Saturday, July 25, 2009


Chicago earns draw, nearly pulls off upset in closing minutes

The script would have been perfect for Chicago Fire defender Brandon Prideaux:

The Renton, Wash., native playing in Seattle, in his final Major League Soccer season, in his 241st game without having scored a goal (an MLS record), and getting a chance in the closing minutes to put an end to that string and give Chicago a late lead in front of a packed Qwest Field.

In the 88th minute, Fire midfielder Justin Mapp took a corner kick and Prideaux cut to the near post. He struck the ball solidly, and Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller did not even move. Only Prideaux's header struck the crossbar, the ball hit the ground and was then cleared away.

The classic ending did not come to fruition. Instead, the Eastern Conference-leading Fire (7-3-8) took a smaller sense of satisfaction in managing a scoreless draw Saturday in front of 32,405 Sounders supporters.

Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch (pictured above) earned his sixth shutout of the season with five saves. His counterpart, Keller, made two saves for Seattle (7-3-8).

Chicago played for 5 minutes shorthanded when midfielder John Thorrington picked up a second yellow card in the 54th minute on a reckless tackle against Sounders midfielder Freddie Ljungberg. It appeared to be the boost Seattle was hoping for, until the 59th minute.

Ljungberg tried to draw a foul on Fire defender C.J. Brown near the top of the box. The referee felt Ljungberg took a dive and carded him. Ljungberg complained to the official and was handed a second yellow for dissent - a huge turn of events. Ljungberg got so close to the official that even Busch stepped in the way to break things up. From then on out, both teams played with 10 men on the pitch.

With fewer players, there was more space to work with, and the Sounders created the lion share of chances. In the 71st minute, Seattle's Nate Jaqua (pictured left) had a couple opportunities, one saved by Busch, and then the other cleared by Fire defender Gonzalo Segares for a Sounders corner. In the 80th minute, Brown gave Sounders forward Fredy Montero a substantial gap and Montero decided to take a long strike that hit the corner frame. Then in the 85th minute, Patrick Ianni headed the ball into the ground, it scooted past the defense and Busch, but the Fire's Chris Rolfe was there for the clear.

Seattle had the bulk of chances in the first half, as well. Busch averted a strong Seattle attack when he rose above Jaqua and Brown and punched the ball away on a Sounders free kick in the 32nd minute. Five minutes later, Jaqua was on the attack again. Montero provided a perfect looping cross to Jaqua for aheader. Busch made the save, Jaqua got the ball again, took another shot attempt, and Busch had a second save.

* * *

Next up: The Fire host Real Salt Lake at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 1, at Toyota Park. The game is televised on My50.

* * * thoughts: There are boring scoreless draws and exciting ones, and this game clearly fit into the latter category. It had everything: strong technical play, some gritty play, momentum changers, ejections, a brief shorthanded situation working against the Fire, big saves, a raucous crowd and several scoring chances that hit the post or crossbar.

The Fire's frame strike was a bit unfortunate, and the three points would have been an impressive road accomplishment. Still, a scoreless draw has never occurred for Seattle this season, and without injured Brian McBride (shoulder injury), Logan Pause (U.S. Men's National Team) and Bakary Soumare (suspension - yellow card accumulation), that makes this effort a positive one.

Thorrington's energy was good, until he let that filter into his decision-making process. When he picked up his second yellow card in the 54th minute, it was one of those situations where you had a feeling that was going to happen. He had a bad angle on Ljungberg, who appeared as though he was anticipating the tackle from behind or to the side. It was a poor decision on Thorrington's part, and now Chicago is without his services next week. The exact same thing can be said about Ljungberg, and if he just walked away, the Sounders would have had 30 more minutes of a one-man advantage to work with.

The Fire offense had a few runs here and there in the final third, with a couple decent chances by Rolfe. But this game was all about the defense. Chicago faced the challenge of playing in the energetic Qwest Field environment and held the host Sounders scoreless. You can't ask for much more than that, though a Prideaux goal would have been poetic.

* * *

Soumare added to MLS All-Star Team

Fire defender Bakary Soumare will join teammates Wilman Conde and Cuauhtemoc Blanco on the MLS All-Star Team for Wednesday's game against Everton FC. The game, which takes place at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah, will be televised on ESPN2 at 8:30 p.m. (CST).

Soumare is replacing Houston Dynamo forward Brian Ching's spot. Ching is being given a rest following a long stretch of matches with the U.S. Men's National Team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

The league also announced Saturday that Real Salt Lake midfielder Will Johnson is replacing New England Revolution midfielder Shalrie Joseph, who was diagnosed with bone bruising in his right knee.

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