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BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. (AP) — The Chicago Fire received a lesson in soccer from Aston Villa on Saturday night.
Gabriel Agbonlahor scored in the 29th minute and then left with an injury in the second half as the English Premier League club beat the Fire 1-0 in an exhibition match.
Villa thoroughly dominated the match nearly until the final whistle. It wasn’t until nearly three minutes into extra time that the Fire launched their one on-target shot of the night. However, backup goalkeeper Brad Guzan, a Chicago-area native, made the save to preserve the shutout.
Agbonlahor went down clutching his left leg after spinning by a defender in the 63rd minute, screaming in pain. The trainer for Villa gingerly flexed Agbonlahor’s leg, which caused more pain, and the forward was carted off. Villa manager Paul Lambert said he thought the Agbonlahor could be out for two weeks.
Villa came out attacking, and the push paid off with Agbonlahor’s goal. He headed the cross of defender Chris Herd past Chicago goalkeeper Jay Nolly from 10 yards out.
Villa continued pushing after with and without the ball, keeping the Fire players on their heels. Their defensive movement from side to side was particularly impressive.
“Their quickness,” Fire defender Dan Gargan said. “They’re an organized, compact unit.”
Villa went 7-14-17 in the Premier League last year, then brought in Lambert to coach. They’re 3-0-0 in their preseason, including two wins against MLS squads.
“This was great for us,” Lambert said. “I’ve got nothing but praise for the players, the way they’ve gone about it. As a group, our defense is very strong, not just the back four.”
Asked if there was a team similar to Villa in MLS, Gargan hesitated and said, “I don’t know. Some are similar, but that’s a different side.”
For his part, Chicago head coach Frank Klopas said he got what he wanted out of the exhibition, which included four yellow cards and a good deal of hard tackling.
“I’m happy with the effort, and both our (backup) goalkeepers played 45 minutes,” Klopas said. “It’s different for them when you get in pressure situations.
“We played a very good team. It’s good for our guys in their first year in the league to play a team like this.”
The Fire were back on their heels from the start. Villa midfielder Stephan Ireland narrowly missed scoring with a sliding kick in the box in the 12th minute, and midfielder Charles N’Zogbia shoved an even closer shot over the goal three minutes later.
Aside from defender Arne Frederich, Chicago played a lineup of backups from Nolly forward. The Fire brought in starters Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko with 30 minutes to play, and added other regulars in the final minutes, but generated little offense.
Villa started defender Eric Lichaj, its other Chicago-area-bred player, with the recently re-signed Guzan entering with 11 minutes remaining. Lichaj played 57 minutes, his best play a sharp pass to N’Zogbia that nearly paid off with a goal.
The Lions opened their three-match exhibition tour of the U.S. by beating Philadelphia 1-0 on Wednesday. It concludes with a match at Portland on Tuesday.
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