BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Chicago Fire defender Hunter Jumper propped himself off of his stomach onto his knees and raised his arms in the air after scoring his first career goal on a low diving header in the 13th minute of a 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City on Friday.
For about one second, Jumper remained off the ground before his Fire teammates tackled the center back, who was starting his first game at the position in his second start of the year.
“I think the adrenaline kept me from getting hurt there,” Jumper said with a wide smile on his face. “It still hasn't really sunk in, I just know when I scored it, obviously I was really happy and then I just see Austin [Berry] and Chris [Rolfe] and then come tackle me, and it was a really cool feeling. I think I got my nerves up because I was still so excited, the next time I touched the ball, I was like 'Oh my God.'”
Chances have been scant for the former left back, who switched positions to center back midway through the season, but he's run with them. He started against New York on April 7, when he lofted a cross to Daniel Paladini for an assist, but he hasn't seen the field since.
Teammates say Jumper, who Patrick Nyarko called “one of the main characters in the locker room,” never lost focus during his two years in the league, and he reaped the rewards on Friday.
“It was fantastic, it was such a center back goal. I'm lucky I was there to be able to join in on the celebration,” Jumper's fellow center back Austin Berry said after the game.
“He's fantastic. Rooming with him, I know how it's been for him these last couple of years, it's been hard not knowing when he's going to get his opportunity. But the kid's got a fantastic attitude every single day, and when he got the opportunity, you know he's going to take full advantage of it.”
Goals aside, Jumper was part of a standout defensive performance in the Fire's first shutout since June 2.
“You can throw away the goal tonight, and defensively, he was amazing,” Magee said. “To shut out that team is as difficult it gets, and he was fabulous.”
But his brave finish, when he his face came within inches of the ground and a few feet from Aurélien Collin's foot, put the Fire within two points of a playoff spot and had Jumper smiling from ear to ear.
“I guess that was instinct,” he said with a laugh. “I've seen people miss those with their feet before, I felt like, why not just throw my head in there? What's the worst that could happen, you get kicked in the face?”