Johnson steals show as Fire, Red Bulls draw



The Chicago Fire (5-5-6) and New York Red Bulls (8-6-4) played to a 0-0 draw on Thursday in the first MLS game to feature five designated players.

The game featured two Mexican internationals in their debuts, Rafael Marquez, who started, and Nery Castillo, who came on in the 62nd minute, along with former Arsenal teammates Thierry Henry and Freddie Ljungberg, but neither team was able to make a mark on the scoresheet in front of 21,868 fans, the biggest crowd ever at Toyota Park.

New York, though outshot the Fire 22-5 and it took seven saves from rookie Sean Johnson to keep the game level.

“It’s not coming away with a point, it’s losing two because it was one-way traffic and we should have won five-nil," New York head coach Hans Backe said. "That’s an easy analysis.  We had twenty-two shots to the Fire’s five, and they have seven saves to our one.  It was one-way traffic in the second half.”

The Fire, though, had a chance to get on the scoresheet in the 43rd minute when a pinpoint cross from Brian McBride reached Freddie Ljungberg, who mishit the ball off of his shin.

"If I had a better technique on my shin I think I would've scored," Ljungberg said to laughter. "It was a pity."

New York's Macoumba Kandji had a similar chance early in the second half, mishitting an open-goal shot off of a Dane Richards cross in the 46th minute, then missed a header inside the six-yard box less than ten minutes later.

From there, the Fire weren't able to create many chances, inserting Nery Castillo in the 57th minute for Brian McBride.

Castillo did show flair, playing the ball over a defender's head minutes after entering, but wasn't able to do much else.

"In the second half, they were attacking a lot and we couldn't create opportunities," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said, adding that the Fire weren't able to hold the ball without McBride, who played over Collins John because of a lack of effort in practice from John.

New York, meanwhile, created chances all game and forced Johnson into his second-straight standout performance.

Henry suffered a groin strain in the middle of the first half and was taken out just before the halftime whistle. He said the injury shouldn't keep him out more games and was due to lack of fitness. Marquez came off in the 62nd minute.

In just his third league game, Henry saw a familiar face looking across from him in Freddie Ljungberg, with whom he played for eight years.

"It was kind of weird," Henry said. "We played together for a long time. I think he's going to do great for Chicago, it was a great move."

Ljungberg had an active game as the a distributor and was paired up with Castillo up top after McBride left the game.

"You look at the coach, he wants us to play really attractive football," Ljungberg said. "If you can keep on playing the ball up out of the back, there's no problem at all. I think we showed that sometimes, and sometimes … they didn't know what to do in the second half at certain points."

Meanwhile, Henry has two ties to show for his first two league games.

"I thought today we should have won, we had the chances to win the game," Henry said. "But Chicago and their goalkeeper had a great game."

Game Notes

As for his impression of the league, Henry hasn't fallen into the typical view of MLS, bristling when it was suggested that MLS plays more of a long-ball style than his previous teams.

"I wouldn't agree with you," he said.

"I thought we played short today. We played against Houston, and they tried to pass the ball. We played against Houston, and they tried to pass the ball. Columbus Crew, they tried to pass the ball. Today, Chicago, when they tried to come out on the ground, they tried to pass the ball. The four teams I've played have tried to pass the ball."


Despite scoring a goal and setting up another in the Fire's previous game against Los Angeles, Collins John didn't play Sunday because of a lack of effort in practice.

"Collins John scored the match in LA, he don't play good," de los Cobos said. "When Collins doesn't give us what we need (in practice) he won't play."


Nery Castillo wasn't fit to start Sunday's game, but de los CObos hopes to insert him in the Fire's next game on the 18th against New England.

“I felt a bit tired after the game since I haven’t trained daily for two months," Castillo said through a translator.

"It’s not easy to go in to the game when you are not fully fit, and when you go in to a game that already has a rhythm, it wears you out, but it’s good for me to start getting the chemistry with the team and I am glad we got the tie, which is not a bad result for the team.”


Fire technical director Frank Klopas announced during the post game press conference that the Fire would announce the signings of two academy players this week.

  • Jay

    no goals but still a pretty fun game to watch. Marquez did great for a first game. Shame on Kandji…


  • fischy

    Johnson looks phenomenal. A star in the making. Looks like the MLS geniuses who downgraded him after the Combine have something to answer for. I haven’t seen an American goalie look that good in years.


  • Joamiq

    Castillo was pretty invisible after the initial bit of flair. Made all the fireworks look silly (seriously, setting off fireworks for the debut of a Euro reject?)


  • ChiTownFire

    I’m a Fire fan, but man the Red Bulls were taking chance after chance after chance and couldn’t score. Sean Johnson was simply amazing tonight, it was so exciting to watch save after save when the Red Bulls were shellacking us. Great game but wish there would have been a goal.


  • Jake

    Ives, I made a point to watch Marquez off the ball and I disagree with your assessment. I thought he looked good for playing his first game. Of course there is a little rust; he looked slower than normal, ran less than normal and missed on several passes.

    But he also made some very good passes, had a good first touch for the majority of the game and was in fantastic position most of the game. Several times he was in a a positive position only for his teammates to go a different direction.

    It is clear that he is being brought in to be the point guard of the Red Bulls offense. As he gets to know his teammates, I feel he will thrive in that role. He did a very good job during the world cup and he should only improve in that role.

    (SBI-He was better his second 30 minutes than he was his first 30 minutes. His passes were off and his positioning wasn’t as good in the first part of his performance, but it got better. He’s clearly a quality player, but I’d disagree completely that his performance was good from beginning to end.)


  • g

    1) Is it just me or Mike Banner not that good, he looks like he has speed, but thats about it.

    2) It seems like everytime a DP touched the ball JP Dellacamera and Taylor Twellman was basically drooling or more like jizzing in there pants.


  • feaf

    2. Yea I thought that too, it kind of made me mad because Marquez, Castillo and Henry weren’t great tonight. JPA and Diveberg were a little better.. But to be fair they gave all the credit to the keeper Johnson at the end.


  • Nick

    Johnson looked really, really good this game.

    And Marquez and Henry had poor games. Marquez kept trying long balls over the top and mishitting them by 5-10 yards. It’s clear that they don’t have chemistry with the team yet, and was sort of annoying to hear the announcers pimp them out all game.


  • Hush

    Considering Marquez & Henry are barely getting into the mix, they place decent I would say. When Marquez was on the pitch the temple for NY was set. He placed order in the midfield and set which way they were going to attack. When Marquez was out, NY seemed a bit confuse on what they wanted to do. NY got their act together in the last 5 minutes of the game or so, that’s why Marquez had a decent game. Lately I’ve seen a lot of people on soccer forums having trouble reading a soccer game. Maybe fans should start with the fundamentals of the game. 🙂

    Henry also had a decent performance today. I think too many of my American brothers are comparing futbol to the NFL & NBA when it comes to individual play.

    Off topic: Does anyone know about the Adu and Galaxy deal going down as we speak. Benfica is letting him go on a free transfer and MLS is going to pick that up. Atleast that is what the rumors are at SI.


  • cvs

    I think saying Castillo isn’t fit is a nice way of saying he is fat. The guy has a gut. He definitely is not the same player I remember in the Gold Cup.


  • agnigrin

    I guess you can say he stole the show… I would rather think Johnson saved Chicago’s asses!


  • Front Row

    Johnson was steller, the rest of the Fire were merely ashes. The only thing worse than their midfield play was their anemic offense. The Fire’s newest additions made no real impact. In the second half, they could hardly get the ball over the center line. The greatest shame was the record crowd that watched mediocrity for ninety minutes.

    Thierry Ennui failed to produce any lasting memories. The Frenchman’s play reminded of a former Fire DP signing that turned into a bust: Wanchope. It appears NYRB bought Henry based on reputation and not current skill. To everyone’s dismay, he left after only 43 minutes while taking only one weak shot. Allegedly, he left injured. This does not bode well for New York fans.


  • CSD

    Whatev, captain critical and clueless.

    In Henry’s first league game he set up both goals and last night he was a threat until he got a knock. He ran by defenders on a couple of occasions and created havoc. He is a threat most every time he touches the ball.

    I only watched the first half and it was a great half of soccer.


  • DC Josh

    If you would have told me last year that the Red Bulls would have two players from Barcelona, I would have laughed at you. I thought the game was very entertaining. Marquez was pinging passes all over the place. Henry showed flashes of his younger days by gliding over the pitch and toying with defenders.

    I also thought Hans Backe’s tactics were interesting. Tim Ream played as a left back when the Red Bulls had the ball and would venture forward a lot. That’s the first time I’ve seen a center back make so many runs forward. Red Bulls fans: do they always play this way?


  • DC Josh

    You were also one of the Fire fans chanting “over-rated” when Henry went off? Your right, he has only won a world cup, is Arsenal’s all-time leading scorer, yada yada… all meaningless honors.


  • Stevie_NYRB

    More like misinformed cynicism. He plays up top and the midfield had a hard time getting the ball to him in his half of the game. Kandji wasn’t releasing the ball nearly fast enough to JPA or TH14. I thought Kandji didn’t do his job.


  • Steve_NYRB

    I noticed that too.Ream made some great runs forward when the field opened up. He’d serve up good balls into the box too. I noticed Mendes made a couple runs too. Seems like a new tactic.


  • Jake

    Fair enough. I’d agree his performance improved as the night went on. I guess I just expected him to be more rusty and so when I saw how he played I was surprised.


  • Steve_NYRB

    Chicago Fans are overrated. They had one chant all night. CHICAHH GOOOOO. Lame.


  • golfstrom

    I believe this was a facsimile of what Barcelona (and Spain) do: Busquets will drop deep to receive the ball, while the Puyol and Pique fan out to form a traditional back 3; this leaves the fullbacks free to advance up the wings. Obviously Marquez would be familiar w/ this, and I wonder if it was his or Backe’s idea to use this in NY.

    So probably the Fire had not seen it before and that’s why Ream found himself in so much open space. The main requirements for this system are two CBs w/ good feet and that are comfortable defending in wide areas, which you would have to say are pretty rare in MLS.


  • Paul

    Great game to watch, albeit frustrating for RBNY fans. Kandji’s finishing was atrocious; he could have had 2 or 3. I loved RBNY’s quick ball movement and patient but urgent attacking style. The communication up top between Henry, Angel, and Lindpere is improving game by game, and I think once Marquez (as well as Henry) gets totally settled in, we will see some fireworks. The match next weekend against LA should be a good one.


  • SoHo Joe

    Second half was great, with outstanding saves by Johnson. I thought Marquez was much better on the second half, and I enjoyed trying to see if he could connect with Henry as in their Barca days. Kandji was awful, he missed everything! Can’t wait to see the next one vs. LA!


  • paul lorinczi

    That was not the story of Castillo.

    He was ripping on Marco Pappa when he came in. Eventually, De Los Cobos had to separate them on the field. He put Pappa out left and Castillo on the right. You could see that Castillo had a negative impact on Pappa.

    The game was a tale of 2 halves. The 1st half was excellent to watch. It was high level soccer being played. After Henry left, it looked like the game went downhill.

    On Chicago’s side, it looked like Dasan Robinson was having the game of his life. In the 2nd half, he pulled up and had to be subbed. Kinney could not light a match to what Robinson did in the first half. The quality of play on the right side went down. He had ice on his hamstring when he came out.

    There were some promising developments for Chicago. The players were really talking it up to each other on the field. I don’t think we have seen that in previous games.

    Sean Johnson was a pleasure to watch. Chicago is lucky to have him.


  • MiamiFCDuros

    Does anyone see Marquez,Henry or any of the leagues DP’s getting loaned out during the offseason? Do you think that was an attractive part of coming over to the MLS?


  • irishapple21

    As an RBNY fan, this was a frustrating game. All credit to Johnson for playing out of his mind. He kept the Fire in the game when they were clearly being outplayed. It reminded me of the old days when Howard would bail out the Metros time and again.


  • joe k

    seriously. he was as exciting as howard is at his best

    (SBI-Johnson had some very good saves, but you clearly haven’t seen enough of Howard if you consider those saves to be “as exciting as Howard at his best”. Trust me on that one.)


  • Marc Silverstein

    so on Wed nite, will it be Caleb Patterson or Danny Cepero as the back-up GK? Anyone care to guess?


  • nate

    So do the Chicago Fire geniuses that played the awful Andrew Dykstra ahead of him for half a season.

    (SBI-I’m a fan of Sean Johnson’s potential, and he’s gotten off to a great start, but you would think Fire fans would have learned from Andrew Dykstra’s tenure not to get overly excited about some good early performances. The kid’s got skills, but he’s still a kid and expecting him to keep playing at this high a level just isn’t realistic. If he becomes Tim Howard 2.0 that’ll be great, but it seems like some folks are a little too desperate to crown the kid already.)


  • Phil

    as a NYRB fan, i felt the game was a positive sign. During this past two months, we all have had a chance to witness some spectacular football at the World Cup. After watching that, it was hard at times to enjoy the “different” type of play so common in the MLS. However, I thought NYRB knocked it around very nicely last night, and looked terrific. The DP’s are a big part of the future for this league.


  • Eric

    I liked the way Kandji played; that goes for all the DP’s too, i think some might be quick to point to the scoreline and ask where were the DP’s, but the game was exciting yesterday, and it should have been a NYRB win, shame they couldn’t get the ball in the back of the net, but way to go Chicago Backline and specifically, the keeper. actually i think the Back Line owes their keeper a couple of beers!


  • papa bear

    As a Fire fan and someone who talks to a lot of Fire fans, I don’t recall too many of us getting super psyched by Dykstra’s performances. He made some very awful flubs from game one.

    At best, we were happy that he wasn’t an abject failure but you’ll note that there aren’t many/any people who aren’t also named ‘Dykstra’ who are/were calling for him to get his position back in the team. He has never looked solid all year. Better than we were expecting, but then again we were expecting abject failure so that’s not such a high hurdle to leap over.

    Just sayin’


  • papa bear

    I’m most excited by the academy signings. I wanna know who they are picking because there is a #10 and a #9 who have been playing REALLY well for the Fire Academy team.

    The second most excitement is knowing that Segares is back and Krol can be benched or moved inside to replace Brown who has clearly lost too much pace to play at this level anymore. The amount of attacking talent keeps going up (Angel & Henry on the pitch at the same time? Conde can only mark one) and almost all of them have blazing speed. Even Findley is too much for Brown these days.


  • lexmania

    I agree with De Las Cobos about Collins John’s performance in the LA game. Was extremely lethargic, and was caught offsides on numerous occasions (even though LA played a high back line, the Fire beat it several times in the first few minutes of the game). Collins John shouldn’t start for the Fire, they were playing just fine without him before the All-Star break.


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