Fire

Fire, Chivas USA Play to a Draw at Toyota Park

Fire, Chivas USA Play to a Draw at Toyota Park

Saturday, May 1, 2010
Updated: 11:18 p.m.

By Justin O'Neil
Special to CSNChicago.com

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Fire were unable to extend their two-game winning streak Saturday, failing to hold onto a second half lead in a 1-1 draw against Chivas USA at Toyota Park. The match saw both teams with chances to win in the second half, but ended with a point for each.

Both teams were in the midst of recovering from mediocre starts to the season. The Fire had begun to hit their form, and after two losses and a draw in their opening three games, the team earned back-to-back 2-0 wins. Chivas USA came to Bridgeview looking to improve their dreadful road form. The Southern California club had not managed a road goal in their previous two road games, both losses, and had been outscored 5-0 away from home.

The Fire opened the scoring on its first true chance of the match from a fantastic team build up in the 53rd minute. Marcus Pappa chipped a pass to a free Patrick Nyarko on the right wing in the penalty area, and Nyarko did well to bring control the ball and slide it across the goal to Baggio Husidic for the goal.

The goal was Husidics second of the season and Nyarkos fourth assist of the season, tying him with the L.A. Galaxys Landon Donovan for the MLS lead.

The Fire appeared to be in control, but a substitution and change of tactics by Chivas USA head coach Martin Vasquez altered the course of the game. Striker Maicon Santos was brought on in the 68th minute for midfielder Michael Lahoud as Chivas pushed forward.

It took less than 10 minutes to prove dividends and Santos was able to get a free header off a Sacha Kljestan corner and score the equalizer.

Shortly after the goal, Chivas shifted back to a four-man midfield, taking off striker Justin Braun in the 79th minute for midfielder Chukwudi Chijindu.

Chivas continued to push forward in the closing minutes of the match, but the Fire defense did well to clear a series of dangerous crosses.

Nyarko had the Fire's best chance for a winner in the 80th minute, controlling a cross in again on the right side of the Chivas penalty area and beating his defender, but Chivas goalkeeper Zach Thornton did well to cut down the angle and save Nyarkos effort.

Referee Jasen Anno denied the Fires penalty claim in the 89th minute when substitute Stefan Dimitrov, on the pitch for just seconds, went down on a cross into the penalty area and three minutes of stoppage time produced no further chances for either team.

The Fire were left to feel they had let a game slip away.

We didnt have a good night, head coach Carlos de la Cobos said through a translator. We had some real opportunities. We had a chance to make it two-nil, but we didnt take opportunity of that. We had a lack of concentration, especially on the set piece where they score the goal.

You go into these games expecting a win, and we just got a draw, Nyarko said. In the end, I thought we had the better of the chances.

Both teams appeared to plan their tactics around shutting down the oppositions captains.

Fire captain Brian McBride started as the lone forward, as de los Cobos opted to start with a five-man midfield. McBride did a decent job of fighting for the ball and holding it up for his teammates as the Chivas USA defense marked him tightly and physically until he was substituted in the 88th minute.

Twenty-four-year-old Chivas captain Sacha Kljestan, playing in a free role in the middle as a secondary striker, distributed the ball well, but was locked down by the Fire defense from making any dangerous runs. Kljestan managed two decent efforts from outside the box and the best effort came from a free kick in the second half, but Dykstra had his post covered and made the save. Kljestans excellent corner provided the assist for the lone Chivas goal.

The match lacked chances for both teams for much of the match, and the first half ended without either keeper being truly tested.

Midfielder Justin Mapp aggravated a leg injury in warmups, and had to be substituted in the 22nd minute.

Fire midfielders Pappa and Nyarko made the biggest attacking efforts for the squad in the first half. Pappa had a nice period of play, with a dangerous cross in the 25th minute from the right side to the far post, but no Fire attacker was there to meet the cross.

Pappa managed one of two shots on goal for Chicago in the first half. Thornton easy corralled Pappas long effort in the 39th minute and Thornton did well to punch curling ball off a free kick by Peter Lowry.

NotesTickets for the Fires May 30 friendly with 17-time Italian champion and seven-time European champion AC Milian went on sale Saturday. Attendance for Saturdays match was 13,224. ... McBride scored his 200th career MLS point with an assist in last weeks 2-0 win over D.C. United.

Even a win showed how injuries could derail Fire's playoff run

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USA TODAY

Even a win showed how injuries could derail Fire's playoff run

Major League Soccer has earned a reputation as a league of very fine margins.

The league’s desired goal of parity means only a couple very good or very bad teams are notably better or worse than most of the pack. A couple key injuries leave a big mark on a team.

When the Fire lost six of seven matches after the Gold Cup break injuries were an easy explanation for the team’s slump. Brandon Vincent and Matt Polster were both in the middle of breakout seasons and their absences coincided with the dropoff in results. They returned and the team has showed improvement in a 4-1-2 stretch since the skid ended.

The recent run has secured a playoff berth, but a new group of injuries have popped up at similar times and could doom the Fire’s chances of doing any damage in the playoffs. In Sunday’s 3-2 win against Philadelphia, a team already eliminated from playoff contention and which has just one win on the road all season, the Fire were without Bastian Schweinsteiger, Juninho and Michael de Leeuw. David Accam, who has been nursing a hip injury, came off the bench.

Even in victory, the Fire had to come from behind and showed a less than stellar performance with plenty on the line. Playoff seeding is incredibly tight heading into the final weekend, with the Fire having the chance to finish anywhere from second to fifth.

The Fire led in the third minute but trailed 10 minutes later, something that irked coach Veljko Paunovic.

“After the third minute we actually thought that the game for us was over and that’s unacceptable,” Paunovic said. “We cannot ever again have that performance or that mindset.”

Paunovic did praise the team’s character to find a way to turn it on and get the win.

“We are kind of happy to see that we are capable to react that way, to go basically from zero to 10 in just 15 minutes of the halftime break,” Paunovic said.

However, the need to turn it on like that is not a good sign for the playoffs when the opponents will be better than Philadelphia. One of the reasons for the improved play was the introduction of David Accam into the match after halftime. Accam was fouled in the box to earn the penalty kick that Nemanja Nikolic scored to tie the match.

[RELATED: With MLS scoring title nearly locked up, Nemanja Nikolic views it as 'work of one year’]

The Ghanaian has been nursing a hip injury for weeks and it has limited his playing time. This was the third straight match he has not started. When asked if not starting Accam was about his injury or resting him for the playoffs, Paunovic said, “It’s a little bit of everything.”

“I felt good today on the field,” Accam said. “I haven’t played in a long time so today I felt good and I think I’m ready to help this team.”

Accam described the injury as a nerve injury. He said the plan was for him to play 30 minutes, but Paunovic told him to get ready earlier because the team might need him.

“Sometimes I just wake up and I don’t know,” Accam said. “It’s really painful. Other times it feels so good. The last two or three weeks it feels really, really painful.”

This was also the first match Michael de Leeuw, the team’s leader in assists, missed due to his torn ACL suffered last match against New York City FC. Juninho missed his fifth straight match with a knee injury and his status for the playoffs remains unclear. Bastian Schweinsteiger is nursing a thigh injury and while he is expected to be available for the postseason, his fitness will be in question. Joao Meira went down early in Sunday’s match and finished the match, but was walking with a significant limp in the locker room after the game.

This all adds up to plenty question marks heading into the playoffs for the Fire. Who knows what the team will look like when the postseason rolls around.

With MLS scoring title nearly locked up, Nemanja Nikolic views it as 'work of one year'

With MLS scoring title nearly locked up, Nemanja Nikolic views it as 'work of one year'

Nemanja Nikolic has won scoring titles before in his career so his place at the top of the Major League Soccer goal-scoring list is not an unfamiliar place for him.

Nikolic, who joined the Fire this offseason, won the scoring title three times in the Hungarian league and did so in his last full season in the Polish Ekstraklasa before leaving for the Fire. By scoring a hat trick in Sunday’s 3-2 win against Philadelphia, Nikolic put himself in prime position to win the Golden Boot in his first year in MLS.

Nikolic scored in the third minute, finishing off a long ball from Brandon Vincent that gave him a breakaway, buried a penalty kick in the second half to tie the match and scored the game-winner in the 78th minute on an impressive first-touch finish. Nikolic now has 24 goals on the season. The nearest competitors in the scoring title race, Diego Valeri (21) and David Villa (20), would need a hat trick of their own just to get back in the race with one weekend left in the regular season.

“I think it’s important for every striker to win this,” Nikolic said of the scoring title. “This is our job. We need to do this every week. The season is really long so up and down situations you will have always. The important thing is how you will believe in these things and how you will come out from the bad momentum and also how you will train when you have good momentum.”

Nikolic’s third goal was huge beyond getting Nikolic his first hat trick of the season. The win moved the Fire up to third in the Eastern Conference standings while a draw would have dropped the team to fifth. A fifth-place finish means going on the road in the first-round so securing at least a top four spot is a big difference.

When he scored the third goal and again when he was subbed out of the match in added time, the crowd chanted “NIKO!”

“I feel really good, not just about hat trick, about the victory,” Nikolic said. “It was really important for us. The first half was not that great, but I think we showed attitude. We showed personality, how we need to play in second half. We were not afraid.”


During the week leading up to the Philadelphia match, Nikolic talked up how many quality strikers were deserving of winning the scoring title. When asked if any of his teammates had joked about the scoring race with him, Nikolic responded very seriously about what it means.

"I think it’s no joke," he said. "I think it’s work of one year."

Vincent assisted on both of Nikolic’s goals from open play.

“Unbelievable accomplishment for him,” Vincent said of Nikolic likely winning the Golden Boot. “He deserves every bit of it. He’s been clinical on the chances he’s gotten. He probably could have had even more goals, honestly. He’s a striker and he deserves that for sure.”