Sunday may be recalled as the day that the Chicago Fire’s 2010 season really started. The team roster had been reworked with the addition of Nery Castillo and Freddie Ljungberg, and Fire coach Carlos de los Cobos started a line-up that featured Collins John as a sole forward and rookie keeper Sean Johnson in his first ever MLS start.
But Castillo would not be ready to play for the Fire and the former Sounder Ljungberg would not start. The game started with an early scoring chance by Edson Buddle of the Galaxy in the 2nd minute being stopped by a great individual effort by the newcomer Johnson. The Fire seemed to be ignited by the early effort by Johnson and in the next 18 minutes scored 3 times on the Galaxy. It was All-Star Marco Pappa who started the scoring at the 4 minute mark, followed by an individual effort by the ex-EPL player Collins John taking the ball on his own for almost half of the field and going near post to score his second score of the year. The third and final Chicago score of the evening and what turned out to be the winning score was a tally by Mike Banner on a rebound from a Marco Pappa blast in the 19th minute.
The league leading Galaxy dominated the second half of play and had a goal in the first half by way of a Landon Donovan penalty kick that was the US World Cup hero’s 100th MLS goal. A second half handball on Chicago gave a second PK opportunity to Donovan which he drove into the back of the net in the 80th minute to make the last ten minutes and the extra time period a nervous one for Chicago. Another big save by Sean Johnson in the final ten minutes off of a rocket of a shot by Alan Gordon saved the badly needed 3 points for Chicago. It also marked the first time this season that the Galaxy had lost at home.
Freddie Ljungberg came on for Chicago in the 58th minute but had little impact on the game with LA dominating so much of the ball possession.
With the Fire achieving the road win in LA they brought their record even for the year at 5 wins, 5 defeats, and 5 draws. While the win keeps the Fire in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, the 20 points on the season only ties them with Houston in the Western Conference who is in 7th place in the tough MLS Western Conference. Chicago has played a league low 15 MLS matches so far and has three games in hand to play over Eastern Conference leading Columbus. The Crew having last night dropped a game 3-1 to Chivas USA. The Fire can directly aid their cause next week when in a Sunday night ESPN match-up they host the Thierry Henry lead New York Red Bulls who are currently 2nd in the East.
While Fire fans can take heart, the Chicago squad clearly caught the LA team at the right time on this first Sunday in August. LA has had a schedule that saw them have CONCACAF Champions League match on Tuesday followed by a number of players in the MLS All-Star game on Wednesday, and Donovan and Buddle still adjusting after the World Cup, before facing the Fire. The Fire were off last week after their early exit from the Super Liga and were clearly well rested. What the team will look like next week with Castillo and Ljungberg expected to play significant parts is something that Fire fans can dream about for a week.
In the meantime, it was a win badly needed by Chicago and one well earned.