Fire, Toronto draw blanks

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire had a gift at the start of the second half -- a breakaway scoring opportunity with one of their most trusted players on the ball.

But Freddie Ljungberg couldn't finish the chance as the Fire and Toronto FC played to a scoreless draw Wednesday in front of 12,891 at Toyota Park.

"It's a pity that the team didn't win a match that we could have won," Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "We had two or three very good opportunities that we couldn't finish. But from my point of view I saw improvement from our defense. The team played very strong and we had a very good team in front of us."

Neither squad put much on net until the final 15 to 20 minutes. The Fire (6-7-8) and Reds (7-9-7) had some chances here and there, and the biggest opportunity was in Chicago's favor.

In the 48th minute, Chicago's two designated players nearly hooked up in the scoring column. Nery Castillo dished to Ljungberg who ran right up the middle and timed his run perfectly against Toronto's defensive line. That left Ljungberg and Toronto goalkeeper Stefan Frei going head-to-head.

Frei leaned to his right and Ljungberg shot in the other direction, forcing Frei to stick his feet at the ball. It didn't matter, however, as the ball trickled harmlessly past the right post.

That pretty much was the tone of Wednesday's match -- a messy battle between two Eastern Conference teams trying to find a formula to move up in the standings.

Toronto possessed the ball for the majority of the first 15 minutes. In the 15th, the Fire finally were on the attack when Collins John had a couple chances. He took a deep shot and then followed up the rebound, but his second attempt was blocked by the Toronto defense.

The Fire held a 7-3 advantage in shots on goal.

Analysis: Neither team could establish flow on the pitch, and in the opening of the match you wondered if Chicago would hold Toronto at bay with its unexpected defensive combination.

De los Cobos' lineup had to play without regular left back Gonzalo Segares, who served the first of his two-game suspension. Dasan Robinson and C.J. Brown were in the center, Steven Kinney on the right and Mike Banner pushed between left midfield and left defensive back. Wilman Conde eventually entered the match in the midfield for John Thorrington, and Krzysztof Krol did not play.

Robinson had a strong performance, and he intercepted several key potential threats from Toronto forward Dwayne De Rosario. Castillo also looks like his play is getting stronger. He's covering more ground and showing some hustle, all the way until second-half stoppage time when he managed to draw a foul just outside the box.

Bradley on hand: Former Fire and current U.S. National Team head coach Bob Bradley dropped by Toyota Park on Wednesday. He and the U.S. host Poland at 7 p.m. Oct. 9 at Soldier Field. Bradley was not scouting anyone in particular at the Chicago-Toronto match.

Bradley did have a couple of comments about a current and former Fire player:

On ex-Fire player DaMarcus Beasley, currently playing for Hannover 96: "This is an important move for DaMarcus because clearly his stretch at Rangers didn't end well. And he's at that point in his career where he's got to find the right club. He's got to continue to work very hard. I think his future with the national team is going to hinge on his ability now at Hannover to reestablish himself and play well."

On Fire forward Brian McBride, who is retiring after the season: "His attitude on the field and his will to win I think has really set just a great standard. ... I wish all players would have that mentality. He's just been a great example, and his career has been very special."