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Stoitchkov, Kovalenko lead was as Chicago easily drops MetroStars 3-0.

CHICAGO (Tuesday, September 26, 2000) -- Hristo Stoitchkov and Dema Kovalenko each contributed a goal and an assist for the Chicago Fire which disposed of the MetroStars 3-0 in the opening game of their Major League Soccer semifinal series before 7,141 at Soldier Field tonight.

Fire goalkeeper Zach Thornton made eight saves, several in spectacular fashion, on his way to recording a well-earned shutout.

Game Two of this series is set for Saturday at Giants Stadium at 6 p.m. on ESPN2. The Fire, leading three points to none, can end the series with a victory. The MetroStars need at least a tie in that match to stay alive, but could even the series at three points apiece with a win.

"It is nice for us to know the job is only half done," Chicago coach Bob Bradley said. "We have a tremendous amount of respect for New York and the season they have had, and now we need to see if we can do a good job going into the Meadowlands on Saturday."

Chicago went ahead 1-0 in the 21st minute when Kovalenko took a feed from DaMarcus Beasley down the right wing and ran into position to shoot. The midfielder instead drove a curling pass through a pair of Metros' defenders and past a diving Paul Grafer directly to Stoitchkov at the back post. The Bulgarian legend held off Metros' defender Mike Petke and tucked in his third goal of the postseason.

"We must prove we are a much better team than the MetroStars," Stoitchkov said. "Our objective is to always play well and win. We have to take this mentality to New York now, so we can finish the series there."

Kovalenko put the Fire up 2-0 in the 35th minute. Fire midfielder Chris Armas won a ball in the center of the field and sent teammate Jesse Marsch down the right wing. Marsch's cross deflected off Metros defender Lothar Matthaeus to Kovalenko who easily buried his third playoff goal from 10 yards out.

"The win was huge for us," Kovalenko said. "The home-field advantage was a big factor, as it's been throughout the season. We had great fans today. We knew we had to come out and press a lot. Zach was unbelievable, he was the key. If they would've scored first, it would have been a different game. If we come out and play like we did, I don't think any team [in this league] could beat us."

The MetroStars had numerous chances to score throughout the contest, only to be thwarted by the efforts of Thornton. The veteran goalkeeper's best stop came in the 20th minute when he dove to his left to get a hand on a Clint Mathis blast from 23 yards out that curved around a wall and seemed destined for the upper corner.

Thornton also stopped Adolfo Valencia on two clear chances in the box in the 57th and 76th minutes, and stoned Tab Ramos twice as well in the 18th and 81st minutes. The one ball that did get past Thornton, a Petke header in the 60th minute, was cleared off the line by a well-positioned Armas at the right post.

Chicago found an insurance goal in the 84th minute. Diego Gutierrez chipped a short pass down the left-sideline for Beasley. The 17-year-old sped down the wing, dribbled around Grafer, and crossed for Ante Razov who tapped into an empty goal to make it 3-0. It was Razovís third goal in three playoff games. "We didn't come out the way we should have come out. We gave far too much respect to the opponent, and it cost us the game," MetroStars coach Octavio Zambrano said. "It was a mental thing, and it was a little bit of the heart as well. We need to fix that. I was completely surprised by our (performance) in the first half. We were late to every ball. We lost the ball. It was really not the team that I know and it was a complete shock for me."

Chicago Fire 3, MetroStars 0

Lineups: Chicago Zach Thornton, C.J. Brown, Tenywa Bonseu, Carlos Bocanegra, Chris Armas, Diego Gutierrez, Jesse Marsch, DaMarcus Beasley, Dema Kovalenko (Tom Soehn 89), Hristo Stoitchkov (Mike Sorber 86), Ante Razov. MetroStars - Paul Grafer, Lothar Matthaus, Mike Petke, Steve Jolley, Billy Walsh (Steve Shak 85), Thomas Dooley (Roy Myers 46), Petter Villegas (Alex Comas 83), Mark Chung, Tab Ramos, Clint Mathis, Adolfo Valencia.

Chicago - Stoitchkov (Kovalenko, Beasley) 21.
Chicago - Kovalenko (Marsch, Armas) 35.
Chicago - Razov (Beasley, Gutierrez) 84.

Total shots: Chicago 12 (Stoitchkov 4, Razov 4), MetroStars 12 (Valencia 4). Shots on goal: Chicago 7 (Razov 3), MetroStars 9 (Mathis 3). Saves: Chicago - Thornton 8; MetroStars - Grafer 4. Fouls: Chicago 13 (four players with 2), MetroStars 17 (Mathis 3, Petke 3). Offside: Chicago 2, MetroStars 5. Corner kicks: Chicago 6, MetroStars 6. Yellow card cautions: Chicago - Bocanegra 19, Stoitchkov 45; MetroStars - Ramos 61. Possession percentage: Chicago 51, MetroStars 49.

Referee: Kevin Terry Referee's assistants: Richard Huber, George Gansner. Attendance: 7,141 at Soldier Field in Chicago. Weather: Clear.

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