It was the Robbie Keane show on Sunday afternoon as the LA Galaxy forward scored a goal in each half on his 32nd birthday and the defending MLS Champions knocked off the Chicago Fire 2-0 at Toyota Park.
In the first match since Fire midfielder Sebastian Grazzini announced he would be returning to Argentina for personal reasons (more on that after the recap), the Men in Red looked tired and uncreative as their four-game unbeaten streak came to an abrupt end at home. The Fire remained three points ahead of the Houston Dynamo for fourth place in the MLS Eastern Conference standings.
After a fairly sloppy start, the Galaxy had the first real opportunity of the match.
In the 9th minute, Galaxy midfielder Hector Jimenez found former Fire striker Chad Barrett with a low cross from the right side, but Barrett's shot was just over the crossbar.
The Fire were quick to respond.
Only minutes later, a Pavel Pardo corner was knocked around the box before falling to the feet of Fire Jalil Anibaba, but the defender's 11th minute unmarked shot from the right side of the six-yard box was struck just wide of the net.
In the 14th minute, Galaxy defender David Junior Lopes took down Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko. Both Lopes and Juninho were issued yellow cards for the tackle and for arguing with referee Jair Marrufo, respectively. However, the resulting Marco Pappa free kick was off target.
The Galaxy caught a break in 23rd minute when midfielder Michael Stephens' cross was ruled to hit the hand of Anibaba just inside the penalty area. Forward Robbie Keane's ensuing penalty was struck off the right post and in past Johnson who dove in the opposite direction to give the away side a 1-0 lead. The 24th minute goal was the 32 year-old birthday boy Keane's 5th of the season.
With the goal, the Fire were trailing for the first time since a 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution back on June 2.
The Fire had a golden opportunity to equalize right before halftime in the 43rd minute. Fire midfielder Chris Rolfe found an unmarked Nyarko in the middle of the box, but his header was well off-target.
New addition Alex came on for the Fire at the half, replacing midfielder Logan Pause as the Men in Red looked for improve their attack to get back in the match.
The Brazilian quickly drew a free kick from the top of the box in the 49th minute. The resulting Pardo free kick was on target, but was knocked over by Galaxy goalie Josh Saunders.
The Galaxy nearly doubled their advantage in the 53rd minute. Jimenez played Stephens through on the left, but his shot was just wide of goal. Then, in the 59th minute, Jimenez's shot from just right of the top of the box went well over the crossbar.
The Galaxy made their first substitution of the match, bringing on defender Bryan Jordan for Jimenez in the 60th minute. Shortly after, midfielder Landon Donovan came on for Barrett in the 65th minute.
In a somewhat surprising move, Fire head coach Frank Klopas brought on midfielder Rafael Robayo came on for Dominic Oduro in the 67th minute.
Marco Pappa picked up a yellow card for a high tackle on Lopes on the 69th minute.
Juninho was replaced by defender Bryan Gaul in the 73rd minute as the defending champions looked to take three points on the road.
The Fire hadn't put much pressure on the Galaxy in the second half, but they had an opportunity in the 77th minute. Left back Gonzalo Segares found Chris Rolfe at the top of the box, but Saunders was able to dive to his right and deflect the ball out of play.
Shortly after, the Galaxy used their star power to put the game away.
Donovan found Keane on the counter-attack in the 78th minute and the Irish striker was able to slot past Johnson to give the Galaxy a two-goal advantage.
Chris Rolfe was taken off for Orr Barouch in the 80th minute as the home side looked to finish out the match respectably.
The Fire had a couple of half-chances towards the end of the match, but in the end, their four-game unbeaten streak came to an end.
Fire (Grazzini) Notes
The Fire were without midfielder Sebastian Grazzini for a third straight match. Grazzini said on Friday that he would be returning to Argentina to deal with family issues. There is no timetable for his return.
There has been much speculation among Fire supporters that midfielder Sebastian Grazzini's situation has been complicated by a third-party contract. Javier Leon, President of Soccer Operations for the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, dispelled that speculation when Hot Time In Old Town spoke with him yesterday.
"None of the players signed with the Chicago Fire are signed under third-party contracts," said Leon.
The 2011 MLS Champion Galaxy rolled into Chicago on a two-game losing streak.
The Galaxy were without midfielder David Beckham, who was suspended for the match, "for his confrontational and provocative behavior during and immediately following the Galaxy's 4-3 loss at San Jose on June 30," according to a league statement.
Starting XI: Johnson; Anibaba, Friedrich, Berry, Segares; Pause (C) (46 for Alex), Pardo; Nyarko, Rolfe (79 for Barouch), Pappa; Oduro (67 for Robayo)
Substitutes: Nolly, Gargan, Jumper, Paladini, Robayo (67 for Robayo), Alex (46 for Pause), Barouch (79 for Rolfe)
Starting XI: Franklin, DeLaGarza, Lopes, Dunivant; Jimenez (60 for Jordan), Juninho (73 for Gaul), Sarvas, Stephens; Keane, Barrett (65 for Donovan)
Substitutes: Perk, Gonzalez, Gaul (73 for Juninho), Meyer, Jordan (60 for Jimenez), Magee, Donovan (65 for Barrett