinsmann said Beasley would wear the armband in the Gold Cup. Many other top U.S. players will be with their overseas clubs.

On Saturday the strangely-promoted Messi & Friends vs. The World exhibition takes over Soldier Field, a charity match showcasing Argentine superstar Lionel Messi. A similar match was planned in Los Angeles earlier in the week, but it was canceled at the last minute. Officials for the Chicago match were quick to declare the Soldier Field event would still go on, but with a shortage of top stars. To fill out the World roster five members of Northwestern’s two-time Big Ten champion men’s team will suit up.

On Sunday it’s back to Bridgeview for the Fire-SKC -- an event spiced up as Bobble-head night honoring Fire defender Austin Berry, last year’s MLS Rookie of the Year. 

And, if you still need more soccer, the Fire reserves host the New York Red Bulls backups on the Toyota Park practice field at 10 a.m. on Monday.