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Galaxy Falls Quietly Against Patient Fire

September 14, 2003|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

The Chicago Fire kept its shape, retained its patience and escaped from the Home Depot Center on Saturday night with a rare 2-0 Major League Soccer victory over the league champion Galaxy.

It was only the second time in 12 games this season that Coach Sigi Schmid's team has been beaten at its new stadium, and the result was poorly received by the 23,799 on hand.

Schmid, however, was philosophical in defeat.

"Obviously, we want to win at home and we didn't accomplish that," he said. "We didn't play horribly, but we need to play better."

Several Galaxy players begged to differ, and one spoke angrily of the team having "no heart" this season.

The decisive goal, by forward Damani Ralph, came 59 minutes 38 seconds into an untidy and unsatisfying match that was marred by frequent fouls and poor finishing by both teams.

Fire defender Carlos Bocanegra sent a hopeful ball into the left corner, where Kelly Gray chased it down and beat Galaxy defender Danny Califf before crossing the ball into the penalty area.

Ante Razov, who had done little else of note in the first hour, headed the ball down to Ralph, who slammed it into the back of the net from close range for his 11th goal.

After that, it was simply a matter of hanging on for the Fire, which will play host to the Galaxy at Naperville, Ill., on Sept. 23 in the U.S. Open Cup semifinals.

"I thought tonight, from start to finish, it was our best performance in terms of team shape, how we moved together, how the ball moved, how we picked our spots, our composure," Coach Dave Sarachan said.

"It was a real good night of soccer for us."

The Galaxy (7-9-8) came close to tying the score in the 77th minute when leading scorer Carlos Ruiz latched onto a cross from Alejandro Moreno, only to see his bouncing shot from the edge of the penalty area slip wide of the right post.

There were several other close calls for the Fire, most noticeably when Evan Whitfield had to scramble to block a goal-bound shot by midfielder Mauricio Cienfuegos, but the Chicago defense came through.

The Fire (12-5-7) led, 1-0, when an inexplicable five minutes of stoppage time were announced, but instead of benefiting Los Angeles, the added time only served to give the Fire the chance to score its second goal, this one by substitute Nate Jaqua after the Galaxy had lost the ball at midfield.

With the San Jose Earthquakes having lost, 2-1, to D.C. United earlier in the day, the Galaxy squandered an opportunity to close ground on the Western Conference leader.

A game that started out promisingly was ruined to a large extent by referee Ali Saheli, who failed to keep tight control over two teams with a long history of bad blood.

Once the fouls started -- and they were not long in coming -- Saheli did not impose his authority, first-half yellow cards to the Fire's Bocanegra and Chris Armas and to the Galaxy's Diego Serna notwithstanding.

The constant interruptions -- Saheli whistled 34 fouls -- made for a less-than-flowing match, and scoring chances were few and far between.


In other MLS games:

Colorado 1, Kansas City 0 -- John Spencer scored in the 83rd minute and Scott Garlick recorded his seventh shutout to help the Rapids (11-9-4) beat the Wizards (7-9-8) in front of 16,937 at Denver, clinching a playoff spot.

The Rapids, 9-1-1 in their last 11 games, clinched one of four Western Conference playoff spots.

Washington 2, San Jose 1 -- Ben Olsen's goal in the 81st minute lifted D.C. United (9-8-6) over the Earthquakes (12-5-7) in front of 15,502 at Washington.

United won't play at home again until Sept. 28 because the Women's World Cup will use RFK Stadium, beginning with a game involving Sweden and the United States on Sept. 21.

New England 2, New York/New Jersey 1 -- Pat Noonan scored twice and Adin Brown made a spectacular second-half save to keep the Revolution (7-9-8) ahead and defeat the MetroStars (9-7-7) in front of 14,742 on a rainy night at East Rutherford, N.J.

The victory was only the second in the last 12 games for the Revolution, which trails Columbus by two points in the race for the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.

Columbus 3, Dallas 2 -- Edson Buddle scored his second goal in the 81st minute and Brian McBride also scored, and the Crew (8-9-7) extended its unbeaten streak to four games in front of 16,049 at Columbus, Ohio. Dallas fell to 4-16-4.


Associated Press contributed to this report.

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