Matchday 11/14: The Eastern Conference Final

Cuauhtemoc Blanco

A trip to the MLS Cup is on the line as the Chicago Fire and Real Salt Lake are almost set to face off in tonight's Eastern Conference Final at Toyota Park. Who will advance remains to be seen, but I'll be here to take you through the whole day with Fire Confidential's second All Day Blog. Here we go...

**Pregame - 9:38 a.m.**

I'll start the day off by getting everyone up to speed on last night's Western Conference Final between the Galaxy and the Dynamo. After 90 minutes of scoreless soccer, [the Galaxy was able to breakthrough in the extra time period and ended up defeating Houston 2-0 to advance to next Sunday's MLS Cup](http://web.mlsnet.com/mls/events/mls_cup/2009/news/article.jsp?ymd=20091114&content_id=7666300&vkey=mlscup2009&fext=.jsp).

The win means that -- after 3 difficult years (both on and off the field...) -- David Beckham finally made it to the championship match. I'm guessing that MLS would have liked to see an earlier return on their big-time investment in Beckham, but better late than never right?

Oh, and just one final note, the Fire was 0-2 against the Galaxy this year... **Pregame - 1:38 p.m.**

Hey everyone, sorry for the delay, something unexpected popped up and kept me away from the computer. But I'm back now and so is the All Day blog. I'll continue by linking to a little piece I wrote for the Tribune today. It highlights some of the better things the Fire has done in their two previous meetings against Real Salt Lake and sets the stage a little bit for tonight. Click [here](http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/chi-14-fire-chicago-nov14,0,5952326.story) to check it out.

**Pregame - 2:03 p.m.**

The Fire has several players who will be playing their final game at Toyota Park tonight. The list of players who will be leaving at the end of the year includes Chris Rolfe, Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Brandon Prideaux. But what about the various impacts those players have on the team? Here's Denis Hamlett's take on Rolfe's role.

"Chris Rolfe is a very solid player for us, a very important player," said Hamlett. "This season we've played him in some different positions, out wide right and out wide left and his ability to adapt to those positions, help us defend and when we do win the ball look to get forward [is very important]. Blanco and McBride might get a lot of the spotlight, but Rolfe is very important to us and makes our team go."

**Pregame - 2:27 p.m.**

As I mentioned before, another one of the players that will be leaving at the end of this season is Cuauhtemoc Blanco. The Fire's Designated Player, Blanco won't renew his expiring three year contract at the end of this year and will join Mexican team Veracruz in January. Here Jon Busch reflects on Temo's time with the Fire.

"Blanco's been fantastic since hes been here," Busch said. "Obviously everywhere we go people want to come out and see him so it's pretty cool to see the circus that follows him around. He's been great in the locker room too, just being one of the guys and obviously on the field his vision that he brings, not many people can do that, and obviously that helps us in the game situation. I think all in all its been a good situation for the Fire to have him for the last few years."

**Pregame - 2:42 p.m.**

[Soccer By Ives is reporting that Preki, former coach of Chivas USA, is set to join Toronto FC as head coach](http://www.soccerbyives.net/soccer_by_ives/2009/11/toronto-fc-to-hire-preki-as-new-head-coach.html). Should things have gone south for the Fire in the first round of the playoffs, Preki was a likely candidate to replace Denis Hamlett should he have been dismissed but -- with the Fire one step away from the MLS Cup -- that's a moot point now.

**Pregame - 3:17**

Brandon Prideaux isn't only playing for a chance to make it to the MLS Cup but he's also playing for his career -- which will come to an end at the conclusion of this season. Prideaux, who will become an Assistant Coach at the university of Washington at the end of the year, has played an increasingly large role as the season has worn on -- and he has done well filling in on the right side of the defense for Tim Ward.

"Brandon's been fantastic since hes been here," Jon Busch said. "I don't think he gets enough credit for what he does on the right side. He's kind of one to fly below the radar but he brings it every Saturday night. He has the experience, he's been in cup games he knows what it's about and hopefully we can send him out on a positive note."

**Pregame - 3:46 p.m.**

I'm about to head out to Toyota Park so this will be my last post before I get arrive in the press box. I'll have more updates throughout the afternoon/early evening to go along with some match commentary once the game gets going so be sure to check back for that. Until then, you can take a look at some highlights from the previous two Fire-RSL games. Check them out below.

**Pregame - 6:10 p.m.**

We're about an hour away from kickoff here at Toyota Park and the Fire are all set to go. The mood down in the locker room was one of intense focus, with not a whole lot of talking/socializing going on. They look ready for this one, and Denis Hamlett told me that they plan on coming out aggressive to get the crowd really charged up.

**Pregame - 6:14 p.m.**

Just a couple last minute injury updates here:

- Wilman Conde is available

- Gonzalo Segares is out

- Brian McBride is available and told me that his injury is feeling good.

**Pregame - 6:45 p.m.**

Lineups have been announced. Here they are:

Fire:

GK: Busch

DEF: Prideaux, Brown, Robinson, Woolard

MID: Rolfe, Blanco, Pause, Thorrington

FWD: Pappa, McBride

Bench: Dykstra, Conde, Washington, Banner, Mapp, Carr, Nyarko

Salt Lake:

GK: Rimando

DEF: Russell, Borchers, Olave, Wingert,

MID: Williams, Beckerman, Morales, Johnson

FWD: Movsisyan, Findley

Bench: Seitz, Beltran, Alexandre, Espindola, Grabavoy, Mathis, Campos

**Kickoff - 7:08 p.m.**

The crowd is ready. The teams are ready. The referees are ready. Hell, I'm ready. It's time to get this thing started.

**11th minute**

Both teams are looking a bit tense out there. Neither is doing so well completing passes and the Fire in particular are struggling to hold possession. Not really the fast start that Hamlett wanted...

**17th minute**

After a fantastic series of passes, Findley gets free behind the Fire back line and has a good look at goal. Busch comes up big though and makes the stop. Best chance of the match so far.

**21st minute**

Salt Lake is definitely getting the better of the Fire right now. They're combining nicely through Findley and Movsisyan and you can tell their speed is giving the relatively slow Fire back four some trouble. Overall, the Fire needs to step it up pretty quickly or they run the risk of giving up a goal.

Brandon Prideaux goes down hurt but appears to be alright.

**27th minute**

The Fire come incredibly close to scoring as McBride flicks a Blanco corner kick off the crossbar. The ball rebounded down to Dasan Robinson who wasn't able to control his touch enough to put it in the back of the net. What a chance for the Fire and what a near post flick from McBride.

**39th minute**

Fire with a good set piece opportunity after a hand ball.

**41st minute**

Blanco curls his shot into the arms of a waiting Rimando. No real trouble for the Salt Lake keeper.

**45th minute**

Real Salt Lake with a good opportunity but Javier Morales hits his right footed shot wide of the post. The Fire will be happy to take this one into halftime at this point.

**46th minute**

Busch with an incredible stop of a Movsisyan half volley. Movsisyan hit a half volley from 10 yards out and Busch stopped it in between his legs. Very nice from the Fire keeper, who has been one of the lone bright spots for Chicago tonight.

**Halftime**

Not the greatest half from the Fire. Salt Lake put Chicago on their back foot from the get go and the Fire struggled to create chances. That said, the team is still all tied up heading into the half (thank you Jon Busch...) so things could be much, much worse.

My biggest complaint with the Fire so far has been the lack of movement in the attack. I know you aren't going to have Blanco or McBride running around the field like a mad man but there have been far too many occasions with a Fire player dribbling the ball and no one to pass to. That needs to change ASAP if the Fire want to take the momentum in the second half.

**49th minute**

Robinson gives RSL a free kick from a dangerous position.

**50th minute**

Morales sends his free kick just wide of the net. Kind of surprised that he didn't send in a cross from that position.

**58th minute**

Movsisyan finds the ball at his feet just inside the 18 but he sends his left footed effort a mile wide of the goal. The wildly inaccurate shots are quickly becoming a theme for Movsisyan, who has missed badly on several occasions throughout the match.

**64th minute**

Fire with a flurry of chances but Nick Rimando comes up huge for RSL. Marco Pappa fired a left footed effort towards the right post but Rimando somehow got a couple of fingertips to it and kept the Fire off the board.

**67th minute**

Fire turning on the pressure and the crowd is starting to get really into it again. Very encouraging to see.

**69th minute**

Real Salt Lake makes the first sub of the game, putting Clint Mathis on for Andy Williams.

**72nd minute**

RSL brings Fabian Espindola on for Yura Movsisyan. I would like to see Hamlett bring on Nyarko sometime soon. His pace and movement is desperately needed in the attack right now.

**77th minute**

Nyarko on for Pappa. Would have rather seen him come on for Rolfe, but (as has been the case all year) Pappa just doesn't have the stamina for the full 90.

**82nd minute**

Chris Rolfe comes close to putting the Fire ahead but his effort goes wide of the net. Good layoff by McBride on that one.

**86th minute**

The Fire see a 2 v 1 go to waste as McBride isn't able to find the net with his left footed effort from 15 yards. Gotta figure if anyone scores here it'll be on to Seattle for them...

**90th minute**

3 minutes of stoppage. And here come the flares.

**Stoppage time**

CJ Brown comes up big, making a huge defensive play to shut down Findley.

And a Salt Lake shot gets cleared off the line. Wow. That was incredibly close.

**Full Time**

Fire 0 - RSL 0

They've played 90 minutes but we're not done at Toyota Park. The match will now head into extra time, which consists of two 15-minute periods. If the sides are still deadlocked after extra time we'll head to PK's. It's getting wild here at TP.

**95th minute**

Conde in for Woolard. Looks like he'll just slide right into the left back spot.

**102nd minute**

Morales with a handball 25 yards outside the RSL goal. Great opportunity for the Fire.

Blanco doesn't put nearly enough on his shot. No real trouble for Rimando there

**105th minute**

We're headed to extra time number two. I'm thinking were going to penalties but hope the Fire prove me wrong...

**114th minute**

Mapp comes on for Rolfe. Not the performance Chris was looking for in his Toyota Park finale...

**117th minute**

Nyarko goes down in a lot of pain. Beckerman knocked his head big time on a play and he seems to be bleeding pretty badly. The Fire will have to play with 10 men while Nyarko gets stitched up.

Also, Blanco (displaying all of his usual subtlety..) picks up a yellow card for mouthing off to the referee.

**120th minute**

Nyarko comes back onto the field to a nice ovation.

**Stoppage time**

Salt Lake brings on Ned Grabavoy for Robbie Russell

**End of Extra Time**

Fire 0 - RSL 0

We're headed to a penalty shootout. The Fire is 0-1 in shootouts this year, falling 4-3 to Tigres UANL in the SuperLiga final back on August 5th. No indication of the lineups or which side the penalties will be taken on yet...

**Penalty Shootout**

Blanco steps up to take the first kick in front of Section 8. Here we go...

He puts it in! 1-0 Fire.

Mathis puts his effort in as well. We're at 1-1.

McBride makes it 2-1 Fire.

Morales hits it over the bar!!! Fire with the advantage!!

Conde powers his by Rimando. 3-1 Fire.

Findley puts it in. 3-2 Fire.

Rimando stops Thorrington!! What a save.

Beckerman rips it in. 3-3.

CJ Brown steps up to take it and coolly slots it home. 4-3 Fire. A save or miss wins it.

Johnson hits it home. 4-4. We're headed to sudden death PK's.

Logan sees his effort saved.

Espindola hits it over!! Unbelievable. 4-4 still.

Prideaux sees his effort saved. Still 4-4.

**Final -**

Fire 0 - RSL 1

Ned Grabavoy goes left with his effort and it goes in off of the hands of Jon Busch. Real Salt Lake wins the game and advances to the first MLS Cup in franchise history. It's a cruel way for the Fire's season to end but in the end it's probably a fair result.

Rough, rough night for the Fire. I'll have a full recap up in a few hours but for now you can leave your thoughts on the game -- and the season -- in the comments section below.

Comments

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  • Can't wait for all this fun to begin...

  • Chicago will keep it's record of one championship per decade
    1981 Sting
    1998 Fire
    2009 Fire

  • Why not in Chicago Janjo? I hope nobody gets off the Fire Hamlett bandwagon. He is not the reason we are here in this game. He is the reason we didnt win the supporters shield this year. Everyone knows that we have the best and deepest team but nobody wants to be here. If we dont win tonight he needs to be gone by 10pm.

  • I am about to go to dinner than then the big game. CMON FIRE! LET'S KILL ROBBIE FINDLEY!

  • I love McBride as much as the next Fire supporter but is there anyone taht can kill a counter attack faster than him? (Besides Blanco) This game had counter attack goal written all over it and we leave McBride and Blanco alone up top? This was our year to win the cup. Now we lose Blanco, Rolfe, Prideux for sure and most likely CJ, Conde, Segares, McBride. It looks like Austin Washington is going to be a starter alongside Caitlin Carr and Justin Mapp...

  • So long Denis.

    I hope.

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