Sunday, August 30, 2009

WPS ALL-STARS 4, UMEA IK 2

The Women's Professional Soccer All-Stars scored four unanswered goals as they defeated Swedish team Umea IK, 4-2, on Sunday in the first-ever WPS All-Star Game.

The Chicago Red Stars Cristiane (pictured) and Megan Rapinoe started, while Brittany Klein played in the second half. Chicago's Frida Ostberg played for Umea. Cristiane assisted the game-tying goal by Marta.

CLICK HERE for my full report from the game at Examiner.com.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

WPS ALL-STAR GAME PREVIEW

The Chicago Red Stars' Cristiane, Brittany Klein and Megan Rapinoe are participating in Sunday's first-ever Women's Professional Soccer All-Star Game at The Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park in Fenton, Mo. I'm on the road covering the festivities. Check out these links to my Chicago Sports Examiner page at Examiner.com:

Part I: Red Stars trio caps off '09
Part II: Crystal Lake's LePeilbet a WPS fave

Friday, August 28, 2009

PREVIEW: D.C. UNITED AT FIRE

Chicago vies for 1 more win before 2-week break

Between the road record and the mini-defensive roster that's available, this Chicago Fire team seems to step up in the most dire circumstances.

They face a difficult Eastern Conference test on Saturday when they host long-time rival D.C. United for a 7:30 p.m. match at Toyota Park (game televised on Fox Soccer Channel).

Defender Dasan Robinson, who scored the game-winning goal during Chicago's recent 3-2, come-from-behind win over the Colorado Rapids, has to sit this one out. He picked up his second yellow card for taking off his shirt in celebration of the game-winning goal against Colorado.

The back line has had some variations to it for many weeks now. It appears that the Fire (10-5-8, 38 points) will try to get center defensive back Wilman Conde in the lineup again. He has had hamstring issues for most of the season.

Mike Banner (pictured above) had a huge role in Chicago's win against the Rapids, supplying the game-tying goal and also playing some defense at left back. His versatile efforts have been necessary as the Fire are stretched thin on the back line.

D.C. (6-5-11, 29 points) has been hot and cold this season - frigid when it comes to its road performance (1-5-6). The offense has also come up blank of late, and if United loses Saturday, the team would post a winless MLS slate in August. The only victory so far is a non-MLS win in PKs over C.D. Luis Angel Firpo on Aug. 4 in CONCACAF Champions League play.

The Fire do welcome back midfielder John Thorrington, who missed the Rapids match, serving a one-game suspension for yellow-card accumulation.

Past records mean little in this long rivalry, and both East squads know the importance of this game. D.C. has a bit more at stake, trying to make its way back into the playoff picture. The Fire want to maintain their stance with a top-two playoff spot. The Fire are 1 point behind East-leading Columbus, which has played one fewer game than Chicago and takes on MLS's cellar dwellers, the New York Red Bulls, this Sunday.

Though a bit battered, the Fire clearly showed through last week's comeback that they can make up for the long trail of injuries and setbacks. Fire 1, D.C. United 0

MAGIC'S RAUL DIAZ ARCE TO D.C. HALL

Chicago Magic Soccer Club Technical Director Raul Diaz Arce, formerly of D.C. United, will be inducted to the MLS organization's Hall of Tradition on Sept. 12. The team made the announcement earlier this week.

Diaz Arce led D.C. to MLS Cup trophies in 1996 and '97, a U.S. Open Cup title in '96 and the Supporters' Shield trophy in '97. He scored 44 goals in 68 games for United, with the best goals-per-game average in team history.

"It is truly an honor to be inducted into the D.C. United Hall of Tradition and to join great players such as John harkes, Marco Etcheverry and Jeff Agoos," Diaz Arce said. "I have great memories of my time in D.C., and the great support I received from the fans, especially the Salvadoran community."

CARNEY STARTS EURO COMEBACK


Chicago Red Stars midfielder Karen Carney is playing for the England Women's National Team in the UEFA Women's Euro 2009 Championship.

At the 2:20 mark of the above video, Carney nets a goal against Russia during Friday's match at Helsinki Stadium. Carney's 24th-minute goal was the start of an England rally. England battled back from an early 2-0 deficit and earned a 3-2 victory, scoring three goals to cap off the first half. Carney also assisted Eniola Aluko's game-tying goal.

Carney and the England squad face Sweden in their final group game Monday in Turku.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

SOUMARE OFFICIALLY LEAVES FIRE

Chicago Fire central defender Bakary Soumare is bound for France and has seen his final days in Chicago.

On Wednesday, the Fire officially announced the transfer of the All-Star defender to Boulogne of the French Ligue 1, where his transfer fee is reportedly $2.15 million.

"We would like to thank Bakary Soumare for his contributions to this club and wish him the best in his future playing career," Fire technical director Frank Klopas said in a release.

For weeks, it appeared that Soumare's tenure with the Fire was coming to a close, especially following an Aug. 9 halftime altercation with head coach Denis Hamlett during a match against the Houston Dynamo. He had not played on the field ever since that physical incident.

Soumare played and started in 16 games this year, posting 1,364 minutes and assisting a goal. He was drafted by the Fire with the second overall pick in the 2007 MLS SuperDraft.

The Fire's defense as a whole has been trudging through some tough times, with injuries to C.J. Brown, Wilman Conde, Gonzalo Segares, Tim Ward and Daniel Woolard. Segares (MCL sprain), Ward (metatarsal fracture) and Woolard (ankle sprain) are currently listed as out on the MLS injury report. Conde's hamstring injury has caused some missed games here and there. And Brown took a couple of hard hits during the Fire's most recent 3-2 victory against the Colorado Rapids.

The Fire host D.C. United at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Toyota Park (televised on Fox Soccer Channel). Following that match will be a welcome two-week layoff with the hopes that they will have a much healthier squad for the final six regular-season matches and potential playoffs.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

RED STARS' KLEIN GETS U.S. WNT STINT

Chicago midfielder, along with Lloyd and Rapinoe, to train with squad

On Tuesday, three players from the Chicago Red Stars were named to the U.S. Women's National Team's training session running from Sept. 21 to Oct. 2.

Red Stars midfielder Brittany Klein (pictured) joins the team with the hopes of earning her first international camp. She joins Red Stars midfielder Carli Lloyd and midfielder Megan Rapinoe on the squad.

Head coach Pia Sundhage is using this training session in preparation for an Oct. 29 match against reigning Women's World Cup champion Germany at Impuls Arena in Augsburg. The training takes place at The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.

Red Stars midfielder Lindsay Tarpley misses out on the camp because of an ACL injury she suffered toward the end of the inaugural Women's Professional Soccer season.

Also among Sundhage's 26-player training camp group are Naperville native and Notre Dame alum Brittany Bock (pictured above against Klein) of the Los Angeles Sol, as well as Crystal Lake native and Boston Breakers defender Amy LePeilbet. This is Bock's second call-up, but she did not earn a cap because of a heel injury the day before an international friendly against Canada on May 25. Bock played for WPS's runner-up Sol, while LePeilbet garnered the most player votes for Sunday's WPS All-Star Game against Swedish Champions Umea IK.

The Red Stars' Klein, Rapinoe and Cristiane were named to the WPS All-Star squad.

• Blanco to rejoin Mexican National Team: Chicago Fire midfielder Cuauhtemoc Blanco was named to the Mexican National Team's Roster for World Cup qualifying against Costa Rica and Honduras. Mexico faces Costa Rica on Sept. 5 and Honduras on Sept. 9. Blanco assisted a goal during Mexico's Aug. 12 win against the U.S. Men's National Team.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

FIRE 3, COLORADO RAPIDS 2

Robinson caps off Chicago's remarkable comeback in final 20 minutes

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. - Facing a two-goal deficit beyond the 70th minute, the Chicago Fire were simply vying to get back into the game. But they did more than just that as they scored three unanswered goals, capped off by a Dasan Robinson tally in second-half stoppage time, as the Fire defeated the Colorado Rapids, 3-2, on Sunday at Toyota Park.

The central defender headed home the game-winner past former Fire goalkeeper Matt Pickens several minutes into stoppage time for his first tally of the season.

"It's a blessing," Robinson said. "The ball popped back out to Justin (Mapp) and he put a great ball in and I was able to wait for it and put it in the back of the net. Thank God I got a good head on it."

Robinson's goal came with a price, however. After the goal, he took off his shirt in celebration and was booked his second yellow card of the game, forcing Chicago to play the remainder of stoppage time a man down and without his services for next week against D.C. United.

"He had a little brain fart there at the end. It happens," Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch said. "He was so excited; you have to be excited for him because he doesn't score that often. But he's going to take that Nike bonus that he probably got for scoring a goal and now he's going to pay his red card fine."

"Kind of a bone-headed move, but you live and you learn," Robinson said. "I'll do my best next time to be a little more thoughtful in my actions after I score a goal."

With the win, Chicago improved to 10-5-8, 38 points, while Colorado falls to 8-7-6, 30 points.

The end of the match was a far cry from the start. First off, both teams did not register a shot on goal through the first 45 minutes. And then, it was all Colorado for the first 15 minutes of the second half.

Omar Cummings first scored off a rebound in the 48th minute and then cracked a left-footed strike from above the box in the 58th to give the Rapids a 2-0 lead. That goal prompted Fire head coach Denis Hamlett to bring in Patrick Nyarko, and the game changed for the better from Chicago's standpoint.

"I thought the game changed when we went to two strikers," Hamlett said. "I feel like when we were down 2-0, we wanted to get back into the game and push upfield."

In the 72nd minute, Chicago got on the scoreboard when Cuauhtemoc Blanco capitalized on his penalty kick opportunity to cut the deficit to 2-1. Then in the 85th minute, second-half substitution Mike Banner, who pushed up from his left defensive back position, happened to be at the right place at the right time. He wound up with the ball and struck it past Pickens' left to tie the score at 2-all.

* * *


Next up: The Fire wrap up their three-game homestand with D.C. United at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29. The game is televised on Fox Soccer Channel.

* * *


SlideTackles.net thoughts: Talk about a game with polar opposites. Colorado and Chicago did not have a single shot on goal in the first half, and for Fire supporters, that should not have sat well considering the team was coming off an entire game against L.A. in which the Fire did not post a shot on goal.

The Fire lived dangerously but stayed poised and thrilled Toyota Park with their best comeback of the season.

Though the game-winner wound up being the big story, on the defensive side, Robinson had a much-improved match compared to Wednesday's 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy, in which he was involved in the defensive collapse on two quick L.A. attacks. Robinson read the passing lanes pretty well against Colorado. "I thought tonight his instincts, as far as stepping in and winning balls, I thought he was good at doing that," Hamlett said.

Though his improvement was a plus, his absence will be an obvious negative when D.C. comes to town. This defense is insanely shorthanded to begin with, and with both center backs (C.J. Brown and Wilman Conde) frequently hurt and reports surfacing that Bakary Soumare is headed to play in France, this group cannot afford an absence that should have been prevented.

Aside from Cummings' first goal, the defense as a whole had a steady performance Sunday. Brown and Robinson were frequently battling against Cummings and Conor Casey, and that is one of the best forward tandems in MLS to deal with. The first Cummings goal should have been prevented, but his second goal was simply a beautiful strike that likely could not have been defended better in order to change the outcome.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

PREVIEW: COLORADO RAPIDS AT FIRE

Chicago needs to find its offensive attack once again

It is pretty evident that the Chicago Fire can only go up following their performance Wednesday in a 2-0 loss to the visiting Los Angeles Galaxy. Chicago hopes to find the win column when the team hosts the Colorado Rapids at 5 p.m. Sunday at Toyota Park (game televised on My50).

You could name numerous areas to pinpoint where things went wrong Wednesday, starting with the lack of a single shot on goal against L.A. One direct effect that limited the Fire’s possession could have been the slippery conditions on the pitch, forward Patrick Nyarko said.

“The conditions were a little rough, and the field was really wet,” Nyarko said. “That’s when we’re at our best, if we keep moving the ball. But the ball skipped so bad.”

But since both teams were dealing with the heavy rainfall during the pre-game, consider that point a wash - figuratively and literally. Chicago (9-5-8, 35 points) and Colorado (8-6-6, 30 points) should have perfect playing conditions to deal with Sunday.

The Fire’s defensive injuries are well-known by now if you have had a chance to see the team’s lineup over the past couple of games. Left back Gonzalo Segares (left MCL sprain) said Wednesday that he felt he was a couple weeks away from returning, though preliminary indications were that he would be out longer. You also have the absence of Tim Ward (left metatarsal fracture), Bakary Soumare (has not played since altercation with head coach Denis Hamlett) and Daniel Woolard (left ankle sprain).

Aside from the numerous injuries, the Fire are also without midfielder John Torrington (pictured above), who will serve a one-game suspension Sunday because of yellow card accumulation.

In the only other match against Colorado this season, the Fire went on the road and handed the Rapids their first home defeat. Chicago posted a 2-1 victory on July 4, led by first-half goals from midfielder Marco Pappa and defender Wilman Conde.

Colorado has never won at Toyota Park and has posted only one victory in Chicago, a 3-0 win on Aug. 14, 2004, at Soldier Field.

Heading into the weekend, Colorado forward Conor Casey holds the MLS lead with 11 goals in only 14 games. Five times this season the Rapids have scored three or more goals, and two of their past three efforts have been 4-0 wins against the New York Red Bulls and Chivas USA.

This is one of the Fire’s toughest stretches of the season, primarily because of the bulk of games in August. Chicago has seven games this month - six MLS matches and that disappointing loss to Tigres UANL in the SuperLiga championship. Colorado also is in one of its toughest stretches with this game and then a tough home match against the Houston Dynamo next week.

Chicago will need to find a good mix of speed, muscle and stamina to deal with the likes of Casey and Omar Cummings on the defensive side. And Chris Rolfe, Pappa and Nyarko need to pick things up offensively. They have each had their moments, but collectively we have yet to really see if this offense can gel to the point where you can partly forget about the shoulder injury to Brian McBride. Chicago Fire 2, Colorado Rapids 1

WPS CHAMPIONSHIP: SKY BLUE FC 1, SOL 0

New Jersey-based Sky Blue FC completed its Cinderella Story finish to the Women’s Professional Soccer season, defeating regular-season champion Los Angeles Sol, 1-0, on Saturday in the WPS Championship. Below are Associated Press photos of the Chicago-area locals who played in the match. (CLICK HERE for the game report)


Elk Grove Village native Jen Buczkowski (4) celebrates the WPS title with her Sky Blue FC teammates Saturday. The Notre Dame alum and the New Jersey defense handed the Sol their second shutout loss of the inaugural 2009 WPS season.

* * *


Naperville native Brittany Bock (11) of the Sol battles for the ball against Sky Blue’s Rosana. Bock was given a yellow card in the 52nd minute for bumping into Sky Blue goalkeeper Jenni Branam as she was going for a header near the goal. Also a Notre Dame alum, Bock scored two goals during the regular season.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

L.A. GALAXY 2, FIRE 0

Chicago offense fails to put a shot on goal

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. - The Chicago Fire looked lethargic, out of sync … pretty much any adjective that has a negative connotation to it. There was no way to hide the fact that this team did not show up Wednesday, especially since they failed to put a shot on goal in front of a sellout crowd of 20,000, falling to the David Beckham-less Los Angeles Galaxy, 2-0, at Toyota Park.

“If you can’t get up for big games like this, I don’t know what the problem is,” said Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch (pictured).

The closest attempt to an on-goal shot came in the 59th minute when Patrick Nyarko’s header went down into the ground at such an angle that Galaxy goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts had to come so far off his line to get the ball. Other than that, it was nothing but some passing headers, rolling or lofted shots that were not bound toward the frame.

Chicago also had to play with its “second-string” defense again, though the team did welcome the return of center defensive back Wilman Conde. That group hoped to post a similar result to last week’s 2-0 victory in Kansas City, but they got burned on L.A.’s quick attack.

Chicago native Mike Magee had a goal in the 23rd minute and assisted Landon Donovan’s goal in the 54th. With the win, L.A. already has surpassed last year’s points total of 33. This season the Galaxy are 8-4-10 with 34 points. The Fire drop to 9-5-8 overall and 3-3-4 at home.

“We were all off tonight. Bottom line, it wasn’t good from any of us,” Busch said. “In a big game, none of us were good enough. Big players need to step up and win games and none of us did. Bottom line is we didn’t play effective soccer. Effective soccer wins games. Effective soccer is what L.A. just did to us. Was it pretty? No. Effective soccer is what got us three points out in Kansas City. Tonight wasn’t effective soccer.”

Busch made three saves as the Galaxy put five of their six shots on goal. Chicago took 10 shots, but Ricketts did not have to make a save.

There wasn’t a whole lot Busch could do with either goal as Magee made a nice juke move to open a scoring path for the first goal, and Donovan simply jettisoned past Fire defender Dasan Robinson and fired the ball past Busch.

“We know tonight we had a bad night all the way around,” Fire head coach Denis Hamlett said. “For whatever reason tonight, with a big game and big crowd, we just weren’t sharp from the get-go.”


* * *


Next up: The Fire stay at home and host the Colorado Rapids for a 5 p.m. match on Sunday, Aug. 23. The game is televised on My50.

* * *


SlideTackles.net thoughts: Chicago was sluggish from the start, and the team just didn’t look like it was on the same page. There were numerous runs where some of the Fire players looked like they were close to bumping into each other. Defensively, yes, this team sorely misses the likes of Gonzalo Segares, Tim Ward and Bakary Soumare. But this team did perform adequately against K.C. Hamlett might want to get C.J. Brown back in there. Dasan Robinson looked so slow, and it was a bit of a surprise that Hamlett did not utilize one of his three subs to replace him.

L.A. does deserve some credit for the team’s defensive stance and the ability to turn some turnovers directly into goals. The Galaxy played some good fundamental soccer as they rebounded quite well from their loss to Seattle Sounders FC, a game that featured red cards to Beckham and Eddie Lewis.

The Fire need to quickly return to form. There was too much dribbling, not enough sound passing, and a couple scrums close to the net where they needed to get a foot on the ball and challenge Ricketts. There were times when the Fire created a nice buildup, only to see it go away because of a few too many dribbles above the box or an incident such as Nyarko tripping himself up after Cuauhtemoc Blanco makes a perfect send.

When you play a game where an own-goal would have been the only thing to get you on the scoreboard, you know you need to erase this match from the memory bank and start fresh on every level. They have no time to dwell on this one with a home match against Colorado just several days away.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

PREVIEW: L.A. GALAXY AT FIRE

The Chicago Fire host the Los Angeles Galaxy for an 8 p.m. match Wednesday at Toyota Park. CLICK HERE to read my preview at Examiner.com. I also wrote an Examiner.com piece featuring the coaching dynamic of Bruce Arena and Dave Sarachan as they have an opportunity to either equal or surpass the team's point totals of 2007 and 2008 if they win Wednesday's match.

* * *


Extra chatter from former Fire head coach Dave Sarachan

If you ever have had a chance to chat with Dave Sarachan before, the man loves to talk! So there were a bunch of comments from Tuesday's conversation that I could not fit in to the above story featuring himself and Bruce Arena. Here are several leftover remarks from the former Chicago Fire head coach:

• First impression of Blanco: "When I was coaching the Fire and it was the off-season, we were asked to put together a short list of DP-type players. So you had Zidane, and Henrik Larsson ... on that particular initial list, with me (Cuauhtemoc) Blanco was down. And unfairly so, only because I was coming from the national team. We never liked Mexico. Blanco was a controversial guy. But now that you fast forward a little bit, his name is more toward the top of the list for a lot of reasons - public relations reasons, would he draw fans, would he still help you on the field. And so I wasn't sure about it, if it would be a train wreck, until I met with him. ... Myself, and (John) Guppy and Denis (Hamlett), we went to Mexico to have dinner with him. At that point, I spent about an hour with him. I left there thinking it's going to be OK. He's a winner. If you can take away the bunny hop and all that stuff, you could tell that this guy was competitive. He reminded me of Marco Etcheverry as far as that kind of mentality. I think he's turned out to be very good."

• Revamping the Galaxy: "You've got Landon, David, the locker room, the record, the franchise, and a lot of things that we had to sit back and piece together and just assess where it is and where we wanted to go. And I think when you fast forward to where we are right now, we feel comfortable that there's progress. If you go through the check marks, we think we've gotten stronger in the locker room, stronger with senior leadership, stronger with personnel. By no means do we feel we're at an end point. But we think there's progress going forward. The external stuff, when we first came in, was pretty crazy."

• First moments within David Beckham-mania: "Every time I got off the bus and I heard, 'David!' I thought they were talking about me."

• More Beckham moments: "When we went on our tour at the end of the season in New Zealand, they had a day where all the school kids didn't have to go to school and watched us train. So there were probably 7,000 or 8,000 kids there. It was like traveling with the Beatles. It was less about the game of soccer and more about an icon. These kids were screaming like it was Paul (McCartney), like it was the Beatles. I said to David, 'Are there days where you want to stay in bed?'"

• Experience working with U.S. Soccer Development Academy: "It was different. It was very different from what I was used to with the more recent stuff, being the head coach of a team. That is also a great addition of U.S. Soccer. And that was Year 1. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed the youth component. It was something a little bit different for me. But the potential I see in the academy structure is quite good. So the time between the Fire and L.A., it was a good period of time. I enjoyed it."

Sunday, August 16, 2009

FIRE 2, KANSAS CITY WIZARDS 0

Chicago earns league-leading 6th road victory

A second-string defense and a couple of missing midfielders, and Major League Soccer's best road team still prevailed as the Chicago Fire defeated the Kansas City Wizards, 2-0, on Sunday at CommunityAmerica Ballpark.

Chris Rolfe (pictured) and Mike Banner scored in the 13th and 89th minutes, respectively, as Chicago improved to 6-2-4 on the road and 9-4-8 overall. The Wizards dropped to 5-8-6.

Rolfe capped off a strong give-and-go sequence with midfielder Marco Pappa for the game's first tally. Rolfe's back pass to Pappa put Wizards defender Jimmy Conrad in an awkward spot to either stay with Rolfe or collapse on Pappa. Conrad was indecisive, and when Pappa fed back to Rolfe, the Fire forward had a clear path and fired to the near post past K.C. goalkeeper Kevin Hartman for the 1-0 lead.

The Wizards' Zoltan Hercegfalvi was ejected in the 85th minute for a hard foul against second-half Fire sub Banner. With the one-man advantage, Banner quickly gave the Fire a bit of a cushion with his first MLS goal. He shot the ball from the left side and found the far right post. Rolfe was even sliding in toward the net just in case the ball went wide.

In the net, Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch made five saves for the clean sheet, while Hartman made four for K.C.

Former Fire forward Josh Wolff continued his more-than-three-month scoring drought. He had four of K.C.'s five shots on goal. Most of his strikes went right to Busch. But the Chicago goalkeeper had some help. In the 67th minute, center defensive back C.J. Brown had a block on a Wolff shot.

The Wizards' best scoring chance came shortly into the second half, in the 48th minute. Aaron Hohlbein had a chance at point-blank range. But Fire midfielder Logan Pause blocked the ball at the goal line as Chicago maintained its 1-0 lead at that point.

* * *


Next up: The Fire host the David Beckham-less Los Angeles Galaxy at 8 p.m. Wednesday at Toyota Park. The game is televised on ESPN2.

* * *


SlideTackles.net thoughts: Pappa found a perfect rhythm on the pitch, and if his 41st-minute strike didn't hit the left post, he would have deserved all the post-game chatter for his accomplishments. Pappa also should have had another assist in the 43rd minute when he provided a solid send from the right wing to Justin Mapp on the left. But Mapp's execution was similar to his missed penalty kick against Tigres UANL in the SuperLiga finals - too high and too wide on a perfect chance for a goal.

The Fire were fortunate to be playing a Kansas City team that looked out of sync and didn't do much to challenge Chicago's defense. The absences of Davy Arnaud and Claudio Lopez, both out because of yellow card accumulation, clearly had a negative effect on this struggling team.

The Wizards were happy to have Conrad back since he suffered a concussion with the U.S. Men's National Team in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. But he needs to find his form again. His defensive positioning was off, and on the offensive side he missed a prime chance in the 60th minute when he got the inside angle on Austin Washington. But Conrad's header off of a Santiago Hirsig cross did not even come close to the frame.

Chicago did absolutely everything it needed to do with so many absences throughout the lineup. With a short rest and a talented Galaxy team coming to town on Wednesday, some reinforcements would be helpful.

PREVIEW: FIRE AT K.C. WIZARDS

Can Chicago's battered defense handle shorthanded obstacle?

Remember earlier this season when Chicago Fire midfielder Cuauhtemoc Blanco felt this team had too many defenders?

He might want to take that wording back as the Fire try to locate their winning ways again on the road when they face the host Kansas City Wizards at 2 p.m. Sunday (televised on TeleFutura). Chicago (8-4-8) is coming off a 3-2 road loss to the Houston Dynamo.

About a month ago the absence of target man Brian McBride was the focal point in this team's offensive adjustment. But the toughest obstacle now is the team's defense.

First, the Fire announced Saturday that they issued fines to head coach Denis Hamlett and defender Bakary Soumare (pictured) for a locker room "incident" that took place during halftime of the Dynamo matchup. Soccer By Ives reported that there was a heated exchange, but that no punches were thrown. Soumare was taken out of the match for the second half. Soumare played in a Mali national team friendly in France last week and did not train with the team. So there is a good chance that he is not available at center back.

Then there are the numerous injuries to this group. Both typical starting outside backs, Gonzalo Segares (left MCL sprain) and Tim Ward (left metatarsal fracture), are out. Center back Wilman Conde is doubtful with his continuous hamstring problem. And in the midfield, John Thorrington also is doubtful with a groin strain. Defender Daniel Woolard had to leave last week's game with an injury, but he no longer is on the injury report.

All-in-all, it makes for a tremendous challenge for even the deepest of MLS teams. And the Fire have four remaining road games where they would like to continue adding to their league-best 5-2-4 record away from Toyota Park. Because of some difficulties at home (3-2-4 record), Chicago has depended on its road stability.

The Wizards (5-7-6) are on the lower end of the East standings, ahead of the lowly New York Red Bulls. They have a challenge of their own with the absence of Davy Arnaud and Claudio Lopez, who are serving suspensions. And this team has struggled from the offensive end, with its scoring leader in the midst of a three-month drought. That man is former Fire forward Josh Wolff, who scored two goals to rally the Wizards for a 2-all draw against the host Fire on April 18. He has been sitting on six goals since a two-goal effort to lead K.C. past Real Salt Lake, 2-0, on May 16.

K.C. has not won a league match since its 3-1 victory over the New England Revolution on June 13. And with a new head coach (Peter Vermes) and a two-week break since a 6-0 defeat against FC Dallas, who knows where the Wizards stand.

This still could be an opportune moment for the Fire to take advantage of a team that has shown so much weakness of late on both sides of the ball. With Chicago nursing its own problems, this has some makings of a low-scoring, grind-it-out battle. Chicago Fire 1, Kansas City Wizards 0

• Examiner.com Chicago Sports story: Galaxy's Beckham to miss Wednesday's Chicago Fire game

Friday, August 14, 2009

RED STARS' 2009 WPS SEASON IN REVIEW

SlideTackles.net dishes final grades of Chicago's inaugural season

The Women's Professional Soccer playoffs are here this weekend. But missing from this group of four postseason teams are the Chicago Red Stars, who finished their inaugural season with a 5-10-5 record, 20 points and a sixth-place finish.

There is no question that Chicago's first season had a mix of highlights and lowlights, and all you have to look at is the undefeated four-game start, followed by a two-month winless stretch.

Despite the shortcomings, the league and the Red Stars were a welcome addition to the Chicago area, whether it was Brazilian Cristiane's exciting play, a dominant 4-0 win over the Boston Breakers, the continual increase in attendance at Toyota Park, celebrating the 10-year anniversary of the U.S. Women's National Team's World Cup victory in '99 ... and that is the tip of the iceberg.

In closing out the season, SlideTackles.net presents its final performance grades of the women who battled on the pitch for 20 regular-season matches.

• Goalkeeper (GRADE: A): Forget the Red Stars' regular-season record for a second and keep in mind that Caroline Jonsson (pictured) recorded more saves (89) than any other WPS goalkeeper. Jonsson was the cornerstone of this team, especially during the team's many close battles. The epitome of her success shone during her 13-save effort against the Washington Freedom on April 11. She recorded nine saves in the second half, while the Red Stars' offense didn't even put a shot on goal in that half. And the team still managed a 1-all draw. Jonsson was the third-to-last pick of the WPS International Draft, and I'd say she was a steal.

• Defense (GRADE: C): Since Jonsson makes up a category of her own, it's time to critique the rest of the group. There were three things that stood out from what I saw during the season. One, there were some late lapses to allow a game-tying goal or even the opposing team's go-ahead score. Two, on many occasions the Red Stars' defense simply bunkered down and allowed an onslaught of shots. In the five draws this season, opponents out-shot Chicago by an 81-54 margin, leaving you wondering if they only could possess the ball a bit more, maybe the playoffs would have been on the docket. And three, the Red Stars showed some vulnerability in trying to keep up with some of the league's speediest forwards. But there were some positives. In-season acquisition Jill Oakes (pictured) improved quite a bit at center back, and Natalie Spilger earned some valuable starting time. It would have been nice if one of Spilger's flip throw-ins actually directly led to a goal, because few people can provide that distant setup from the sidelines. Kate Markgraf, out this past season because of the birth of twins, intends to play in 2010. So I'd be curious to see how she can take hold of this group.

• Midfield (GRADE: C): Based on raw individual talent, this was the cream of the crop. Together, the moments that they gelled were too few. Some national team call-ups didn't help, either. Megan Rapinoe (pictured) and Brittany Klein were the most consistent within this group, and they're rightly being rewarded with All-Star appearances. Klein in particular had a solid season and saw the most play on the field. Lindsay Tarpley and Karen Carney had some flashes of brilliance and several solid goals, but there were some occasions when they could have finished some other chances. Tarpley closed out the season well, only to suffer an ACL injury before the season finale. Carli Lloyd would be the first person to lead her own criticism talk, which I admit is a very professional acknowledgment. She eluded to the fact that there was some pressure for herself and Tarpley to perform at the highest level, especially since there was so much preseason buzz surrounding these allocated players who have demonstrated their skills at the national team level. When the pressure went away during the Red Stars' 3-1 win over the L.A. Sol (since the game had no bearing on any playoff hopes), they each had one of their better performances. But the bottom line is that pressure will continue to be there for 2010. This area of the pitch needs to be Chicago's cohesive unit, because most times you live or die with your midfield play.

• Forward (GRADE: B-minus): Goals were hard to come by, not just for the Red Stars, but for most of the WPS contingent. Nevertheless, Chicago tied for second-to-last within this seven-team league. The majority of the thunder came from Cristiane's team-leading seven-goal season, and she is joining Rapinoe and Klein on the WPS All-Star Team. Tarpley and Carney pushed up front, as well, especially earlier in the season when Cristiane joined the team a little late and had a knee injury. The Red Stars' 92 shots on goal was the smallest total in WPS. Nine times out of the 20 games, the team attempted 10 or less shots in a game, so we didn't see as much as we would have liked from up top. And that definitely is a trickle effect from some of the possession and defensive shortcomings. One forward I think many people would have liked to have seen a bit more this season is Ella Masar. She only logged 655 minutes and suffered a hip injury when she collided with FC Gold Pride goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart.


2009 Season Recap Thank You Video - The most popular videos are here


No question there will be some changes to the Red Stars roster here and there, some new signings to look forward to. I gather that for the teams that fell short of the playoffs, this inaugural season is a disappointing mulligan that can be corrected at the start of next year. It was a brand-new league with new personalities to get used to and different styles of play trying to converge into one game plan. But those explanations carried lesser meaning toward the final third of the season, and it better be a non-issue for everyone in 2010.

The parity level in WPS was pretty strong, and as long as the league can avert many of the scheduling conflicts that involved so many national team call-ups, we should see some exciting developments across the board next season. I wouldn't expect the L.A. Sol to run away with the regular-season title again in 2010, but you never know. They have Marta.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

BLANCO EARNS ASSIST, MEXICO TOPS U.S.

Chicago Fire midfielder Cuauhtemoc Blanco assisted the game-tying goal as Mexico defeated the United States Men's National Team, 2-1, on Wednesday in FIFA World Cup qualifying at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. For a full look at the game, CLICK HERE to check out my story at Examiner.com.
* * *

The Fire fell from second to fourth place in Examiner.com's MLS Power Rankings through Week 21.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

HOUSTON DYNAMO 3, FIRE 2

Chicago rallies, but Houston nets PK for the final say

The Chicago Fire overcame a two-goal deficit, only to see the Houston Dynamo's Stuart Holden tally the game-winner in the 83rd minute en route to a 3-2 Dynamo victory Sunday in Major League Soccer action at Robertson Stadium in Houston. Holden's go-ahead penalty kick was the result of a Brandon Prideaux foul in the box to Houston's Corey Ashe.

The Fire suffered only their second road loss this season, falling to 8-4-9 overall and remaining four points behind the Eastern Conference-leading Columbus Crew. The Western Conference-leading Dynamo improved to 11-6-5.

Chicago's defense already was hampered before the game without the availability of center back Wilman Conde (hamstring) and right back Tim Ward (fractured left foot). But in the 5th minute, the Fire suffered another setback when Gonzalo Segares had to leave the game early because of an injury. Daniel Woolard came in to replace him, but in the 55th minute, he too was hurt when Houston's Brian Ching fouled him, enticing a yellow card. The Fire had to use their third and final sub with Dasan Robinson coming in.

The Fire defense also saw their shutout streak come to a close at 395 minutes when Houston's Kei Kamara scored off of a quick throw-in in the 21st minute to take a 1-0 lead, with Kamara blasting a shot at a difficult angle. The Dynamo's Ricardo Clark added a goal in the 38th for a 2-0 advantage.

But following halftime, Chicago quickly worked its way back in the game, with two goals in 2 minutes. Chris Rolfe scored a deep goal that rolled past Dynamo goalkeeper Pat Onstad's left to cut Houston's lead to 2-1 in the 46th minute. Then in the 48th, Peter Lowry netted a right-footed volley off of a Cuauhtemoc Blanco (pictured) cross from the left side.

The Fire held a 12-10 shots advantage, while Houston had a 6-4 edge in shots on goal.

* * *


Next up: The Fire stay on the road to take on the Kansas City Wizards for a 2 p.m. match on Sunday, Aug. 16.

* * *


Notes: Cuauhtemoc Blanco (Mexico) and Gonzalo Segares (Costa Rica) immediately were set to join their national teams for World Cup qualifying this week. Mexico hosts the U.S. on Wednesday, and Costa Rica takes on Honduras that day, as well. ... The Chicago Fire Premier Development League squad fell to the Ventura County Fusion, 2-1, on Saturday in the National PDL Championship. It was their second runner-up finish, the last coming in 2003.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

PREVIEW: FIRE AT HOUSTON DYNAMO

CLICK HERE for my full Week 21 MLS weekend preview, leading with Sunday's showdown between the Chicago Fire and Western Conference-leading Houston Dynamo, led by Brian Ching (pictured).

~ Charlie Corr
Major League Soccer Examiner at Examiner.com
SlideTackles.net creator and editor

THIS DATE IN MLS HISTORY, AUG. 8

On Aug. 8, 1998, the Chicago Fire and Los Angeles Galaxy were involved in the first MLS game that featured two own goals. CLICK HERE for the full details on my "This date in MLS history" feature at Examiner.com.

~ Charlie Corr
Major League Soccer Examiner at Examiner.com
SlideTackles.net creator and editor

Friday, August 7, 2009

TRIO OF RED STARS NAMED WPS ALL-STARS

Cristiane, Rapinoe, Klein join lineup for Aug. 30 festivities in St. Louis

Three Chicago Red Stars players will represent the organization during the first-ever Women's Professional Soccer All-Star Game on Aug. 30.

Brazilian forward Cristiane and midfielders Brittany Klein and Megan Rapinoe will be part of the match, which features a collection of WPS All-Stars against Swedish champions Umea IK. The game takes place at 4:30 p.m. at St. Louis Athletica's home field, The Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park, in Fenton, Mo.

Multiple WPS players are unavailable for this game because of the 2009 European Championships. So Cristiane and Rapinoe were named to the WPS First XI and will be starting for head coach Abner Rogers' lineup. Klein was named one of seven at-large selections to round up the 18-player roster.

Cristiane had a slow start to her Red Stars debut because of a late arrival and knee injury. But she picked up her game as the season progressed, accounting for more than a third of the team's offense. Cristiane posted a team-leading seven goals, and she became the first WPS player to net a hat trick during a 3-1 victory over FC Gold Pride. This inaugural WPS season has provided an outlet for Cristiane's skills to earn their own merit, because for two years she has been runner-up to FIFA Player of the Year and Brazilian national teammate Marta of the Los Angeles Sol.

Rapinoe was a clear fan favorite from the start of her Red Stars tenure. She was chosen as the No. 2 overall pick in the WPS General Draft. Rapinoe probably covered more ground on the pitch than any other Red Stars player. She had two goals and three assists in 18 games. She also was called up to the U.S. Women's National Team on a couple of occasions, registering a goal in first-half stoppage time en route to a dominating 4-0 victory over Canada on May 25 at BMO Field in Toronto.

The 5-foot-3 Klein had to carry a mountain of responsibilities this season. There were moments when Chicago's midfield was missing as many as four players to national team duty - Rapinoe, Carli Lloyd and Lindsay Tarpley for the U.S., and Karen Carney for England. But Klein shouldered the extra load and handled a lot of the gritty work that does not show up on a stat sheet. Aside from goalkeeper Caroline Jonsson, who played all 1,800 minutes in the net, Klein led the rest of the team with 1,678 minutes, starting all 20 games. She also tallied three assists and a goal.

• Tarpley tears ACL: Red Stars midfielder Lindsay Tarpley had to miss Wednesday's 2-0 loss to St. Louis Athletica because of an injury. It turns out that she tore the anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee during training Tuesday. "Lindsay's injury is not complicated, and she will work hard to rehabilitate in the off-season in preparation for 2010," Red Stars athletic trainer Laura Behr said in a release. Tarpley had four goals and four assists this season. Three of her goals were game-winners, and twice she earned WPS Player of the Week honors.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

SUPERLIGA: TIGRES 2, FIRE 1 (PKS)

Chicago misses 2 PKs as Tigres prevail with 4-3 edge

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. - For a third straight year, the SuperLiga final went straight to penalty kicks. It’s obviously not the most conventional decision, but for this tournament, it is becoming the norm.

Ultimately, two missed PKs by Mike Banner and Justin Mapp helped Tigres UANL defeat the Chicago Fire, 2-1 (4-3 on PKs), on Wednesday night at Toyota Park. Tigres also earned a $1 million prize.

The deflating aspect for the Fire was that they limited Tigres to only one shot on goal during regulation, and it came down to two missed PKs in crunch time.

“Yes, it’s a little unjust. But that’s how soccer is,” Fire forward Cuauhtemoc Blanco said through a translator. “We need a little bit more personality toward the penalty kicks. You have to be stronger in character and always go with your first instinct. You can’t doubt yourself.”

“Losing in PKs is real hard,” Fire head coach Denis Hamlett said. “But I can’t fault my group. I thought tonight we went out and did good things and made it difficult for them. They had one shot on goal and they scored that goal.”

Itamar Batista scored the final PK for Tigres and ran over to his team’s supporters in the southeast corner of the park. Before the PKs even started, Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch (pictured left) was wanting the kicks on the north end in front of the Fire supporters. But referee Joel Aguilar decided on the south end.

“We wanted it on our side of the field. I figure we’re at home. We should have it with our fans,” Busch said. “But the referee obviously was wearing a Tigres jersey tonight 'cause he had (the penalty kicks by) those Tigres fans. I think that’s absolutely absurd.”

Aside from the final PK, Batista also had the game-tying goal in regulation late in the first half to give his team some momentum heading into halftime.

The game started well for the Fire. Forward Patrick Nyarko (pictured right) continued his recent offensive spark, netting a goal in the 10th minute to give the Fire a 1-0 lead. Gonzalo Segares provided the cross from the left wing and Nyarko made a run for the near post. Nyarko headed the ball inside the post and past Tigres goalkeeper Cirilo Saucedo.

Though the attacks were limited on both ends throughout the half, Tigres did come up with a clutch strike. In the 43rd minute, Batista did everything on his own, with some juke moves against Fire defenders Bakary Soumare and Brandon Prideaux to free up some space for a shot. He aimed to the far right post past Busch to tie the score at 1-all.

“We had two guys on him and we allowed him to get the shot off. He hit it perfect,” Busch said. “He put it literally right on the post on the far side. That was a good goal. Nothing you can do about it. But I’m a little disappointed in that we gave up that chance when we had numbers back and were in a good position.”

When it was PK time, Busch made a save on Manuel Viniegra’s attempt and Chris Rolfe followed with a goal to give the Fire a 2-1 edge. But Banner’s earlier miss wide right and then Mapp’s soaring miss above the crossbar gave Tigres some life. Armando Pulido gave Tigres a 3-2 edge on a ball that Busch actually got a glove on.

“He hit it with power,” Busch said of Pulido’s strike. “Maybe on a different day, I get enough on it, you know? It was a good penalty kick.”

Chicago defender Daniel Woolard tied it at 3-all, and Hamlett said that Woolard’s late substitution for Soumare was in case the PK situation presented itself. But after Woolard’s shot, Batista had the final strike - a rolling shot to the left and past Busch for the SuperLiga title.

* * *


Next up: The Fire return to Major League Soccer play when they hit the road to take on the Houston Dynamo at 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

* * *


SlideTackles.net thoughts: The New England Revolution (2008) and CF Pachuca (2007) were the previous PK SuperLiga winners against the Houston Dynamo and Los Angeles Galaxy, respectively. Personally, I am not a fan of this format whatsoever. I think in a match that is supposed to be for some U.S.-Mexico bragging rights, they should be forced to play some overtime. But like Hamlett said, “Those are the rules, man. What are you going to do?”

Chicago had its chances, as the 16-6 edge on shots clearly showed. Nine of those shots came in the second half, with five on goal. Marco Pappa had a solid strike immediately after the break in the 46th minute, forcing Saucedo to dive to his left for the save in a mess of streamers by the north goal. Segares had a deep strike that tailed a tad to the left and forced Saucedo into a save. In the 77th minute, Blanco had a good ball and Saucedo dove to his right. Baggio Husidic served as a good decoy on that attempt, but once again Chicago could not capitalize.

The second-half substitutions by Hamlett can clearly be up for scrutiny. The Woolard one worked, the Banner and Mapp ones clearly did not. In their place, obviously Pappa and Nyarko would have been better choices to take a PK, hands down.

The PK issue can easily be forgotten when returning to league play. But hopefully for the Fire’s sake they can capitalize on the offensive end. They will need to when they face MLS-leading Houston on Sunday.

ST. LOUIS ATHLETICA 2, RED STARS 0

Chicago posts 5-10-5 record to wrap up first WPS season

The Chicago Red Stars closed their inaugural Women's Professional Soccer season with a 2-0 loss to St. Louis Athletica on Wednesday night at Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park in Fenton, Mo.

Chicago out-shot St. Louis, 10-8, but only put two shots on goal to St. Louis' four. Christie Welsh scored both Athletica goals in the 34th and 64th minutes.

Red Stars midfielder Lindsay Tarpley, who recently earned her second WPS Player of the Week honor, did not play Wednesday night. She injured her knee earlier in the week and was unavailable against St. Louis.

The Red Stars finish with a 5-10-5 record, while St. Louis improves to 10-6-3.

* * *


9-year-old juggling sensation

If you went to Toyota Park to catch the Red Stars' final home game against the Los Angeles Sol, then you had a chance to watch 9-year-old Renae Blevins' juggling act at halftime. On Wednesday the Red Stars posted a video from an earlier showdown against Red Stars forward Cristiane. You'll be impressed!



... And here's some more of her act!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

SUPERLIGA PREVIEW: TIGRES VS. FIRE

$1 million prize at stake for Wednesday's winner

The Chicago Fire and Tigres UANL battle for the 2009 SuperLiga championship at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Toyota Park (televised on TeleFutura). The winner earns a $1 million prize, and the U.S.-Mexico bragging rights are always a sub-factor.

Quite a bit has happened since the last time the Fire faced Tigres during SuperLiga group play.

For starters, Chicago's defense has reached a higher level of late, posting three straight shutouts in Major League Soccer action. In comparison, Fire head coach Denis Hamlett was incredibly disappointed with the defensive unit following a 2-1 loss to Tigres on June 27.

Despite that defeat, Chicago still advanced to the SuperLiga semis. And since that match, the Fire have not allowed more than one goal in a single game.

"We have an older group. We know what it's about," Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch said regarding the team's success of late. "We know when it's time to get going. And this is our time to get going. Nobody needs to kick us in the (butt). We know. We're a very experienced group."

On the offensive side, it's still a bit of a work in progress without injured forward Brian McBride. But Chicago is finding enough to get by and post a positive result - a 2-0-1 record, to be exact in McBride's absence. In the case of the Fire's recent 1-0 victory against Real Salt Lake, forward Patrick Nyarko scored for a second straight home game, while fellow forward Chris Rolfe had an off night with some of his touches and decisions.

"Some guys have an off night, other nights you're good. But that's what the team's about - different guys step up," Hamlett said. "I still think the combination of (Rolfe) and Patrick caused (Real Salt Lake) some problems. I felt that we made sure they pulled their center backs out and got some isolations."

Over the weekend, Hamlett did not play MLS All-Stars Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Wilman Conde at midfield and defense, respectively. Blanco injured his ankle on Friday and Conde has had a lingering hamstring problem. Also missing Saturday was midfielder John Thorrington, who was serving a red card suspension. But Thorrington is now doubtful to participate this week with a right groin strain. And Conde's left hamstring strain lists him as out on the injury list.

These will be some difficult setbacks to try and get through the SuperLiga title match and especially on the road against the MLS-leading Houston Dynamo on Sunday.

If the Fire can somehow manage to overcome these obstacles for a championship trophy and $1 million, even Dr. Evil would be proud of their efforts.

PREVIEW: RED STARS AT ATHLETICA

Chicago tries to finish the way it started, with a win vs. St. Louis

For many, it is difficult to imagine that the Chicago Red Stars' inaugural Women's Professional Soccer season is just about to come to a close.

The Red Stars wrap up their regular season against the team they first faced, St. Louis Athletica. Chicago and St. Louis battle for a 7 p.m. match Wednesday at Anheuser-Busch Soccer Park in Fenton, Mo.

Chicago topped host St. Louis, 1-0, on April 4, with Lindsay Tarpley (pictured somewhere in that huddle) scoring the lone goal in the Red Stars' WPS debut. That 78th-minute tally was the Red Stars' only shot on goal in that second half. And that game was the starting point of a 2-0-2 start to the season, before the Red Stars went more than two months without a victory.

But if Sunday was any indication, this team wants to end this campaign with as much positive aura as it can muster heading into the off-season. Chicago (5-9-5, 20 points) became the first team to post three goals against the first-place Los Angeles Sol, 3-1. And it was some of the team's standout names who found the back of the net: Tarpley, Carli Lloyd and Cristiane.

St. Louis (9-6-3, 30 points) clinched second place in the league and a first-round bye in the WPS playoffs. Athletica hosts a semifinal match on Aug. 19, awaiting the winner between the No. 3 and 4 seeds, which are yet to be determined.

• Red Stars come up blank in WPS All-Star First XI: On Tuesday, the league announced its 2009 WPS All-Star First XI players. The Red Stars did not have a representative. But there still is a chance for Chicago to have some representation. The roster consists of 18 players, and several players named to the First XI are likely going to miss the Aug. 30 game against Swedish league champion Umea IK because of 2009 European Championships commitments. Locally, Crystal Lake native and Boston Breakers defender Amy LePeilbet made the First XI group.

Monday, August 3, 2009

EUROPE VS. MLS: WHY ARE WE INCLINED TO COMPARE?

Chicago Fire head coach Denis Hamlett joined Chicago Tribune Live on Monday. And host David Kaplan decided to ask something we've heard over and over again: Will the sport in the U.S. ever reach the level of European football?

CLICK HERE for my Examiner.com column and my take on what the panel chatted about.

~ Charlie Corr
Major League Soccer Examiner at Examiner.com
SlideTackles.net creator and editor

L.A. SOL'S BOCK ADDS TO HER STOCK

Naperville native relishing opportunity with WPS's 1st-place Sol

Neuqua Valley and Notre Dame grad Brittany Bock is continuing to add chapters to her already storied local soccer career. CLICK HERE for my feature on the Naperville native and her successful inaugural season with Women's Professional Soccer's championship-bound Los Angeles Sol.

~ Charlie Corr
Chicago Sports Examiner at Examiner.com
SlideTackles.net creator and editor

Sunday, August 2, 2009

RED STARS 3, L.A. SOL 1

First-place Sol allow season-high 3 goals to Red Stars

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. - Heading into the 2009 Women’s Professional Soccer season, the Los Angeles Sol and Chicago Red Stars were thought to be two of the better organizations to take home the inaugural title.

The Sol have lived up to their billing, securing a place in the title game. The Red Stars missed the playoffs. But on Sunday, Chicago showed some life with the combinations that were thought to make a significant impact from the get-go, especially in the midfield.

Carli Lloyd (pictured), Lindsay Tarpley and Cristiane each provided a goal as the Red Stars defeated the Sol, 3-1, in front of a record Red Stars crowd of 7,959 at Toyota Park.

In some ways this result was both sweet and bitter for the Red Stars (5-9-5), since it was a high-quality win against the Sol (11-3-5), but did not have any bearing toward a postseason.

“This game in some levels is meaningless, to us at least because we are out of the playoffs. For me, this is a benchmark - a building platform for next season,” Red Stars head coach Emma Hayes said.

“If we bring consistent elements to our game every time we play, we’re going to be a competitive team, and we hope to win,” Tarpley said. “So whether we’re playing a first-place team or whoever, it doesn’t matter. Every game is important. And we’re disappointed we’re not in the playoffs. That’s fair to say, and that’s our goal. We want to be at the top of the league. We’ve got some work to do. But today, I think it was great for us to go out there and play well and have fun.”

Lloyd’s first-half goal was set up by Tarpley on a give-and-go in the middle of the field. Lloyd got a right foot on the ball and found the back of the net past Sol goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc in the 24th minute for a 1-0 lead.

The Lloyd-Tarpley combination was probably a welcome sight to Red Stars fans, especially since in the preseason this was supposed to be a bread-and-butter mode of attack. They are two allocated players with U.S. Women’s National Team experience and an already successful career before WPS.

“Today there was no pressure on us. This was like the first game where there was no pressure,” Lloyd said. “Sometimes you play better, and we just went out there and played hard. Tarp and I have a good relationship on the field, as well as with the national team.”

Chicago came out at halftime and immediately added to its lead in the 47th minute. Megan Rapinoe provided a cross from the left wing. Brittany Klein headed the ball to Tarpley, whose header found the goal for a 2-0 advantage.

And though the Sol cut the Red Stars’ lead to 2-1 later in the half, Chicago responded with a Cristiane tally, with Ella Masar assisting, in stoppage time for the eventual 3-1 final.

The Sol’s Han Duan netted a 90th-minute goal, and the team definitely had some other chances. The best defensive stop from the Red Stars’ perspective came in the 55th minute, when Brazilian sensation Marta put a ton of pace on the ball and Red Stars goalkeeper Caroline Jonsson somehow managed to react quickly enough to her left to stop the strike and maintain the 2-0 lead at that point.

“Marta is very threatening, and dangerous. But that’s Marta for you,” Hayes said.

Jonsson made six saves and LeBlanc made four for L.A.

* * *


Next up: The Red Stars conclude their 2009 season for a 7 p.m. match on Wednesday, Aug. 5, at St. Louis Athletica.

* * *


SlideTackles.net thoughts: This was the Red Stars team everybody expected from Day 1. The close calls on the defensive side were expected against L.A.’s high-octane offense. But the midfield contributions and the ability to respond to an opposing team’s goal were clearly elements that this team wanted to showcase earlier in the season on a consistent basis.

Over the course of the season, the focus has been mostly on Cristiane because she has been the main scoring weapon, now with seven goals on the season. Up until her goal, the Brazilian showdown between Marta and Cristiane really didn’t develop. Marta threatened periodically, but her shots were wide of the net or stopped impressively by Jonsson. In the first half, Cristiane attempted to dribble through some cramped spaces and other times was not really present in the attack.

But her goal was a team character builder. This team does have the potential to be in the upper tier of WPS. On Sunday, Chicago tallied more goals against L.A. than any other WPS team. That definitely counts for something, but not in the grand scheme of things.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

FIRE 1, REAL SALT LAKE 0

Nyarko’s 2nd-half goal lifts Chicago for another home win

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. - For a second straight home game, Chicago Fire forward Patrick Nyarko was looked upon to muster some offense, and he eventually cashed in.

His goal in the 76th minute gave the Fire a lead, which held up the rest of the way for a 1-0 victory against Real Salt Lake on Saturday night at Toyota Park. The Columbus Crew won their match over the Colorado Rapids, so Columbus maintains its one-point lead over Chicago in the Eastern Conference standings.

Tim Ward, playing as a midfielder instead of his customary right defensive back role, had the ball toward the left wing and provided the cross to Nyarko, who headed it past RSL goalkeeper Nick Rimando for the one-goal lead.

“It was a good move, huh?” Fire head coach Denis Hamlett said with a smile on his decision to move Ward up to the midfield.

“I kept looking for those balls and was wide open,” Nyarko said. “And (Ward) made eye contact with me and served a great ball.”

Nyarko has picked up the scoring situation, an important contribution with the absence of veteran target forward Brian McBride. So far, so good, as Chicago (8-3-8) improved to 2-0-1 since McBride went down with a shoulder injury.

“When we lost Brian, we knew we would have to be different,” Hamlett said. “We can use more of our speed and stretch the other team. With Patrick, he’s fast, but sometimes people don’t realize how fast he is. He’s got a way of using his body against his defender and keeping them off-balance.”

Up till the point of the Nyarko goal, the Fire offense dominated in possession against Real (6-8-5), but the continual lingering in the offensive third was not rewarded. It was an eerily similar feeling during the previous 2-0 home victory against the San Jose Earthquakes, and probably several other Fire home games for that matter.

The Fire went into the match surprisingly shorthanded. Midfielder John Thorrington was expected, serving his one-game suspension. But as a precautionary move, defender Wilman Conde (hamstring) and midfielder Cuauhtemoc Blanco (ankle) were not even available off of the bench. The Fire do not suspect that either case is injury is serious, but Hamlett decided to be cautious.

Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch made five saves for the shutout, while Real’s Rimando made four.

* * *


Next up: The Fire host Tigres UANL for the 2009 SuperLiga championship at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Toyota Park. The game is televised on TeleFutura. Chicago’s next MLS match is at 7:30 p.m. Sunday at the Houston Dynamo.

* * *


SlideTackles.net thoughts: Once again, it was not the prettiest of games, but Nyarko came to the rescue. Ward provided a perfect ball and all the wishful glamour of how the team earned the victory went out the window. That is a good sign, especially when you have hot-and-cold individual efforts and once again some shorthanded situations.

Chicago is winning as the team continues to cope with the long-term absence of McBride. Saturday night was clearly a struggle for forward Chris Rolfe, who had several poor touches. But Hamlett still strongly feels that the Nyarko-Rolfe combination can cause some fits with their combination of speed and footwork.

Time will tell when that completely gels. But Nyarko is doing his part at the moment.

PREVIEW: REAL SALT LAKE AT FIRE

Full defense is back as Chicago tries to climb back into 1st

Now that the CONCACAF Gold Cup is finished, the MLS contingent playing in the tournament is now back to the main day job.

Chicago Fire midfielder Logan Pause (pictured) is back from the U.S. Men's National Team and he and the Fire hope to win their second straight home game when they host Real Salt Lake at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Toyota Park (televised on My50).

Chicago will be slightly shorthanded with the absence of midfielder John Thorrington, who was ejected during the Fire's scoreless draw against host Seattle Sounders FC last week. But the remainder of the team is available and looks to continue filling the long-term void of injured forward Brian McBride.

The Fire are 1-0-1 so far without him, and they face a team that they have had great success against in the past. Chicago is 2-0-2 against Real at home, 4-1-3 overall.

Chicago had an undefeated July that concluded with a hard-fought scoreless draw against Seattle Sounders FC at Qwest Field. Holding the Sounders scoreless was a strong feat, and the Fire extended their streak to 284 minutes without allowing a goal.

The 2008 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Jon Busch, has posted three straight clean sheets, posting shutouts against Seattle, the San Jose Earthquakes and Columbus Crew last month.

Real Salt Lake is coming off a hot-and-cold match against FC Dallas. Real fell behind, 2-0, at halftime and then posted four second-half goals for a 4-2 victory.

Real head coach Jason Kreis will not be on the sidelines for this week or next week against Seattle. He received a one-game suspension from an ejection and was suspended for another game following an outburst with officials during the Dallas game. Kreis also was fined $3,500. This is his third suspension this season, and the MLS disciplinary committee laid down the law for Kreis' latest actions.

SlideTackles.net prediction: The full squad is back, the injury report is empty (other than McBride obviously). And Chicago has a good opportunity to work its way into first place again in the Eastern Conference. The Fire are only one point behind the current East point leaders, the Columbus Crew, who have a difficult road test against the Colorado Rapids this weekend.

I'm eager to see if this is the start of a dominant change at home. You have three All-Stars (Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Wilman Conde and Bakary Soumare) coming off the Everton match. You have two Gold Cup participants (Gonzalo Segares and Logan Pause) who have been playing some good international competition. Can all of that translate into some crisp play on the field?

This is one of the few times during the season where everyone is here. Following Wednesday's SuperLiga final against Tigres, Blanco and Segares will head to World Cup qualifying for Mexico and Costa Rica, respectively. It's time to take advantage of the current situation. Chicago Fire 2, Real Salt Lake 0