C.J. Brown has played a lot of games in a Fire uniform – 351 across all official competitions. If you counted all the friendlies, pre-season and otherwise througout the years, that total comes much closer to 400. Thirty-two of those matches have come against the Dallas Burn and their incarnate identity, F.C. Dallas. The Brimstone Cup rivalry will be renewed Thursday night when the Hoops visit Toyota Park at 7pm live on ESPN2.
“I don’t necessarily know how the Brimstone Cup came about,” said Brown. “I just think that there have been a lot of intense games with Dallas and at one point we were in the same conference and division. They were very heated games, battles -- guys would go at it. I know our Section 8 takes it pretty seriously and we always want to win cups and championships. It’s a trophy to be held, and we want it; we want to be a part of that, and they’ve been better than us in the last few years.”
A team the Fire dominated during Major League Soccer’s early years, F.C. Dallas has made its mark on the competition over most of the past decade, going 13-3-1 against the Men in Red since 2002. Because of his status as a “Fire Original”, Brown is the only player on the Chicago roster with a decent record against Dallas: 15-15-2 in all competitions since 1998.
“Right now I think we’re in must-win game situations. The opponent aside, we haven’t been playing great but we haven’t been playing badly. Either way the results aren’t coming. It is one thing if you’re not playing well and you’re still grinding out results, but we’re somewhere in the middle – we need to start winning anyway it takes and against whatever team is put in front of us.”
One player that will be in front of Brown Thursday night is U.S. international Jeff Cunningham. Tallying 16 goals for the Hoops in 2009, the Jamaican-born striker won the MLS Golden Boot for the second time in four seasons and was recalled to the national team for the first time since 2005.
“You’ve got to watch his speed – he’s pretty good with his feet. He’s got good pace and he likes to go at goal all the time. As long as we keep bumping him around, giving him the physical part of the game I think we’ll be alright.”
Cunningham’s recent two-match goal scoring drought is the longest of the young season for the striker and if Brown’s backline can keep him of the score sheet it would go a long way towards earning three points.
“WIlman [Conde} and I have to support each other. When I’m pressing him, Wilman has to cover, when Wilman’s pressing, I’m covering. We have to stay in good spots to shut him down through the whole 90 minutes.”
History isn’t on the Fire’s side for Thursday night’s clash. The Fire have gone 0-4-0 against FC Dallas since moving to Toyota Park in 2006. Making the omen worse, the club has not fared well in games played on May 27, going 0-2-1, while scoring only one goal across the three matches played on this date.
The past aside, Thursday night’s match against FC Dallas is the first of three-straight winnable home league matches for the Fire. The club will welcome expansion Philadelphia Union to Toyota Park on June 5 and then the Colorado Rapids will play the return leg on June 9 after tying the Fire 2-2 in Denver on April 3.
The FC Dallas match is the beginning of a three-game league home stand for the Fire – the longest for the club this season. Nine points from the games (6/5 vs. Philadelphia and 6/9 vs. Colorado) would go a long way in putting the side back at the top of the Eastern Conference, with all three matches certainly being winnable.