BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- Sunday's international friendly between the Chicago Fire and A.C. Milan had a few elements you wouldn't typically see at a Fire match at Toyota Park.
Away from the field of play, you had the crowd, a couple of fans disrupting the action, a flare whizzing by Milan goalkeeper Dida. On the field, with a top-tier opponent such as Milan, the fluidity and trickery with the ball tends to go up a level from both sides.
In the end, Milan pulled off the 1-0 victory over Chicago in front of a sell-out crowd of 20,356. The result was a disappointment from the Fire's perspective, but Chicago took some elements out of this match.
After speaking with Fire midfielder/forward Patrick Nyarko, he took plenty of satisfaction in saying that he schooled Milan's Ronaldinho, a two-time FIFA World Player of the Year, by flicking the ball over Ronaldinho's head and attacking in the other direction in the 16th minute.
"It was great," Nyarko said with a huge grin. "I was laughing it up with my teammates. It's probably the highlight of my career right now. I told him that he's probably going to [beat] me later, but I don't care. It was really fun. I'm glad I pulled it off."
"You want to be a little bit extra sharp and want to step your game up and play with these players and be competitive with them," Fire midfielder Justin Mapp said. "I think everybody did that."
Milan captain Clarence Seedorf scored the match's lone goal to start the second half. In the 47th minute, Seedorf was on the receiving end of a long ball that put him behind the Fire's defense. Chicago defender C.J. Brown had difficulties trying to track down the ball and Seedorf. Fire goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra pushed up out of the goal, as well, so when Seedorf nudged the ball at a tough angle from the left side, he only needed to avoid Fire defender Wilman Conde who would not scramble back in time.
The Fire were awfully close to tying the match up in the closing minute. In second-half stoppage time, Fire midfielder Julio Martinez nearly tied the match up off of Mike Banner's corner from the left side. But Dida got a hand up against Martinez's strick and flicked the ball over the crossbar.
The Fire did create some good buildup with their play in stretches. In the 22nd minute, Logan Pause found Krzysztof Krol pushing up on the left side. Krol crossed the ball into Brian McBride who was above the box, but his left-footed shot went wide right. Then in the 55th minute, Chicago mixed and matched several good passes from west to east to find Martinez, who took a strong shot, but Dida put it out of harm's way.
Once again, Chicago was blanked on the scoreboard. It caps off a 0-3-4 month of May.
"We always have chances to score," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "This is part of the game that we are not [doing well in]."
Chicago can take a few things away from this match. The ball movement and player movement improved in comparison to the team's Sister Cities International Cup matches. Then again, the Fire really could only go up following those disappointing showings.
Sunday's match also was an improved result from the Fire's 3-1 loss against Milan the one other time the two teams squared off on July 27, 2005, at Soldier Field.
The May record looks dreadful on paper, but Chicago did end up utilizing some good minutes out of its players while staying competitive in this particular match.
For many of the Fire players, this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And if the likes of Nyarko found some moments of confidence and satisfiction -- even if it didn't amount to anything in the scoring department -- that is important moving forward in returning to MLS play.