July 14, 2012
Pardo’s free kick holds up as Fire beat Vancouver
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill.—Pavel Pardo’s first goal of the season and some clutch goalkeeping by Sean Johnson were all the Chicago Fire needed to knock off Vancouver Whitecaps FC 1-0 Saturday night at Toyota Park.
|Saturday's game-winning free kick was Pavel Pardo's first goal of the season for the Chicago Fire.
Chicago Fire photo
Pardo left Whitecaps netminder Joe Cannon flatfooted with an artful free kick, and Johnson stepped up after Arne Friedrich collected two yellow cards in a two minute span to leave Chicago shorthanded for the final 21 minutes.
The win lifts the Fire (9-6-4, 31 pts) into a tie with New York for third place in the MLS East, while the Whitecaps fall to 8-6-6 (30).
With their midfield unexpectedly thinned by the loss of Marco Pappa to a respiratory infection, the Fire played a conservative, ball-hogging first half that might not have been particularly exciting, but was certainly productive. Pardo snapped the team’s two-game scoring drought in the tenth minute, chipping a 20-yard free kick over the wall and under the bar on the left side of the goal after Patrick Nyarko was taken down on a breakaway.
Dominic Oduro came close to doubling the Fire lead in the 23rd minute, after Alex – making his first MLS start – eluded defenders Alain Rochat and Martin Bonjour, then fed the ball into the box. Netminder Joe Cannon charged off his line in time to block Oduro’s 19-yard shot.
The Whitecaps’ offense revolved around explosive rookie Darren Mattocks, but the Fire defense restricted him to a single long shot that was easily saved by Fire ‘keeper Sean Johnson in the 29th minute. Indeed, Johnson’s diciest moment of the first half came from his own backline, when a long ball intended for Mattocks was overenthusiastically headed back by a Fire defender, forcing Johnson to dive to his right to prevent an own goal.
The Fire finished the half with a 7-3 advantage in shots, but most were of the long and lazy variety, with Alex, Pardo and Rolfe missing the mark from 20+ yards within a four-minute span. By stoppage time, both teams seem to have lost their taste for attacking, and played keep-away until referee Jose Carlos Rivero blew his whistle.
Both teams came out for the second half with renewed resolve. The Fire threatened first, catching Cannon off his line in the 48th minute. Oduro sent the ball off the left post from point-blank range before the play was whistled offside. Seconds later, Mattocks snagged a loose ball just outside the Fire penalty area and forced Johnson into a diving save. An apparent goal by Oduro, who slammed the ball home off Nyarko’s rebound from inside the six-yard box in the 54th minute also was nullified by an offside call.
Friedrich made the Fire’s road a lot rockier in the 69th minute. Mattocks was the catalyst for the critical play, charging downfield sandwiched between Friedrich and Austin Berry before tumbling to the ground to draw the call and a red card for the veteran German defender. Brian Robson just missed with the ensuing free kick, but the Whitecaps immediately ratcheted up their attack, including by inserting striker Eric Hassli for defender Bonjour.
Speedy winger Dane Richards, just arrived in Vancouver from the New York Red Bulls, forced Johnson off his line to block the ball away in the 76th minute, and both Camilo Sanvezzo and Robson challenged from distance without finding the mark. But the most dangerous challenge came from Hassli, who sent a blistering header on goal from the top of the six-yard box before crumpling to the turf with an apparent ankle injury in the 88th minute. Johnson made a spectacular reaction save, and since Hassli was the Whitecaps’ third substitute, the sides were even going into the four minutes of stoppage time. Before Hassli re-entered the match, Rafael Robayo got off a threatening shot for the Fire, but Cannon made the save.