By DAVE GUBALA
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill.– When the Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew squared off on Saturday night it was the Crew that had everything to play for and the Fire just playing out the string. You wouldn't have known it based on how both teams came out though, as the Fire completed a strong finish to the 2011 season with another victory while the Crew stumbled their way into the post-season.
Rookie defender Jalil Anibaba scored the first two goals of his professional career and Diego Chaves provided the game-winning goal as the Fire posted a 3-2 victory over Columbus at Toyota Park on Saturday.
The loss leaves Columbus in danger of falling from an automatic place in the Eastern Conference semifinals to a wild card spot, which could happen if Houston defeats Los Angeles on Sunday. The victory left the Fire just three points out of the playoffs, an impressive feat considering the Fire started the season with just one win in their first 13 matches.
"It's very saddening at the moment not to be in the playoffs because that was our goal from the beginning of the season," said Klopas
"It was a great effort from our guys, from the players, they never gave up and worked hard though-out the season and it's just great to finish on a very positive note."
The Crew will learn their playoff fate after Sunday's Galaxy-Dynamo match. With a Houston win, the Crew will travel to Colorado and play the wildcard Rapids for a place in the conference semi-finals. With a Galaxy win or tie, the Crew will enter the playoffs as the No. 3 seed in the East, where a conference semifinal series with the Philadelphia Union would await.
Crew head coach Robert Warzycha labeled the two possible scenarios as both winnable games.
"Everybody wants to win," Warzycha said. "I think each of those teams are good but I think they're teams we can have success against."
As for the Fire, It's quite clear that the breaking point for the Fire this season was August 21st of his year when the club went on to win their first back-to-back games of 2011. Since then the club posted an impressive 7-2-1 record to lead them to a total of 43 points for the season.
The game-winning goal was scored by Chaves, who notched his second goal in his second consecutive game after recovering well from quite a long scoring drought
Just seconds following the Crew's equalizing goal, the Fire caught the visitors sleeping and punished them badly for it. Pappa chipped in a nice ball to Oduro who's attempt was initially saved by Hesmer, however Uruguayan striker was there at the right place in the right time to slip the loose ball into the empty net for a 3-2 lead.
"It was great," said Chaves. "It's not that good that it happened when we weren't playing for a spot in the playoffs but it's just good to finish off the year with a win."
It was a particularly memorable night for Anibaba. He scored the two first goals of his pro career in a matter of minutes. Building on an electric start from the Fire, Pavel Pardo lobbed a ball into the box for the rookie defender who headed it past William Hesmer in the 11th minute of play.
Roughly twenty minute later, Anibaba scored again in an awfully similar scenario. This time, it was Cory Gibbs who crossed the ball over in the box, finding Anibaba, who flicked it past Hesmer once again.
"Both [goals] were just great services," Anibaba said. "The first one came off a corner kick, fell into Pavel [Pardo] and I just tried to make a run towards the near post and I luckily got there.
"The second one was a similar situation," Anibaba said. "Cory played an amazing ball in and I tried to get inside my man, get a head on it and fortunately it fell in."
The Crew didn't provide a legitimate threat against Sean Johnson until the 72nd minute. Eddie Gaven sent in a whipping cross in for Renteria and the Venezuelan's natural striking instincts led him to volleying the ball past Johnson to reduce the deficit in half.
Columbus equalized eight minutes later. After a stunning first half performance, Jalil Anibaba showed the 20,237 in attendance that he is human after all. His poorly cleared ball fell into the legs of Dilly Duka who didn't even think twice about blasting it on target and brought the score level to 2-2.
The Crew didn't have much time to celebrate before Chaves pounced on Oduro's saved shot.