BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – And so the Fire live to fight another day.
Chicago extended their dim playoff hopes for at least another night on Friday, turning in a solid performance to defeat a tired Columbus Crew side 2-0 at Toyota Park.
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Midfielder Peter Lowry and forward Brian McBride provided the goals, scoring in the 30th and 53rd minutes, respectively, to give the Fire the best 13th birthday present they could’ve hoped for.
“We needed to play together and show commitment, heart and desire, and we did that,” McBride said after the match. “We were able to catch them a few times and it was just a solid team effort. It was a great team win.”
Despite the victory, the Fire’s playoff hopes still look very bleak. The club now sits in 10th place, eight points behind the San Jose Earthquakes for the eighth and final playoff spot with just three games remaining.
Chicago could be eliminated from playoff contention on Saturday night if San Jose win at D.C. and seventh place Colorado earn a result at Dallas.
Paper-thin playoff hopes or not, the Fire will take the three points, especially considering the manner in which they got them.
Chicago outplayed the Crew for the first hour of the match, controlling possession and creating numerous scoring chances, all while not allowing Columbus – who were playing their fourth match in 10 days – any good looks at goal.
“It was a better game [than what we’ve been playing],” Fire defender C.J. Brown said. “Granted, Columbus were coming off a road trip and played lot of games recently, but I think our guys handled it well. We could’ve easily sat back; instead, we took it to them.”
[inline_node:312014]One player who really took it to Columbus was Patrick Nyarko. The Ghanaian winger – who only started because Bratislav Ristic had to be moved to left back when Krzysztof Krol was scratched minutes before kickoff – overcame an ankle injury to assist on both of the Fire’s goals.
“[Nyarko] played well,” said Fire assistant Mike Matkovich. “Pat’s got a little bit of an ankle problem. He got an injection at halftime [to alleviate the pain], so I give the kid a lot of credit. He stuck it out and he did well.”
Especially good was the play in which Nyarko’s tallied his second assist. After combining well with Steven Kinney and Freddie Ljungberg on the right wing, Nyarko collected a Ljungberg through ball just outside the right edge of the box and slammed a low cross to the near post that McBride clinically put away.
“Patrick was going at a good pace towards the end line. I made a near post run and he played the perfect ball,” McBride said. “It had tons of pace and was on the ground. [All I had to do] was put my foot on it.”
But Nyarko wasn’t the only Fire player who had a good game. Goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra – starting for injured Sean Johnson – and the versatile Ristic also performed well.
Dykstra, who began the season as the starter before losing the job in July, came up huge on several occasions, stopping numerous difficult shots in the second half to earn the clean sheet.
“Andrew had a good night,” Matkovich said. “It’s tough when you start early in the year, get pulled out, and come back in, but I give him a lot of credit. He did a good job [and] helped us get a big win.”
Of course, that clean sheet wouldn’t have been possible if it weren’t for Ristic's 90th minute goal line clearance. That play capped a solid match for the natural midfielder, who has performed excellently since signing with the Fire on September 14.
“He’s a good soccer player, he’s a smart soccer player,” Dykstra said of Ristic. “He knows the game and he adapts [to every position]. He saved my butt on one occasion, so I was glad to have him back there.”
The Fire next play on Tuesday night, when they host Kansas City at Toyota Park. And they’ll be hoping that they’ll still have shot at the playoffs come kickoff.
“Mathematically, we’re still in it,” Matkovich said. “We’re going to fight to the end.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.