United seize control of first place against Fire

WASHINGTON -- Powered by some inspired goalkeeping from Josh Wicks, D.C. United edged out the Chicago Fire 2-1 in a tense encounter at RFK Stadium to seize control of first place in the MLS Eastern Conference.Chicago fought valiantly but were undone by a Jaime Moreno penalty kick and a devastating free kick goal from Christian Gomez in the first half after Marco Pappa had leveled terms, thought it took a clutch save from Wicks to ensure the result as the D.C. netminder denied Brian McBride on a Fire spot kick in the second stanza.D.C. coach Tom Soehn made two changes from the side that beat New York 2-0 last week as playmaker Christian Gomez returned to the starting lineup and Jaime Moreno stepped in up top with star striker Luciano Emilio missing out due to red-card suspension.Conversely, Fire boss Denis Hamlett made few changes from his incumbent first XI. Left back Gonzalo Segares returned to the squad from Costa Rican national team duty, though somewhat surprisingly, Mexican legend Cuauhtemoc Blanco was left off the gameday roster following his international exertions at midweek.Early on Chicago looked to make use of pacey frontrunner Patrick Nyarko, who played his college ball at nearby Virginia Tech and scored in the Fire's last visit to RFK Stadium in March, but the Ghanaian-born 23-year-old was well-defended by Bryan Namoff and his D.C. back line mates on several occasions.Versatile United rookie Chris Pontius had been given a striker's brief for this match and his intelligent movement following an abortive D.C. set piece put Fire 'keeper Jon Busch in a difficult position in the 23rd minute. When Santino Quaranta lofted the ball back into the far side of the Fire box, Pontius spun away from Segares and cuffed his shot wide of the far post as Busch came out to close down the angle.But referee Baldomero Toledo decided that the Chicago netminder had made illegal contact with Pontius after the shot and blew for a penalty kick, to the shock of the Men in Red. As he has on so many occasions over his glittering MLS career, Moreno calmly dispatched the spot kick, sending Busch the wrong way to hand United a 1-0 lead.Despite the discouraging turn of events, the visitors continued to pour forward at every opportunity and soon Pappa produced a moment of magic to level matters at 1-1.When Fred couldn't cut out a looping crossfield ball, it gave Ward time and space to surge down the Fire right and Pappa alertly floated into a sliver of space at the top of the United box, receiving a quick square ball from his teammate before quickly swiveling onto his left foot to curl an excellent finish around Marc Burch and past a partially shielded Wicks. The impressive finish ran the Guatemalan international's season tally to four goals.Matters got worse for the Black-and-Red some seven minutes before the interval as Moreno came up lame, clutching at his hamstring near midfield. The injury forced Soehn to make an early change as Ange N'Silu entered in the veteran Bolivian's place.But the half had one more twist in its tale. To Segares' chagrin, Toledo whistled him for an elbow on Pontius as the two vied for a high ball just outside the Chicago box, setting up a threatening D.C. set piece opportunity that was magnificently converted by Gomez.The Argentinean stepped up to the free kick and whipped a dipping shot over the Chicago wall and into the upper right corner of the net as a desperate Busch could not throw himself to his left in time to make the save.Having given up two goals from set pieces, the Fire had reason to feel hard done by and after the halftime break they set about their task with renewed urgency, only to be denied multiple goals by some stellar work from Wicks.When the United defense were unable to clear their lines in the 47th minute, it allowed Brian McBride and C.J. Brown to play a quick game of head tennis that set Wilman Conde loose behind the D.C. back line -- but at close range with only Wicks to beat, the Colombian hit an awkward half-volley right at the United netminder.Moments later Wicks raced off his line to deny Nyarko with a brave sliding challenge, but Toledo stunned the Black-and-Red when blew his whistle and pointed to the spot. Replays showed that the referee seemed to have caught a subtle tug by Jakovic as Nyarko set himself to shoot.McBride lined up to take the penalty as the home fans booed lustily -- but Wicks turned the jeers into cheers as he guessed correctly on the spot kick, diving to his right to parry the shot away and preserve United's lead as the RFK faithful exploded with joy and relief.Granted a massive letoff by their 'keeper, the home side surged back into the match and threatened with two great chances in rapid succession on the hour mark. N'Silu split two defenders with an angled run before unleashing a one-timer that brought a sharp reflex save from Busch, yet the Fire 'keeper was left a bystander as Gomez ran onto the rebound and hammered a thunderous shot that clanged off the crossbar and spun out of play.Five minutes later it was Chicago's turn to clang the woodwork at the other end. In a sequence that was nearly a mirror image of Gomez's first-half goal, Thorrington blasted a free kick delivery over the United wall that Wicks but missed the top corner by a matter of inches as the post came to D.C.'s rescue.Unlike many visiting teams at RFK, the Fire were holding their own in the midfield battle and that strength helped them keep probing for an equalizer as time ticked away. Hamlett changed to three in the back and added the craft of Justin Mapp along the left wing as Pappa switched flanks.Meanwhile, Soehn brought on defender Avery John and moved into a 4-4-2 formation to bolster his team's rearguard as they defended their tenuous lead. But the D.C. boss also added Boyzzz Khumalo for a dash of counterattacking pace and the South African nearly iced the match with two dashes down the right side -- the first a solo run that culminated in an angled shot that skimmed just wide of the target, the second a right-wing cross that dribbled through the Fire box to Quaranta, who shot wide of the near post.Stoppage time featured some anxious moments for United and their fans as Chicago threw caution to the wind with a flurry of forward forays, but Wicks and company held on for a precious victory that vaults them over the Fire and into the top spot in the Eastern Conference standings.Chicago Fire (5-3-6) vs. D.C. United (5-2-7) June 13, 2009 -- RFK Stadium Scoring Summary: DC -- Jaime Moreno 5 (penalty kick) 24CHI -- Marco Pappa 4 (Tim Ward 2, John Thorrington 1) 33DC -- Christian Gomez 2 (unassisted) 41Chicago Fire -- Jon Busch, Tim Ward (Stefan Dimitrov 83), C.J. Brown, Wilman Conde, Gonzalo Segares (Mike Banner 86), Chris Rolfe, Logan Pause, John Thorrington, Marco Pappa, Brian McBride, Patrick Nyarko (Justin Mapp 68),Substitutes Not Used: Andrew Dykstra, Baggio Husidic, Brandon Prideaux, Daniel WoolardD.C. United -- Josh Wicks, Bryan Namoff, Dejan Jakovic, Marc Burch, Fred (Thabiso Khumalo 78), Christian Gomez (Avery John 85), Clyde Simms, Rodney Wallace, Jaime Moreno (Ange N'Silu 39), Chris Pontius, Santino Quaranta,Substitutes Not Used: Andrew Jacobson, Greg Janicki, Milos Kocic, Devon McTavishMisconduct Summary: CHI -- Jon Busch (caution; Reckless Foul) 22CHI -- John Thorrington (caution; Reckless Tackle) 27CHI -- Wilman Conde (caution; Dissent) 40CHI -- Logan Pause (caution; Reckless Tackle) 70DC -- Christian Gomez (caution; Tactical Foul) 74Referee: Baldomero ToledoReferee's Assistants: Paul Scott; Thomas Supple4th official: Andrew ChapinTime of game: 1:51Attendance: 18,369weather: Partly Cloudy -and- 82 degrees