With a six game road trip looming, a 77th minute goal by Luka Stojanović helped the Chicago Fire grab all three points in a 1-0 win over the defending champion Columbus Crew Sunday night at Soldier Field. The win lifts the Fire to 10th in the MLS Eastern Conference, six points behind CF Montreal for the seventh and final playoff spot.
After a dismal start to the season, the Fire have rattled off four wins, three draws and just two losses in the last six weeks.
“I think we see a big improvement in how the team works together, plays together,” head coach Raphael Wicky said after the match. “That’s hard work and that’s mentality. And we saw (that) today as well and I’m proud of that, that guys stepped in who didn’t get many minutes. And that’s what we need, what we need going forward. But still, we’re taking game by game, and we’re not going too far ahead. The next one is Wednesday down in Miami. And then we go from there.”
Stojanović, the reigning MLS Player of the Week, scored for a second straight match, putting away a left footer around the edge of the six yard box late in the second half. Substitute Brian Gutierrez played the ball to Stojanovic, but wasn’t credited with an assist because of a deflection.
Fabian Herbers did his best Roy Kent impression in a Man of the Match performance—he was here, he was there, he was everywhere on the night, connecting passes, winning balls and blowing up the Columbus attack on a pockmarked pitch left over from Saturday’s Chicago Bears preseason game.
Columbus nearly equalized late in stoppage time with a wild flurry of shots—one saved by Bobby Shuttleworth, one blocked by Gutierrez, and one hit the post. But the luck didn’t bounce the Crew’s way this time, and the Fire served the defending champs a fourth straight loss.
“It’s easier to come back in the locker room after you’ve won games, and definitely rode our luck there at the end, some big blocks obviously a little bit of luck coming off the post, that kind of stuff,” goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth said. “But these are things that, the last 18 months haven’t necessarily gone our way, and it’s nice that the ball bounces our way today.”
The Fire travel to Fort Lauderdale to face Inter Miami on Wednesday, then they’ll stay in Florida for a weekend match against Orlando City. Usually, wins at home and draws on the road are good enough to get teams to the MLS postseason. Considering the team’s dismal start to the season, if the Fire truly want to be playoff contenders, they’ll need more than just draws. Chicago must find ways to win away from home—something they haven’t done in nearly two years.
“I think we’re trying not to think about this,” defender Boris Sekulić said. “This league is like, you want to win every game, no matter if it’s home or away. We play, I think, same formation, same tactics when we play away so we always want to win. Let’s hope that now we come in here and win a game so, I hope we will start winning away, too.”
Wednesday night is the team’s best chance to exercise their road demons and take all three points. Inter Miami sits 12th in the East—then it’s Orlando (4th in East), New York Red Bulls (11th in East), Sporting Kansas City (1st in West), D.C United (6th in East), and Montreal (7th in East).
Chicago Fire FC: GK Shuttleworth, D Terán (Omsberg 79’), D Pineda, D Calvo ©, M Sekulić, M Herbers, M Giménez, M Stojanović (Ivanov 84’), M Bornstein (Espinoza 79’), F Collier (Gutiérrez 58’), F Offor (Berić 58’)
Subs not used: GK G. Slonina, GK Brady, D Kappelhof, M Monis
Columbus Crew: GK Room, D Abdul-Salaam, D Mensah ©, D Francis (Matan 84’), M Fraser (Wright-Phillips 88’), M Nagbe, M Etienne Jr. (Molino 69’), M Zelarayán, M Santos, F Zardes
Subs not used: GK Bush, F Hurtado, D Wormgoor, M Parente, D Afful, F Berry
Stats Summary: CHI / CLB
Shots: 17 / 12
Shots on Goal: 6 / 1
Passing Accuracy: 81.3% / 82.2%
Saves: 1 / 5
Corners: 2 / 3
Fouls: 15 / 4
Offsides: 2 / 3
Possession: 46.2% / 53.8%