Fighting for a postseason spot in a crowded Eastern Conference, the Chicago Fire started the season’s final month off well with a 3-0 victory over D.C. United on Friday at RFK Stadium.
The win, thanks in large part to a sterling effort by Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson, pushed Chicago (12-12-7, 43 points) into the Eastern Conference’s fifth and final playoff spot, one point ahead of the Philadelphia Union and two ahead of both the New England Revolution and Columbus Crew.
Last-place United, meanwhile, saw their league winless streak reach nine matches (0-7-2) in their first effort following Tuesday’s emotional US Open Cup final victory against Real Salt Lake.
Chicago captain Jeff Larentowicz and defender Bakary Soumare both scored in the first half and Quincy Amarikwa added a late tally to help the Fire to their second win in their previous seven games.
Chicago swept D.C. (3-22-6, 15 points) this year, winning the three matches between the two clubs by a combined score of 9-1. United did, however, eliminate the Fire from the Open Cup with a 2-0 win in August.
Johnson was busy early and often. He started by denying D.C. forward Conor Doyle on two occasions, one a diving effort. In the 29th minute, United midfielder Nick DeLeon sprung free and blasted a ball from close range that Johnson sprawled out to stop.
Perhaps no save was better than Johnson’s remarkable recovery effort in the 60th minute. He dove to deflect a cross into the penalty box by Dwayne De Rosario, but the rebound rolled directly to DeLeon. Just as DeLeon struck the ball, Johnson sprung to his feet and deflected it away. He again denied DeLeon, this time on a well-hit right-footed shot, in the 76th.
In total, Chicago’s athletic ’keeper made eight saves on the evening to record his fifth clean sheet of the year.
The Fire, who won for the third time on the road this season, absorbed United's early pressure and opened the scoring in the 24th minute. On the near side of the 18-yard box, Juan Luis Anangono beat James Riley and then beat Daniel Woolard with a nimble cutback before slotting the ball to Larentowicz, who slipped it past United goalkeeper Joe Willis from a tight angle. The goal was Larentowicz’s second of the season.
Two minutes later, the Fire significantly quieted the raucous home crowd when center back Bakary Soumare blasted home a loose ball after Willis was drawn out of the goalmouth by a long free kick. The goal was Soumare’s first of the year.
Amarikwa came off the bench to ice the result with a diving header off a nifty cross from Dilly Duka in the 89th minute.
Sporting a mix-and-match lineup in his team's third game in eight days, United coach Ben Olsen started Perry Kitchen and Sainey Nyassi on the back line for the first time this season and gave Homegrown rookie Collin Martin the nod at left midfield.
United’s John Thorrington left the match in the 41st minute after he injured his calf upon colliding with Anangogo. Chris Pontius entered in his place.
Chicago will travel to Dallas next Saturday, while United host Philadelphia.