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Chris Rolfe and Mike Banner Each Score as Chicago Wins Their Ninth

Chris Rolfe and Mike Banner each scored as the Chicago Fire defeated the Kansas City Wizards 2-0.

 In Sunday’s lone MLS match, the Chicago Fire visited the Kansas City Wizards at CommunityAmerica Ballpark in Kansas City. In their last meeting, almost three months ago, Kansas City’s Josh Wolff nullified an early double-strike by Brian McBride with two goals of his own, sealing the draw.

 Kansas City was simply trying to find its rhythm under interim head coach Peter Vermes, who was put in charge after Curt Onalfo suffered a 6-0 loss to FC Dallas. Kansas City was hoping that Vermes, who ended his career while playing for the Wizards back in 2002, would help the struggling side climb up in the eastern conference standings with a win tonight. The Wizards were facing an immediate uphill challenge, however, as they did not have Davy Arnaud and Claudio Lopez, who have combined for 10 of Kansas City’s 20 goals this season.

 Chicago was trying to regain its momentum after a tough 3-2 loss to Houston a week ago in which a late Stuart Holden goal ended it for the Fire. Denis Hamlett’s side was without Brian McBride, Gonzalo Segares, Tim Ward and Daniel Woolard.

First Half

Though the match was played in muggy Kansas City, it sounded like a home game for Chicago as their traveling faithful provided a constant soundtrack for the afternoon affair.

Chicago dominated possession right from the kickoff, creating chances almost immediately. Two early chances from Marco Pappa and Chris Rolfe set the tone for the opening minutes

 The Fire would quickly break the tie when Rolfe beat Kansas City’s Kevin Hartman in the 13th minute. Rolfe initially brought the ball up the field, passed it back to Pappa off of his heel, and then sprinted on net. Pappa found Rolfe open in front and threaded him the ball. The goal was Rolfe’s fifth of the campaign.

Chicago continued to maintain possession and nearly scored again in the 17th. The play was set-up by Patrick Nyarko, who brought the ball up the right side of the field. After stumbling a bit in the box, Nyarko conceded the ball to Pappa, only to watch his colleague send it too high.

 Kansas City would make some noise later on the half, however.

 In the 28th minute, Santiago Hirsig was set up beautifully in the box with nobody to beat. Instead of taking an immediate shot, however, Hirsig opted to maintain the ball—which allowed Chicago to recover. With sudden pressure on him, Hirsig could not convert on what was Kansas City’s best chance of the half.

Chicago’s Jon Busch would make two good saves later on in the half. The first came on a very hard Josh Wolff shot from less than eight yards out. The next came minutes later when Roger Espinoza sent in a left-footer from just outside the area.

 The half ended with two great chances for Chicago which almost doubled their lead.

In the 41st minute, Pappa blasted one from far out. Despite beating Hartman, his try would hit the left post.

Moments later, Justin Mapp held possession on the left side with only Hartman to beat. His shot would go too high, however, and the half would end with Chicago leading 1-0.

 Second Half

Vermes subbed in Michael Harrington for Matt Besler at the start of the half, hoping that a fortified midfield would provide his side with greater possession and more chances on goal.

It looked like Vermes’ plan would work just minutes in when Aaron Hohlbein had a point blank chance on goal. The Kansas City defender would see his shot blocked by the Chicago backline, however.

Kansas City continued to create opportunities for themselves but could not capitalize on them.

In the 60th minute, Jimmy Conrad had an open header in front of the net. Conrad did not play it properly and his ball never even challenged Busch.

Ten minutes later, Espinoza nearly tied the match when he received a great cross from recently subbed-in Zoltan. Despite Zoltan’s cross being perfectly placed, Espinoza lost his footing and could not put the ball on net. Once again, the Wizards squandered a great opportunity.

 Despite a few Kansas City chances, the tone of the second half was relatively stale up to this point. Chicago was playing for possession and rarely countered on Kansas City’s missed chances.

 Things would quickly change in the 85th, however, when Zoltan received a straight red for a mindless tackle on Mike Banner, who had been subbed in 20 minutes before. Banner had clearly beaten Zoltan near the center line and Zoltan, seemingly aggravated, tackled him from behind. As Zoltan left the field, one could faintly hear the traveling Fire supporters taunting him and singing “Na, Na, Na, Hey, Hey, Goodbye”.

 Banner would have his revenge in the 89th when he sealed the victory for the Chicago side. Set up on the left, Banner slotted the ball past Hartman. The goal was Banner’s first career MLS goal.

 The match would end moments later and the Chicago Fire defeated the Kansas City Wizards 2-0.

 With tonight’s victory, the Fire (9-4-8) are still in second place in the eastern conference. They will look to put more pressure on first place Columbus when they take on the Galaxy at home on Wednesday.

 The Kansas City Wizards’ (5-8-6) next match will be in six days when they take on the San Jose Earthquakes on the road at Buck Shaw Stadium.

Greg Adrouny, Goal.com

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