It wasn’t the prettiest game, but maybe it was one to turn the corner.
Wednesday night’s 2-1 win over the New England Revolution bumped the Chicago Fire back into sole possession of fourth place, primed the club back into the MLS Cup playoff race and saw fan favorite(s) return with big performances.
A familiar face in left back Gonzalo Segares made his return to Toyota Park in good fashion, going 90 minutes in his first match of the 2010 MLS season after rejoining the club following a stint with Apollon in Cyprus.
That was the feel good story as the match kicked off, but it wasn’t all roses soon after.
Following early domination it looked to be more of the same from the Fire at Toyota Park this season as Wilman Conde coughed up the ball in the back, giving Marko Perovic an easy walk towards goal. The Serbian striker rounded rookie goalkeeper Sean Johnson and hit the back of the net at Toyota Park for the second time in 31 days, putting the Revolution up 1-0 16 minutes into the match.
The strike was the first goal the 21-year-old goalkeeper has given up from the run of play since making his MLS debut August 1 against the LA Galaxy.
Coming back from an early deficit has not been the club’s forte in 2010. Previously holding an 0-5-2 record this season when conceding the first goal, all the signals said the match would end in a draw at best for the Fire, but there seems to be more fight in a team that has been bolstered by the midseason acquisitions of Freddie Ljungberg, Nery Castillo and the resigning of Gonzalo Segares.
Sixteen minutes on from what looked to signal another disappointing result, Baggio Husidic collected a deflected through ball from Brian McBride and calmly chipped it past veteran New England goalkeeper Matt Reis. The goal spurred the Fire into the half, giving the club new purpose in the all-important Eastern Conference “six-pointer”.
Coming out of the interval, Ljungberg showed why his acquisition was a positive one. Holding on to the ball and beating defenders at ease, the Swedish midfielder kept New England from mounting many serious attacks through his possession.
Ljungberg’s skill is something Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos has welcomed in the second half of the season.
“To be honest with you, I knew him before he came here and now I have the privilege of having him on the team. I’m very happy because he has the capacity to help this team out professionally.”
Entering the match in the 69th minute for McBride, Calen Carr took to the field for the first time since October 17 of last year, with the sight of the fan favorite serving to lift the crowd in support of the home side as they looked for the equalizer. Though Carr’s reemergence was a welcome one, you wouldn’t be alone in wondering if he would be able to make an impact after 10 months away from a competitive match.
As the moments ticked away, it looked less and less likely the needed result would come for the Fire, until the 85th minute when the club’s first half goal scorer Husidic connected with Ljungberg at midfield. The former Arsenal winger sprung Carr down the left wing where the University of California product cut inside, juking defender Darrius Barnes before firing a low shot between the legs of center back Emmanuel Osei and inside Reis’ left post.
A powerful effort it was not, but the New England keeper seemed to be screened at first by Barnes and then by Osei as the strike just evaded his reach.
For Carr, it was the perfect way to cap a long comeback from a right quad injury suffered at the beginning of preseason in February and should put to rest doubts about his ability coming off the long layoff.
“I’ve been on the sidelines watching for so long and to get out there and be a part of the team again was great,” said the striker post-game. “To score the game winning goal was extra special. Hopefully this will give us a boost going into the next stretch of games.”
The result takes the Fire’s unbeaten streak to three games and the three points reestablished the Fire’s sole possession of fourth place in the Eastern Conference and put the team within striking distance of third-place Toronto going into Saturday’s match at Houston.
With a Fire win and a draw in the Toronto FC-New York Red Bulls match earlier that day, the club would enter a two-way tie with TFC for third place and move within striking distance of New York for the Eastern Conference’s second automatic playoff berth, with multiple games in hand on both clubs.
“We’ve got to get our legs back,” said Segares referring to Saturday’s match against Houston. “It’s a quick turn around and they’re a great team that we’ve always had trouble against. They’re very physical, especially at home. We have to go there and take away points. We’ve done well the past couple of games. The team feels good in the locker room – we’re really motivated.”
This Saturday’s Chicago Fire-Houston Dynamo match will be shown LIVE on Comcast SportsNet Saturday at 7:30pm CT. Join the Fire and Section 8 at The Pitch (2142 N. Clybourn) in Lincoln Park for the club’s official watch party.
Jeff Crandall is the Team Writer for the Chicago Fire. Follow him on Twitter @JefeCrandall.