By ANTHONY ZILIS
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – In a rematch of last season's Eastern Conference finals, which ended in a shootout, it almost seemed fitting that the game's only goal came was a penalty kick, as Real Salt Lake beat the Chicago Fire, 1-0, Thursday night at Toyota Park on a Robbie Findley spot kick.
The penalty came in the 39th minute, when Findley turned the ball away from C.J. Brown, who lunged and caught Findley's ankle in the box.
Findley then stepped up to take the kick, and don't think last year's shootout didn't enter into his mind.
"As I was standing up I hear some of their teammates calling the goalkeeper’s name, and I was figuring they were telling him where I went last year so I switched it up,” Findley said.
Dykstra was sent to his right as Findley slotted the ball into the opposite corner.
Brown was none too happy about the penalty call as he stood in front of his locker after the game.
"If you have to ask a question about it, you probably question it yourself," Brown said. "I'll live with it. It's part of the game."
The Fire (4-5-5) were inches from equalizing twice in the second half, as rookie defender Steve Kinney hit each post on headers from corner kicks, first in the 48th minute, then in the 57th.
"Those posts were nice to me tonight," said Salt Lake goalkeeper Nick Rimando, who extended his clean-sheet streak to 498 minutes. "I felt like Uruguay back there. I think we fell asleep twice the entire match, and we knew this game was going to be a battle and I think we battled the whole way through. Even the posts were with us tonight."
Thursday was Kinney's Major League Soccer debut, as the third-round pick out of Elon started at right back. Fellow rookie Kwame Watson-Siriboe got the start at centerback, as Wilman Conde was moved to midfield with injuries to Patrick Nyarko and Justin Mapp forcing coach Carlos de los Cobos' hand.
Brian McBride was also left out of the starting lineup, giving Stefan Dimitrov the start. Dimitrov was largely ineffective though, and McBride was inserted to start the second half, along with Mapp.
The substitutions immediately paid dividends for the Fire, but they weren't able to get past the Salt Lake defense, who packed it in for much of the half.
"The same thing happens to us, the guys make a big effort and we have good moments but we make mistakes when attacking and finishing," de Los Cobos said. "We have to think about the future."
Real Salt Lake (9-3-3), on the other hand, inched within six points of the first-place Los Angeles Galaxy with the victory and extended its unbeaten streak to 10 matches.
“I think the last couple of years we were happy with a point, and if we don’t get that point it’s not a big deal," Salt Lake head coach Jason Kreis said. "Now it’s we aren’t happy with a point, we want three points. I think the confidence of winning early in the season really helps us out in these kinds of games.”
What did you think of Thursday night's game? Think Salt Lake was fortunate to get the points? What do the Fire need to do to get back on track?
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