Record crowd sees five designated players, zero goals as Fire and Red Bulls draw

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A crowd of 21,868- the largest crowd ever to watch the Chicago Fire in Toyota Park– saw a 0-0 stalemate between the Fire and the New York Red Bulls, but still probably left happy after seeing one of the biggest concentrations of international stars in the leagues history.

A record five Designated Players took the pitch in Bridgeview, with Freddie Ljungberg and Nery Castillo representing the Fire and Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez suiting up for New York. Yet while each flashed some moments of brilliance, neither team could manage to find the back of the net. In fact, Chicago’s rookie goalkeeper Sean Johnson outshone all of the stars, pulling off multiple spectacular saves to keep the Red Bulls out.

By Sam Svoboda

The Fire started brightly enough, keeping hold of possession well and launching some dangerous attacks. Ljungberg was especially involved playing as an attacking midfielder behind Brian McBride, and the Swede’s ball control and vision constantly troubled the New York back line. However, the Fire could not find the finishing touches on their attacking moves- most notably, Baggio Husidic saw an apparently goal-bound volley blocked and Ljungberg miscued a low cross from McBride after getting behind the defense.

New York came close to breaking the deadlock as well, particularly in the second half, when the match began to open up more. Angel outshot the entire Fire tea by himself (nine shots to five) and Macoumba Kandji also had a handful of good looks at the goal. The Fire defense stayed strong though, with much of the credit going to Johnson, who made seven saves, including two diving stops in the game’s final minutes.

Fire coach Carlos de los Cobos admitted after the match that the team was not satisfied with just a point at home against a conference rival, and the second half was a struggle at times, but the clean sheet- only their second in MLS play since April- will be a confidence booster for the team. And as the team continues to learn how to play together after a large roster shakeup, there’s still reason to be optimistic.

As for the four new DPs on display, a quick recap of how each played:
Ljungberg: In his first start with the Fire, Ljungberg performed much better than in his substitute appearance last week and was easily Chicago’s most dangerous attacker. He showed some very good pace, passing and dribbling skills, as well as a Cuauhtemoc Blanco-like ability to draw fouls. The Fire will hope that he can bring the same attacking spark every week.
Castillo: Introduced in the 56th minute, Castillo’s performance was similar to Ljungberg’s last week- a bit rusty and uninvolved. The Mexican had a few nice touches but was not very dangerous and had trouble staying onside. In fairness though, he should improve as he gets used to playing with his new teammates.
Henry: Showed that he still has the ability to glide past defenders as if they weren’t there, but he was not quite in top form at Toyota Park and only registered one shot on goal. A groin injury forced him out of the match right before halftime.
Marquez: The Mexico captain looked pretty good in the center of the park, especially considering that he just joined the team this week. He was subbed out in the 61st minute, showing that he is not fully-fit either, but he did a nice job with his distribution and breaking up Chicago attacks.
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