Fire surge, cite teamwork as main factor in dogged display

PAUSE: "I think we’re starting to hit our stride"

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The postgame celebration after the Chicago Fire’s 2-1 win over Columbus on Saturday was unlike any other this season.

After the final whistle sounded in their shorthanded win, the entire Fire team jogged over to Section 8 on the north side of the stadium before heading across to the field to Sector Latino, another fan section. Marco Pappa hopped on Jalil Anibaba’s back as players headed to the locker room with smiles on their faces.

“I think we’re starting to hit our stride,” captain Logan Pause told MLSsoccer.com. “You win a couple of games, and it definitely helps.”

HIGHLIGHTS: CHI 2, CLB 1

After they won two straight games for the first time this season, it was clear there’s something different about the Fire, who were mired in a three-game losing streak just two weeks ago.

Defensively, the team struggled before the two-week international break, allowing 10 goals in five games with rookie Austin Berry and second-year pro Jalil Anibaba manning the middle of the defense.

On Saturday, the pair held strong after defender Gonzalo Segares was given a straight red card in the 29th minute. The 10-man Fire gave up just one goal on their way to preserving the victory.

“It’s all starting to come together now,” Berry told MLSsoccer.com “[The break] gave us some time for me and Jalil to kind of work on the cohesiveness in the back. … It’s taken some time, but I think we’re really moving well and jelling right now.”

Uncertainty has engulfed the Fire for the last few weeks.

Sebastián Grazzini’s contract status is hanging in the balance while the Fire look poised to make a signing during the transfer window, which opens at the end of the month.

Grazzini did little to quell that uncertainty when he came off the field in the 59th minute, waving to fans and exposing an undershirt that read “Thanks, Chicago.”

But the Fire have put on a surge during tenuous times.

“I don’t think the group feels that,” Nyarko said. “We’ll take it a game at a time and let that take care of itself.”

For the second game in a row, the Fire scored first and didn’t fall behind. They’d only accomplished each of those modest feats twice this season before the two-week international break.

Whether the departure from the norm is a statistical anomaly remains to be seen. But after two games, it appears the post-international break Chicago Fire is a much different team.

“We’re staying concentrated during games,” Nyarko said. “Today we could have easily held our heads down, especially going down a man and giving up a goal right after. We could have given up. … I think, now, guys understand that you can’t do it individually, you have to do it as a team.”