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Feuding Fire foiled by Galaxy
by Ridge Mahoney, August 20th, 2009 7AM
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[MLS] Maybe this one can be explained away by fatigue, or turmoil induced by the fining of locker room combatants Denis Hamlett and Bakary Soumare, or simply taking a shorthanded opponent too lightly. Yet championship aspirations require a solid footing, and Chicago gouged deeply into its own foundation by succumbing meekly to Los Angeles, 2-0, at Toyota Park Wednesday in front of a sellout crowd. An enthusiastic few hundred chanted to the end, but many more trudged up the steps to the exits during a depressing second half.

Mike Magee and Landon Donovan scored on either side of halftime to propel a Galaxy team missing David Beckham and Eddie Lewis (both suspended) past the Fire and back into second place in the Western Conference. Or maybe cruise is the right word, for rather than following up the momentum of a 2-0 win Sunday in Kansas City, Chicago instead reprised its strange aversion to home games: it is 3-3-4 at the T'Park.

And park is also apropos, since aside from Patrick Nyarko and an especially energetic Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the operative word for Chicago's attack would be tranquil.

Marco Pappa and Chris Rolfe were catatonic instead of catalytic on the flanks. Center mids Logan Pause and John Thorrington brought forth some energy but not much else. Chicago couldn't solve the tactics of Galaxy coach Bruce Arena, who deployed outside mids Chris Birchall and ex-Fire man Dema Kovalenko to lock down the flanks, and holding mid Stefani Miglioranzi to screen the back line and plunge into double-teams.

Missing Lewis and Beckham, whose wide play and service open up gaps throughout the attacking third, Arena reversed his team's usual persona. With a strong, reliable back four and the flanks secured, Magee and Donovan and Jovan Kirovski buzzed about in search of space, of which they found more than enough.

Magee, a product of the Chicago Sockers FC club, twice threatened keeper Jon Busch's goal in the early minutes. He raced into the box to force Busch into a desperation dive, then fired a shot that Busch saved.

In the 23rd minute, Kirovski played a ball to Magee near the top of the penalty area, and Magee faked defender Dasan Robinson into the ether before going the other way to sting a rising shot into the top corner.

A ball from Nyarko provided Blanco with a chance five minutes later but the shot ballooned over the crossbar. Badly out of sync, Chicago labored through the rest of the first half.

Nine minutes into the second half, Magee swept through midfield and burned the Fire defense with a through ball to Donovan. He outran Robinson to the ball as Busch stayed back, offering up room to the far post that the Galaxy captain pierced with a precise low shot.

The Galaxy's defensive Renaissance has been documented but on this night it issued a veritable white paper. Chicago hit some atrocious passes and slogged through lengthy barren spells devoid of invention, yet were constantly pressed and harried by cohesive team movement and relentless dueling for each and every ball. Birchall is more experienced in the center yet looked completely reliable wide right, and Dema did some clinical destroying on the left.

Chicago managed 10 shots but none forced Galaxy goalie Donovan Ricketts into a save, though he excelled with his catching and punching of crosses and laser-like outlet passes. He didn't finish the game, however; in the 83rd minute, he cracked heads with substitute Stefan Dimitrov as they dueled for a Nyarko cross. Both players hit the grass after Ricketts had deflected the ball away and there they stayed, stretched out for a few minutes as trainers and attendants administered aid.

Dimitrov played on. Ricketts managed to stand up, but walked off woozily with assistance. Arena had saved a sub, and so backup Josh Saunders finished off the Galaxy's seventh shutout and fifth road victory.

After the game, Magee, Kovalenko and another former Fire player, Tony Sanneh, as well as former head coach Dave Sarachan, met up with their people to socialize and celebrate. The scene fit perfectly, for only one team had looked comfortable and completely at home in Toyota Park, and it wasn't the home team.

Chicago coach Hamlett and All-Star defender Soumare, who did not play against the Galaxy,  had been fined by the club for a locker-room altercation at halftime of Chicago's Aug. 9 loss at Houston.

Aug. 19 in Bridgeview, Ill.
Chicago 0, Los Angeles 2.

Goals: Magee (Kirovski) 23, Donovan (Magee) 54.
Chicago -- Busch, Washington, Conde, Robinson, Prideaux (Banner, 64), Thorrington, Blanco, Pause (Mapp, 64), Pappa, Rolfe (Dimitrov, 78), Nyarko.
Los Angeles -- Ricketts (Saunders, 85), Dunivant, Berhalter, DeLaGarza, Gonzalez, Kovalenko (Klein, 46), Miglioranzi, Donovan, Birchall (Sanneh, 68), Magee, Kirovski.
Referee: Silviu Petrescu
Att: 20,000.



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