Fire, K.C. struggle for scoreless draw

Two struggling teams at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table clearly could not find some flow within their play on Thursday.

The Chicago Fire and last-place Sporting Kansas City played to a scoreless draw as K.C. opened up Livestrong Sporting Park in front of a sold-out crowd of 19,925 in Kansas City, Kan.

Chicago (1-4-8) saw its team-high winless streak reach 11 games (0-4-7), and Sporting (1-6-4) had to play down a man for a half hour to salvage the draw.

"When we were a man up, we could have done a little better in the final third," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "I thought we were predictable with the ball. Our movement wasn't great. We could have been a little bit sharper."

The Fire gained a huge advantage in the 67th minute when Sporting goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen was red-carded for a hand ball outside of the box. On the play, the Fire's Gaston Puerari provided a deep send to Dominic Oduro who got a couple steps on K.C.'s defensive line. Oduro got a touch on the ball a couple yards outside of the box, and Nielsen leaped up and got a glove on the ball. Nielsen immediately put his head down as he knew he made a huge instinctual mistake.

That forced K.C. to play with 10 men and bring in backup goalkeeper Eric Kronberg, who played in only his fourth career game since being a part of the formerly-named Kansas City Wizards since 2006. Kronberg replaced Teal Bunbury.

But Chicago did not take advantage of a close free kick chance as Cristian Nazarit's direct strike hit Sporting's defensive wall.

The Fire later had a gift of a follow-up opportunity in the 80th minute in which second-half sub Orr Barouch's shot hit the crossbar. Daniel Paladini decided to take a deep strike, and it should have been an easy save for Kronberg. But the shot popped out to Barouch, whose rebound shot hit the crossbar and kept the match level.

Despite playing down a man, Sporting lingered on the offensive end from time to time. Some controversy arose in the 85th minute when referee Michael Kennedy ruled that Fire defender Bratislav Ristic did not trip K.C.'s Omar Bravo in the box. Replays showed that Ristic first slid into the ball, then his follow-through sent Bravo tumbling into the air. The sell-out crowd and the K.C. bench vehemently called for a penalty kick, but none was issued.

Both teams had some scoring opportunities in the first half.

Chicago had a potentially strong chance in the ninth minute that eventually resulted in a Corben Bone shot on goal. But heading into the sequence, Oduro's poor pass to Puerari allowed the K.C. defense to scramble back.

K.C.'s Graham Zusi thought he had the first goal at Livestrong in the 15th minute. But Omar Bravo, who whiffed on a shot attempt, was called offside before Zusi struck the ball. In the 28th, Zusi had a solid strike from 25 yards out that just missed the upper right corner of the net.

Analysis: Gaining a point on the road under incredibly festive conditions probably would have been a satisfactory result from Chicago's standpoint heading in. But playing up a man, against a rarely-used goalkeeper for 30 minutes, against a last-place club, should have created more on the offensive side for the Fire.

Even with nine minutes of stoppage time, neither side could get much on goal in the second half.

Fire left back Gonzalo Segares had a strong night as K.C. seemed to attack his side of the pitch on a regular basis, especially in the first half. Kei Kamara was not much of a factor.

The Fire's front line did very little in the match. Puerari got the start instead of Diego Chaves, and Puerari had limited touches throughout the match. Nazarit had one header in between a pair of K.C. defenders that forced Nielsen to make a low save. But Nazarit's execution on the free kick following Nielsen's red card was ineffective.

Thursday's match was a true reflection of two teams that have not found consistent form on the pitch this year. The East standings paint a vivid picture.