BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. (AP) On the field with some of soccer’s biggest names, Sean Johnson stole the show.
The Chicago Fire goalkeeper made seven saves Sunday night, including two on shots by Thierry Henry and another by Juan Pablo Angel in stoppage time, to preserve a 0-0 tie against the New York Red Bulls. It was only the second Major League Soccer game for the 21-year-old Johnson.
Photos: Red Bulls at Fire: August 8
“We should have won the game,” said Henry, who doesn’t expect to miss any time after leaving the game in the 45th minute with a groin injury. “We had chances to win the game, but Chicago and their goalkeeper had a great game.”
The Fire and Red Bulls have dominated Major League Soccer headlines with their big-name acquisitions over the last few weeks, and the chance to see all the stars drew a crowd of 21,868, the largest ever for a Fire game at Toyota Park.
Mexico captain Rafael Marquez, who followed Barcelona teammate Henry to New York, was in the starting lineup for his Red Bulls debut. Freddie Ljungberg was playing his first home game since being traded to Chicago from Seattle on July 30, and Mexico international Nery Castillo was greeted with fireworks when he came on in the second half, his first appearance since Shakhtar Donetsk of Ukraine loaned him to the Fire.
But it was Johnson who made the difference.
The Red Bulls peppered him with five shots on goal in the second half, including a shot by Angel at the beginning of stoppage time. Positioned just inside the 6-yard box, the Red Bulls captain got his head on the ball and swung hard. But Johnson got a hand on the ball, punching it clear.
“I’m disappointed. I think we should have won the game,” Angel said. “We had a number of chances, we just couldn’t put them away.”
Henry, playing in his second MLS game, gave New York its best chances in the first half. In the 20th minute, he stopped Fire defender C.J. Brown with a stutter step and took a shot from close range, but Johnson stopped it easily. Ten minutes later, Angel fed Henry on the run, but he got tangled up with a defender in the box and Johnson smothered the ball.
But he tweaked his groin – he left New York’s exhibition against Manchester City with a similar injury – and left in the 45th minute.
“For me, it’s the preseason,” said Henry, who signed with New York on July 14 after being released by Barcelona. “Guys out there are fully fit and it’s not easy to try and get fit. But I’m going to try and do it as fast as I can.”
Chicago’s offense has suffered since the departure of Cuauhtemoc Blanco, lacking the creative touch that made the Fire so dangerous up top. But the trade for Ljungberg appears to have solved that. He had several nice give-and-gos with McBride – but he blew a chance to give Chicago the lead in the 43rd minute.
McBride made a nice run up the right side, looking for Ljungberg all the way as Ljungberg charged to the left post. McBride made a perfect cross, but Ljungberg duffed the shot just inside the 6-yard box.
“I’m very happy because Freddie adapted very fast with all the teammates. He’s a big professional and looked very good to me,” Fire coach Carlos de los Cobos said. “Nery Castillo, when these guys have more knowledge of each other, I’m sure we will improve in front, in the attack.”