BY ANTHONY ZILIS
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."
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.