After being eliminated from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup last Wednesday, the Chicago Fire returned to league play on Saturday to face the Montreal Impact in a pivotal game to keep their playoff hopes alive.
There were a few big adjustments made to the Fire's starting line-up line up on Saturday. Regular starters Patrick Nyarko and Mike Magee were scratched from the roster due to injuries. Chris Rolfe, who was also nursing an injury, started the game on the bench.
Meanwhile, former captain Logan Pause made his first start since April, and newly acquire designate player Juan Luis Anangonó made his first ever start for the Men in Red.
After a shaky opening in the first few minutes, the new look Chicago line up found their footing. In the 5th minute, Fire forward, Alex, was fouled and taken down by Impact midfielder Davy Arnaud just outside the Montreal penalty box. The free kick from the foul set up the Fire's first goal in the 6th minute, scored by Joel Lindpere.
From that point on, the Fire looked dangerous through the entire first half. While the Fire didn't maintain the majority of possession, whenever they did have the ball, they cut through the Montreal midfield with minimal effort.
The Fire had a couple of chances to increase their lead to two goals early in the first half. Jeff Larentowicz struck a bouncing ball in the 9th minute, but could not keep the shot down. In the 22nd minute, centerback Bakary Soumare put one shot into the side netting off of a corner kick.
Then in the 23rd minute, the Fire finally netted their second goal. Midfielder Dilly Duka was on the receiving end of an Austin Berry pass and found acres of space in the center of the field. Duka took all the space he could then proceeded to fight his way through some sloppy Montreal defending.
By halftime, the Fire had out shot the Impact by 8 to 3, and Fire goal keeper, Sean Johnson, had to make only one save in the first half.
When the second half began, the Montreal Impact started fast and pushed the game. In the 57th minute, it paid off. Three Fire defenders followed Justin Mapp on a run allowing space to open at the top of the box opened up for second half substitute Felipe Martins to one time a wide open shot, cutting the Fire lead in half.
After the Montreal goal, the Chicago Fire defense stiffened up. Montreal tried to break down the Fire defense but were unsuccessful. There was a period of nearly 20 minutes in the second half where Montreal did not even get a shot off.
Once the game entered the final ten minutes, Chicago hunkered down to see the game through. Montreal took 5 shots in the waning minutes of the game, one of which came very close to leveling the game at two goals each if it wasn't for Chris Rolfe.
The three points from this game are huge for Chicago. When taking the result from other games around the league into consideration, they become even bigger. Out of all the teams ahead of Chicago in the standing only the Philadelphia Union and Sporting Kansas City won. The Houston Dynamo, New York Red Bulls, New England Revolution and, of course, Montreal Impact all lost.
The Chicago Fire now sit one spot out of the playoffs with only 8 points separating them from the top. To top it off, we have two games in hand on the top three teams. Things just got interesting in the Eastern Conference.