For a moment, it looked like the Chicago Fire were going to end another MLS match with some decent opportunities, but no victory to show for it.
But with less than ten minutes to go, Jeff Larentowicz changed that and helped the Men in Red knock off their biggest rivals at home.
The midfielder's 83rd minute header gave the Fire a 1-0 win over the Columbus Crew and gave the club their second win of the season in front of 12,813 fans at Toyota Park. The goal was Larentowicz's first of the season and the only one of 21 total shots that the Fire managed to put into the back of the net.
Off of defender Jalil Anibaba's deep throw in the Crew box, Cincinnati native Austin Berry was able to head the ball into the area for Larentowicz. Larentowicz was then able to head the ball home past Crew ‘keeper Andy Gruenebaum to give the Fire the late winner.
"I think that Jalil was putting the ball in the right spot all night and Austin was able to get his head on a lot of them, but I think I was in too easy on a couple of them and the defenders were able to clear," said Larentowicz after the game. "But that one, I waited a split second and came in from behind the defender."
After a slow start to the season, Larentowicz says he felt pressure from Fire supporters to finally step up and make a difference.
"It was great," said Larentowicz, who was acquired from the Colorado Rapids this past January a day before the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. "I'm sure there are a lot of people that I still have to win over and hopefully that's a good addition to the games I've played so far."
After a rather lackluster first half, the Fire came out with guns ablaze to start the second half. The main player behind that surge was midfielder Patrick Nyarko, who was starting for the first time since a 4-1 loss to Chivas USA back on March 24.
Nyarko got in on the Fire attacking action on three separate occasions early in the second half. In the 51st minute, he forced a save off the line by Gruenebaum. The winger then forced the Crew keeper to make another save in the 55th minute. Only a minute later, Patty picked out striker Chris Rolfe, but the Kettering, Ohio native's shot tailed wide.
Still, the pace and effort Nyarko provided helped to set the tone for Larentowicz's eventual winner in a game that he says the club were desperate to take all three points from.
"I think we had a different purpose today," said Nyarko after the game. "We needed the win and we played like it."
Nyarko admitted that there were points where he felt like the Fire were going to come up short and not find the winner.
"It was just one of those games where it was getting to the end and you're like, 'oh, it's not going to happen again'", he said. "But as long as we kept our foot on the pedal, then we're going to get one in, so the most important thing for us was to keep creating."
Fire head coach Frank Klopas said he believed the club improved dramatically in the second half and are playing better in general.
"I felt the team stepped up and had a good performance in the first half, but even better in the second half and I felt we were the better team," said the gaffer in his post-match press conference. "The second half, we created enough chances and we finally scored a nice goal and we defended well as a group, so I'm proud of the group and the effort."
They won't have much time to celebrate though. On the horizon is their first trip to Stade Saputo to take on the Montreal Impact next Saturday. That match will take place at 3pm and will be broadcast nationally on the NBC Sports Network.
The Fire made one change from their tough 2-1 road loss to the Houston Dynamo last Sunday, with the fully healthy Nyarko starting in midfield starting in place of Daniel Paladini. After straining his hamstring a few weeks back, Nyarko replaced Paladini in the second half of last Sunday's match.
On Saturday night, Paladini came on for Nyarko in the 87th minute and promptly picked up a yellow card. Paladini's next yellow card will earn him a one-game suspension for accumulation.
The Men in Red had most of their squad healthy again after some injuries left the club threadbare early in the season. One exception is German defender Arne Friedrich, who was still out after suffering an injury setback to his hip this past week. Friedrich still has yet to see any action in the Fire's 2013 campaign.
Fire defender Steven Kinney was also unavailable after apparently reinjuring his right quad in training this week. Kinney missed the entire 2011 and 2012 seasons with injury.
One of the biggest storylines ahead of this match was the return of Crew striker Dominic Oduro to Toyota Park. The speedy Ghanaian winger scored 18 MLS goals in two seasons with the Fire in 2011 and 2012 before being traded to the Crew this past January for midfielder Dilly Duka and allocation money. Oduro started the match and went 76 minutes before being played by Ethan Finley. For the most part, the Fire did a good job of shutting him down.
The Crew came back from a goal down to tie the Impact 1-1 on the road behind a stunning Oduro goal last Sunday. They're back in Columbus next weekend as they host DC United on April 27. That match is the first of a three game home stand.
Starting XI: GK Sean Johnson; RB Wells Thompson (Y: '12), CB Jalil Anibaba, CB Austin Berry, LB Gonzalo Segares (Y: ‘6); RM Patrick Nyarko (Sub: '87 for Paladini), CM Logan Pause (C), CM Jeff Larentowicz, LM Joel Lindpere (Sub: '82 for Lindpere); ST Chris Rolfe, ST Sherjill MacDonald (Sub: '78 for Santos)
Substitutes: GK Paolo Tornaghi, DEF Hunter Jumper, DEF/MID Michael Videira, MID Daniel Paladini (Sub: '87 for Nyarko, Y: '87), MID Dilly Duka (Sub: '82 for Lindpere), MID/FWD Alex, FWD Maicon Santos (Sub: '78 for Santos)
Starting XI: GK Andy Gruenebaum; DEF Josh Williams, DEF Chad Marshall, DEF Glauber (Y; '85), DEF Tyson Wahl; MID Eddie Gaven, MID Agustin Viana, MID Danny O'Rourke (Sub: '82 for Kevan George), MID Ben Speas (Sub: '65 for Arrieta); FWD Federico Higuain (C) (Y: '90), FWD Dominic Oduro (Sub: '76 for E. Finley)
Substitutes: GK Matt Lampson, DEF Chad Barson, MID Kevan George (Sub: '82 for O'Rourke), MID Matias Sanchez, MID Ethan Finlay (Sub: '76 for Oduro), FWD Ryan Finley, FWD Jairo Arrieta (Sub: '65 for Speas)
Referee: Chris Penso