Fire sweep opening matches

Chicago bests Vancouver Whitecaps and Arizona Sahauros

Following two weeks of rigorous two-a-day training sessions the Chicago
Fire played their first competitive fixtures of 2010 Monday afternoon at
Arizona State University Women's Soccer Stadium in Mesa. The Fire
earned back-to-back victories, by defeating the USSF Second Division's
Vancouver Whitecaps 4-1, before besting local side Arizona Sahauros,
1-0.

The two matches were played with different starting lineups, giving head
coach Carlos de los Cobos a chance to look at a number of different
signed players, draftees and trialists, as he begins to work toward
filling out the club's 24-man roster for 2010.

The Fire put out a side of mostly trialists and reserve players in the
first match against Vancouver. Headlining the starting eleven in the
first match was former Fulham striker Collins John who needed just 17
minutes to open his preseason account.

Taking advantage of a poor clearance out of the back, trialist Jaao
Baptista found the opportunistic Dutchman at the left side of the
penalty area. John slotted the ball towards the right post, beating
Whitecaps goalkeeper Dan Pelc.

In the 36th minute, it was a case of John being in the right place at
the right time. Following rookie Drew Yates' deflected shot, John took a
first-time half volley from inside the penalty area, that slotted into
the corner netting, giving the Fire a 2-0 lead just before the half.

Just two minutes later, last year's USL First Division finalists cut the
lead in half after Fire trialist Izzy Iriekpen committed a foul in the
penalty area, resulting in a converted penalty kick from new Whitecaps
signing Ricardo Sanchez. The forty minute interval ended with the Fire
ahead 2-1.

"It was a high intensity game for a preseason match," said John. "You
could tell it was an early season match because our touches and movement
weren't where they should be. Overall though, we were just a bit
stronger and I thought I did well today with two good strikes."

De los Cobos made three changes at the half, most notably replacing the
John with striker Stefan Dimitrov. Looking to equal the European
veteran's performance, the former Bulgarian youth international opened
his preseason account ten minutes past the interval.

It was Yates again providing the help. After receiving a long ball from
Calen Carr, the Maryland product laid off a square ball at the top of
the 18 for Dimitrov, who struck it first time past Pelc to make it 3-1.
Eight minutes later, the Fire saw another trialist make an impression.
Mark Blades received a long ball out of the back and crossed for
Dimitrov, whose header to the far post put the game out of reach at 4-1
in the 58th minute.

"Preseason is always tough," said Dimitrov. "There's always a lot of
work going on, but I'm enthused about my performance today and just
looking forward to continuing preparation for the season."

In the second match of the double bill, the more veteran side controlled
possession against the host Arizona Sahauros but failed to mirror the
margin of victory put up by their teammates in the first match, coming
away with a 1-0 victory.

The star of the match for the Fire was Marco Pappa, whose speed and
presence on the left wing gave Arizona trouble in the first half. The
Guatemalan international swirled a corner kick into the box on 20
minutes, finding Brian McBride, who headed the ball off the crossbar.

Fifteen minutes later, Pappa picked up a loose ball and was chopped down
inside the penalty area, giving the Fire a penalty kick in the 35th
minute. Veteran midfielder John Thorrington stepped up and converted the
spot kick past Sahauros goalkeeper Brad Swenby.

Making only one change in the second half, the heat became an issue for
the Fire players who went into a more defensive mode, looking to work in
possession and slow down the tempo of the match. A solid defensive
contribution in this effort came from rookie draftee Steven Kinney, who
partnered in central defense with veterans Wilman Conde in the first
half and C.J. Brown in the second.

"I think I played all right today," said the humble center back. "It was
good to be out there with most of the veteran guys and we're looking
forward to working on what we learned from both matches today going
forward."

Though Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch did not have much to do in the first
half, he was called on to make a couple of crucial saves in the second
half to preserve the shutout victory.

"Overall we're very happy with the performances and results today," said
Fire Technical Director Frank Klopas. "We saw some of the things we've
been working on displayed, specifically moving the ball quickly and
keeping possession. We took our chances in front of goal well today and
so we're content with the outcome."

The Fire will continue training in Phoenix until Thursday, when they'll
return to Chicago for a few days before leaving for Guadalajara, Mexico
for the second leg of their 2010 preseason tour.