By Scott Merkin
Special to the Tribune
9:12 PM PDT, May 26, 2002
The Fire also had its first Naperville sellout, drawing 13,521 to watch a battle between the Eastern Conference's top team and the San Jose Earthquakes, the Western Conference leaders and Major League Soccer's defending champion.
About the only thing the Fire didn't pick up was its first regular-season home victory. Ronnie Ekelund's goal in the 60th minute on a penalty kick, set up by a tackle-from-behind call against the Fire's C.J. Brown, produced a 1-1 tie. That left the Fire 0-1-2 in the western suburbs and 1-4-13 in overtime games during the franchise's history.
"It's tough to play solid defense in two straight games here and then lose the victory on a penalty kick," Fire coach Bob Bradley said. "But I like the way we responded after they scored and thought it was a good, hard-fought game."
Rookie Kelly Gray scored the Fire's only goal in the 10th minute of the first half. The midfielder picked up a loose ball that had bounced off of the foot of San Jose's Jimmy Conrad at midfield, beat two defenders over the next 30 yards and drilled a 23-yard shot past San Jose goalie Joe Cannon.
With DaMarcus Beasley and Josh Wolff preparing for the World Cup's start this week and five other players sidelined by injury, young players such as Gray, Billy Sleeth and Jim Curtin have picked up the slack.
"I just got a second ball and knew I wasn't going to pass it once I controlled it," said Gray of his second goal of the year. "San Jose gave us our toughest challenge so far, but I didn't think we had the movement we had in the past."
San Jose's Ariel Graziani, who had scored six goals in five previous games against the Fire while playing with Dallas, had just one shot on goal. Ante Razov, the league's second-leading scorer, had three shots on goal for the Fire.
The tie gave the Earthquakes (5-3-2) a one-point lead over Colorado in the West, while the Fire (4-3-2) increased its lead to three points over Columbus.
The Crew will visit Naperville on Sunday.
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