Marco Pappa scored a hat trick and the Chicago Fire made a huge statement at sold-out Rio Tinto Stadium on Wednesday night, spoiling Javier Morales' return with a 3-0 victory and keeping their playoff hopes very much alive against a stunned Real Salt Lake.
The Guatemalan scored his first goals since late June and carried the Fire to their third straight win and within three points of the 10th and final playoff spot. In the process, they put a huge dent in RSL's Supporters' Shield hopes and sent the hosts — who lost captain Kyle Beckerman to an early red card — to their second consecutive three-goal loss.
Chicago opened the scoring in the ninth minute against the run of play with a combination play setup by Patrick Nyarko and Daniel Paladini on the left side of the penalty area that set up Pappa squarely in the box for an easy shot that went past a helpless Nick Rimando.
Two minutes later, Beckerman was shown red, changing the trajectory of the match. Salt Lake's holding mid appeared to head-butt Paladini, who had given him a nudge from behind just moments prior, and the RSL captain was sent off by head official Baldomero Toledo.
The Fire took advantage of the situation, spreading the ball around and making RSL chase. The tactic paid off in the 39th minute when Pappa netted his second score of the night. The play came after a missed tackle by defender Yordany Álvarez, and Pappa again found himself unmarked in the area and was able to pick out his spot on the left side of the net, making it 2-0.
Real Salt Lake received a boost of energy in the 60th minute when Morales was introduced for his first game action since his broken ankle in May. His first touch was a free kick from 30 yards away that found the head of teammate Fabián Espíndola, but the redirect went astray. Morales showed his quality on a couple of other passes, but none of them led to the elusive goal that the team was searching for all night.
But the night belonged to Pappa, who broke free in the 75th minute from the right wing and lifted it past Rimando to complete his hat trick, taking his goal total to eight for the season.
The victory keeps Chicago’s playoff hopes alive as they climb to 36 points on the season. They travel to Houston on Saturday before heading to Seattle for the US Open Cup final on Oct. 4.
The loss keeps Real Salt Lake in third place in the Western Conference with 51 points and all but puts the Supporters' Shield out of reach as they travel to the first-place LA Galaxy on Saturday.
CHI -- Marco Pappa 6 (Daniel Paladini 1, Patrick Nyarko 8) 9
CHI -- Marco Pappa 7 (Pavel Pardo 4) 36
CHI -- Marco Pappa 8 (unassisted) 75
RSL -- Kyle Beckerman (ejection; Serious Foul Play) 11
RSL -- Fabian Espindola (caution; Unsporting Behavior) 16
CHI -- Dan Gargan (caution; Unsporting Behavior) 16
RSL -- Yordany Alvarez (caution; Tactical Foul) 56
Chicago Fire -- Sean Johnson, Dan Gargan (Michael Videira 78), Josip Mikulic (Jalil Anibaba 70), Cory Gibbs, Gonzalo Segares, Marco Pappa, Daniel Paladini, Pavel Pardo, Logan Pause, Patrick Nyarko (Corben Bone 81), Dominic Oduro.
Substitutes Not Used: Orr Barouch, Diego Chaves, Baggio Husidic, Jon Conway.
Real Salt Lake -- Nick Rimando, Robbie Russell (Chris Schuler 46), Jamison Olave, Nat Borchers, Chris Wingert (Javier Morales 60), Andy Williams, Kyle Beckerman, Luis Gil (Yordany Alvarez 15), Will Johnson, Fabian Espindola, Alvaro Saborio.
Substitutes Not Used: Paulo Araujo Jr., Ned Grabavoy, Collen Warner, Tim Melia.
Referee: Baldomero Toledo
Referee's Assistants: Fabio Tovar; Ian Anderson
4th Official: Juan Guzman
Time of Game: 1:50
Weather: Clear and 80 degrees