Second-Half surge gives Crew victory over Fire

by - Staff Writer -
Greg Bartram - USA Today Sports
Greg Bartram - USA Today Sports

After not having a single match over the last month, the Chicago Fire returned to the pitch last night, taking on the best in the MLS. It looks as if the Fire have a lot of things to work on falling to the Columbus Crew 3-0 on the road in their first game back on the field since their elimination from the MLS is back tournament.

Despite the 3-0 scoreline, the game was much closer than that as the Crew used a late second-half surge to pull away after the Fire kept things close for 80 minutes. Looking to get off their two-skid and get back to their winning ways, the Fire had to contend with the best team in the MLS thus far without starting goalie Kenneth Kronholm.

That alone was going to be a task, especially when the Fire defense has had its fair share of struggles to begin the season. It took 20 minutes for the games' first goal after both teams spent a good chunk of the first half feeling each other out. Derrick Etienne Jr. got the scoring started as his goal in the 20th minute gave the Crew a 1-0 lead, and they never looked back.

In his first game since 2018, Bobby Shuttleworth got the start in place of Kronholm and, for the most part, took what Columbus gave him and kept his team in the match. He just needed help offensively as the Fire mustered only three quality shots all night, allowing Andrew Tarbell to stay calm in net for Columbus.

The score may have been 1-0 20 minutes, but the Fire had a golden chance to take a 1-0 lead of their moments before that. In the 17th minute of play, Przemyslaw Frankowski had a shot on goal but wasn't able to bury it as that has been the theme for the Fire throughout this season. Looking to draw even late in the first half, Robert Beric found space in the penalty area, but his shot went wide, keeping things 1-0.

With the first half ending, the Fire put themselves in a tight spot when Miguel Angel Navarro conceded a foul in the penalty area awarding the Crew a penalty kick. In danger of falling behind 2-0, Gyasi Zardes took the penalty and struck the ball well but put a little too much on it to miss it over the bar keeping the game 1-0 heading into halftime.

Needing much more offensive support in the second half, the Fire looked like a completely different squad after the break. At least in the early going, that is. Through the first five minutes of the second half, the Fire were the ones controlling the pace as the Crew were now caught on their heels watching the ball. That led to a Boris Sekulic, and Alvaro Medran attempts in both the 51st and 52nd minutes, but once again, the Fire were unable to put the ball on frame.

One minute later saw the Fire with perhaps their best attempt of the night as Djordje Mihailovic took the shot from the left side of the penalty area. For once, the ball was placed on target but right at Tarbell in net keeping the Fire off the board. Ignacio Aliseda was the next of the Fire players to get a good look on goal in the 60th minute, but once again, Tarbell was there for the save as the Fire still couldn't breakthrough.

Over the next 10 minutes, the Fire continued to keep the Crew defense pressure but had countless shot opportunities blocked before reaching the goal area. As we entered the final 15 minutes of play, you could see the Crew gaining momentum back as they weathered the Fire barrage that took place in the early stages in the second half.

After Sebastian Berhalter missed what looked to be a great goal in the 78th minute, Darlington Nagbe put on a show in the 81st minute, delivering what could be a goal of the year candidate. After Zardes played the ball to him in the middle of the field, Nagbe flicked it up in the air to himself and drilled it far corner for the goal doubling the Crew lead 2-0.

Zardes big night on the field continued just seven minutes later as the Columbus offense was on the attack once again. With Pedro Santos getting the ball inside the goal area, Zardes snuck in behind the defense and waited far post for the pass. Santos saw him and dropped the ball across the field to a wide-open Zardes who took care of the rest for the 3-0 Crew lead.

Looking for any offensive magic in the final moments, Beric appeared to have something lined up, taking a beautiful pass from Francisco Calvo and putting it on frame. However, much like the other great chances the Fire had, Tarbell was there for his third and final save to keep the Fire off the board as Columbus takes down the Fire 3-0.

Despite the loss and the now minus seven-goal differential, the Fire remains in 12th place in the Eastern Conference as they are just two points out of the final playoff spot. Columbus continues to lead the MLS in points as they now have 16 with the win. Chicago outshot Columbus 11-9 on the night, but only managed to put three on target. They will return to the field Tuesday night against FC Cincinnati in their return to Soldier field and their first home game of the season.

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