COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Columbus Crew have stormed back into the MLS playoff picture.
A strong offensive performance and an early red card earned the club a 3-0 win over rivals Chicago Fire, and pulled the Crew even closer to a playoff spot that seemed impossible only a month ago.
The Crew opened scoring early, when Dominic Oduro found space on the wing and slotted home the match's first goal. Federico Higuain came away from a loose ball scrum with possession and found Jairo Arrieta, whose lunging toe poke put Oduro into space. The Ghanaian weighed his options then slotted a low, far-post strike past Chicago's Sean Johnson, who got his fingers to the ball, but couldn't prevent the goal.
Columbus' early success continued in the 29th minute, when a deflected ball near midfield flew over the heads of the Chicago defense. Arrieta gave chase, and Chicago's Johnson decided to stay on his line rather than charge the loose ball. Bakary Soumare was the only Fire player able to chase Arrieta, and the defender arrived late, taking out Arrieta's heels just outside the box, and earning a red card for his troubles.
Despite playing with 10, Chicago nearly stunned the Crew before the half when Mike Magee, who was largely quiet otherwise, put a free kick on the head of Juan Luis Anongono, whose hard header thundered off the crossbar.
Chicago provided sterner than expected resistance early in the second half, but eventually the Crew’s numbers advantage told the tale. In the 70th minute, the hosts extended their lead to 2-0 thanks to another foul on Arrieta. This time the Costa Rican beat Johnson to an inch-perfect through ball from Tony Tchani, and was taken down in the box, giving Higuain a penalty kick to score his tenth goal of the season.
Columbus added an insurance goal seven minutes later when Tchani found Bernardo Anor on a diagonal ball that the Venezuelen put under Johnson and into the net for the match's final 3-0 score.
The win brought the Crew point total to 38, just two points out of the final playoff spot and one back of Chicago and the Philadelphia Union.
The Crew hit the road next week when they travel to Texas to face FC Dallas on Sunday. Chicago, meanwhile, return home on Saturday to host the Montreal Impact.