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Fire scrapes a 0-0 tie at Gillette
by Ridge Mahoney, October 31st, 2008 7AM

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[MLS PLAYOFFS] A small crowd (5,221), a frosty night, a rough game, and no goals does not a playoff showcase on national television make. The 2008 MLS postseason kicked off with a New England-Chicago game fans couldn't be blamed for turning off (or even nodding off), a 0-0 tie at Gillette Stadium rife with emotion and spirit but nearly bereft of flair. The series shifts to Toyota Park next Thursday for the second leg.

New England, deprived of catalyst Steve Ralston, goalscorer Taylor Twellman, and flank presence Khano Smith, attacked energetically without much reward.

Revs coach Steve Nicol sent out Chris Tierney at left back, used outside back Jay Heaps as a central partner for Michael Parkhurst, and reformed his midfield with Sainey Nyassi on the right and Mauricio Castro on the left. Kenny Mansally and Kheli Dube played up top, although both also roamed out to the right wing at times.

Castro fired a free kick in the opening minutes that Fire keeper Jon Busch turned over the crossbar for one of his four saves on the evening, and midfielder John Thorrington bailed out his goalie just before halftime by deflecting a Nyassi shot into the side netting.

For the most part, the Revs kept Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Chris Rolfe subdued in the first half, as the rest of the Fire midfield and its defenders concentrated on stifling New England, which supplied most of the offensive impetus without breaking through.

The teams traded control of the match after halftime without either attaining any dominance. Chicago took the early initiative, with Justin Mapp's run down the left prompting a sequence that resulted in Blanco shooting straight to Revs keeper Matt Reis. Another attack produced a cross that Brian McBride put on frame and Reis saved.

Thorrington's resolute defensive work brought howls of protest from the Revs midway through the second half when he crashed into Kenny Mansally while nicking the ball away inside the penalty area.

More than a few late-season MLS games were marred by dubious penalty-kick decisions, but in this case referee Alex Prus ruled, correctly, that Thorrington played the ball first and subsequent contact was incidental, not a tripping foul.

Chicago nearly stole a precious goal in the 76th minute when McBride glided behind the Revs' back line to head in a Mapp cross, but the assistant referee's flag went up and replays again indicated the officials got it right.

A final flurry of Revs attacks yielded two good chances very late in the match, but Dube tumbled in the box attempting to shoot, and Nyassi got past Wilman Conde to trigger a scramble during which Busch saved, the ball squirted free, another shot was blocked, and Mapp blasted it to safety.

Five players were cautioned, mostly for reckless fouls, yet the foul count (22) wasn't exceptional, and it matched the total shots (New England, 13-9). For the second game, Nicol will have defender Gabriel Badilla clear of suspension, but MLS has handed out an additional two-game suspension to Smith for a raking tackle on Herculez Gomez in the season finale against Kansas City.

GAME SUMMARY
Oct. 30 in Foxborough, Mass
New England 0 Chicago Fire 0

New England -- Reis, Tierney, Parkhurst, Heaps, Albright, Castro (Thompson, 86), Joseph, Larentowicz, Nyassi, Dube, Mansally.
Chicago - Busch, Segares, Conde, Soumare, Prideaux, Mapp, Pause, Thorrington, Rolfe (Banner, 85), Blanco, McBride.
Yellow cards: New England -- Mansally 42, Castro 73; Chicago -- Soumare 16, Pause 59, Blanco 69.
Referee: Alex Prus
Att.: 5,221

 



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