GALAXY HOPES TO PUT OUT FIRE.
Playing soccer at Chicago's Soldier Field is not nearly as intimidating as visiting Manchester United's famed Old Trafford stadium or walking through the Anfield Gates to face Liverpool.
But give the Fire credit. It feeds off the loudest and rowdiest fans Major League Soccer has to offer, and Chicago can establish an MLS record with another home victory or draw against the Galaxy tonight.
The Central Division-leading Fire (4-4-2, 14 points) has gone 15 consecutive games without a loss at Soldier Field dating back to last season, which ties the MLS record.
Including MLS playoff games and U.S. Open Cup matches, the Fire has a 22-game unbeaten streak at home. Its last home loss came more than a year ago, when New England handed it a 1-0 setback on May 20 of 2000.
``Everybody asks about the record,'' the Fire's Dema Kovalenko said. ``I didn't know about it and I don't care about it. I don't think our guys even care about it. We have the best crowd in the league and it's tough to play in Chicago for any team in MLS. That's the bottom line.''
Chicago has the support of two loud and knowledgeable support groups, the BarnBurners and Ultras. Club members add to the atmosphere by singing and beating drums.
``You feel the atmosphere,'' Kovalenko said. ``For 90 minutes they cheer nonstop. They make waves and go crazy.''
Fire midfielder Chris Armas, who previously played for the Galaxy, said the players and fans have a special bond.
``They are so loyal. They're the ones traveling to Columbus, Ohio, and New England making noise for us,'' Armas said. ``It's mutual. They look to give something to us and we look to give something back to them, too.''
It doesn't sound like a nice place to begin a three-game road trip, but after breaking a winless streak at three games with a 2-0 victory over the Revolution on Saturday at the Rose Bowl, Galaxy players hope to build some momentum of their own.
The Galaxy (4-3-2, 14 points) sits in second place in the Western Division behind San Jose (5-2-2, 17 points).
``Getting that win at home was important. Those are your bread-and-butter games,'' Galaxy midfielder Simon Elliott said. ``We haven't been at the top of our game, so we needed that with a game like Chicago coming up.''
GALAXY vs. CHICAGO
Time: 5:30 p.m., at Soldier Field.
TV/Radio: FSN (tape-delayed at 7 p.m.); 870-AM, 1020-AM (Spanish).
Game update: Chicago (4-2-2, 14 points) is trying to establish an MLS record of 16 consecutive home games without a loss dating back to last season. Including U.S. Open Cup and MLS playoff games, the Fire hasn't lost at home in 22 consecutive games. The Galaxy is coming off back-to-back shutouts behind goalkeeper Matt Reis, who replaced regular starter Kevin Hartman earlier this season. Reis is unbeaten as a starter (4-0-2) and boasts a 1.10 goals-against average. Galaxy striker Luis Hernandez has gone 955 minutes without a goal, which includes nine games with Mexico's Club America.
- Fred J. Robledo
GALAXY vs. CHICAGO (see text)