Two late goals last week kept the Chicago Fire's season-opening unbeaten string intact. To continue that franchise-record run, they could use some improved defensive play when they face expansion Seattle Sounders FC for the first time at Toyota Park on Saturday night.
The Fire (2-0-4), the only undefeated team remaining in MLS, overcame a two-goal deficit in the final four minutes last Saturday when forward Brian McBride and defender Gonzalo Segares scored two minutes apart in a 2-all tie at Columbus. The draw extended Chicago's season-opening unbeaten streak to a team-record six games.
It also was the Fire's third tie in a row and came a week after they gave up two late second-half scores to squander a two-goal lead and settle for a 2-all tie with Kansas City. Chicago, which lost 2-1 to Mexico's Club America in an exhibition on Wednesday, has allowed seven goals in the last three MLS games after giving up two in the first three.
The club yielded 33 goals all of last season, one more than Houston for fewest in the league.
"We're having trouble in the back," Segares said. "We're conceding a lot of goals, and we don't like that because we consider ourselves to be a good team defensively and lately we haven't been doing well.
"I think we've just got to improve that, so right now we're struggling a little bit defensively but we've just got to keep the same mentality, keep working throughout the weeks and hopefully everything will come through."
Chicago, though, leads the Eastern Conference with 12 goals scored and McBride tops MLS with five. The former United States national team star was named the MLS player of the month for April and has 10 goals in 17 contests since joining the Fire in August after five seasons with Fulham of England's Premier League.
"Anything inside the six it's got a pretty good chance of going in," Fire coach Denis Hamlett said of McBride's finishing ability inside the six-yard box.
McBride, though, will have to contend with goalkeeper Kasey Keller, who hasn't conceded a goal in five games with the Sounders (4-2-0) while posting four shutouts to tie Chivas USA's Zach Thornton for the league lead.
Keller, a teammate of McBride's on the national team and with Fulham, improved to 4-0-0 after making five saves in a 2-0 win over San Jose last Saturday. He sat out a 2-0 road loss to Chivas USA on April 18 due to a red card he received the previous week during a 1-0 defeat to the Wizards.
Those are the only goals Seattle has allowed, tying Chivas for the MLS low.
"If you've looked at the way we surround the ball and cover for each other no one is out there trying to cheat on the counter attack," Keller said of the Sounders' defensive philosophy. "Nothing helps the defense more than having it start from the front with the forwards."
Seattle is getting offensive contributions from Steve Zakuani, the first overall selection in January's MLS SuperDraft. The forward had a goal and an assist last Saturday, giving him two of each in three starts while not factoring in the scoring of three games as a substitute.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press