The Fire came home to Bridgeview aiming to get back on track after a heartbreaking 2-1 loss at Houston. Entering the match as the ninth seed in the Eastern Conference, the team was already facing a borderline must-win in this young 2013 campaign. Outshooting Columbus twenty-one to six in front of 12,813 supporters at Toyota Park; the Fire did just that, as Jeff Larentowicz’s eighty-third minute goal finally broke the scoreless draw.
Though the official MLSSoccer.com box score lists the Fire’s possession at just 50.6%, Chicago seemed to hold the upper hand for the vast majority of the game, constantly applying pressure deep in the offensive end of the pitch. The Fire defense had a shut-down performance as Columbus failed to register a single shot on target. Austin Berry and Jalil Anibaba contributed offensively as well, each being credited with an assist on the Larentowicz strike.
“It was a long throw, late. I think that Jalil [Anibaba] was putting the ball in the right spot all night and Austin [Berry] was able to get his head on a lot of them. I was in too early on a couple of them and the defenders were able to clear but that one I waited a split second and came in from behind the defender.” Larentowicz told reporters after the match.
The Fire very nearly allowed a goal early in the match when Agustin Viana buried the ball into the back of the net in the fourth minute of play, but the linesman had raised the offside flag. Following the non-goal, the Fire quickly regained their composure and were able to control the remainder of the match. If it wasn’t for the spectacular goalkeeping of Andy Gruenebaum, who handled six of the seven Fire shots on target, several of which were nearly certain finishes.
Making the victory even more impressive is the fact that the team had already been carded twice by the thirteenth minute, leaving Segares and Thompson on the brink of putting the team a player down for the remainder of the game. Patrick Nyarko and Sherjill MacDonald were effective, each taking three shots, while Joel Lindpere managed two. All three would be subbed out despite their efforts, as Fire coach Frank Klopas opted to bring in Daniel Paladini, Maicon Santos, and Dilly Duka respectively.
The match also marked the first return of Dominic Oduro to Chicago since he was traded to Columbus in the off-season for Duka and the since retired Robbie Rogers. Oduro was credited with just one shot and was largely ineffective throughout the match, and his return debut ended early when he was substituted out in favor of than Finlay.
The victory moves the Fire to eighth place in the Eastern Conference and could be the start of a slow, but steady, climb into contention for the MLS Cup Playoffs. A tough task lies ahead next week, as the Fire travel to Québec for their match against the Impact de Montréal at Stade Saputo. The match, the first of two consecutive day games the club will play, is scheduled for Saturday, April 27th at 3:00 PM Central Time, and will be broadcast live on NBC Sports Network.