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Fire beats Whitecaps, thanks to Sean Johnson’s saves

Patrick Nyarko heads ball despite pressure from Whitecaps defender Young-Pyo Lee Saturday ToyotPark. | David Banks~Getty Images

Patrick Nyarko heads the ball despite pressure from Whitecaps defender Young-Pyo Lee on Saturday at Toyota Park. | David Banks~Getty Images

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Updated: August 17, 2012 6:55AM

The Fire had seen this before. Three weeks ago, it was clinging to a one-goal lead and playing a man down after left back Gonzalo Segares was hit with a red card for a first-half challenge.

On Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Toyota Park, center back Arne Friedrich was shown two yellow cards within two minutes of each other in the second half, forcing the Fire to play a man down for 21 minutes.

That experience helped. As he did June 23 against the Columbus Crew without Segares, goalkeeper Sean Johnson came up with key saves down the stretch to preserve the Fire’s 1-0 victory. The team equaled its victory total of nine from last season.

Friedrich will have to sit out the road game Wednesday against the New York Red Bulls.

‘‘Learning from our experiences and being able to stay calm in situations like that help us tremendously, especially as a back line dealing with an ejection late in the game when we’re a goal up,’’ Johnson said.

The Fire (9-6-4, 31 points) lost Friedrich while he was playing his best game since signing with the team this season.

After spending the better part of the last decade anchoring the German national-team defense, Friedrich showed just how much an
impact he can make. He was largely responsible for shutting down Whitecaps rookie Darren Mattocks, the hottest striker in MLS. Mattocks had scored six goals in eight games before Saturday.

Friedrich was confident the Fire could handle Mattocks, who’s a
superb athlete.

‘‘He can jump high, but we [can], too,’’ Friedrich said.

‘‘We were playing very organized, and I guess the opponent didn’t have any chances to score. We had patience and let the ball flow. It was a good game, and we deserved to win.’’

Fire central midfielder Pavel Pardo scored the only goal on a free kick from 23 yards out in the 10th minute.

Segares executed his role as a decoy to perfection, getting the Whitecaps’ wall to shift enough for Pardo to finesse the ball into the left corner of the net.

It was Pardo’s first goal since his MLS debut Aug. 2, 2011, against the Philadelphia Union.

‘‘Get a red card, and it’s amazing; it changes the game,’’ Fire coach Frank Klopas said. ‘‘And I felt that the guys worked very hard in the end. Credit to the whole team.

‘‘It’s amazing the calls that are called against us.’’

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