By TYLER DAY
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill.–There is nothing like a game winner in an important rivalry to win over home supporters.
Jeff Larentowicz won over plenty of fans who braved the frigid conditions at Toyota Park to see the Chicago Fire take on long-time rival Columbus Crew. His 83rd minute header goal helped lift the Fire to a 1-0 victory over the Crew on Saturday night.
“I’m sure there are a lot of people I still have to win over,” Larentowicz said after the game. “Hopefully that is a good addition to the games I’ve played so far.”
With the game tied 0-0 in the 83rd minute, Larentowicz finished off an Austin Berry header from across the box with his own header into the back of the net, sending the Fire to its much needed second victory of the season at home versus the Columbus Crew.
“We’ve been doing a lot of the hard work and its been coming, Berry said. “Tonight was a full 90 that we put it together so it’s good to get that under our belt.”
After a lackluster first half from both sides, where neither had a shot on target, the second 45 belonged to the Fire. They played with a much stronger sense of urgency, and narrowly missed a number of chances. Many of those chances came from striker Sherjill MacDonald, who still hasn’t found the net this season. Patrick Nyarko returned to the starting lineup for the Fire and caused havoc all night with his pace along the right side.
“We were looking forward to this match,” said head coach Frank Klopas. “Obviously the rivalry with teams in your own conference, the proximity. I felt the team stepped up and had a good performance in the first half and even better in the second half. I thought we were the better team.”
The goal came from a long throw-in from Jalil Anibaba that found Berry, who headed it across the six-yard box to Larentowicz, who headed it in. It was the newcomer’s first goal of the season.
“When the ball is thrown forward I was trying to get in the box as soon as possible,” Larentowicz said. “Between Logan and I we try and opposite each other. When one is up the other is back.”
The Fire also managed just its second clean sheet of the season, its first at home. Coming into the night, they had allowed a league-high 12 goals.
“We kept pushing and creating chances but it was important also to defend well and stay disciplined and not just push forward,” Klopas said.
With veteran Arne Friedrich yet to play this season, having reinjured his hamstring early this week, Berry and Anibaba were once again called on to anchor the back line.
“You look at the season so far and giving up the early goals,” Klopas said. “When you do that, even though we’ve come back, it gets difficult. One of the key factors was Higuain in transition, making it really tight and difficult for him to play.”
Frederico Higuain struggled all night without room to maneuver, and because of that he was unable to connect with former Fire forward Dominic Oduro. Oduro has three goals early this season, but rarely had a touch in a good position against the Fire.
The Crew managed just five shots, zero of them on target. Their best chance came in the 4th minute off a Tyson Wahl free kick that scrambled around the box and was sifted into the back of the net. But the goal was called back for offsides. Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson was barely tested the rest of the way.
When asked about playing his former team, Oduro said, “It was just like any other game. I prepared the same way. It was unfortunate we couldn’t come up with the tie or anything.”
“They had it going, especially in the second half,” Oduro said. “You can’t take it away from them. We just have to shake it off and go back to the drawing board.”
The loss snaps Columbus’ four game unbeaten streak and they now sit 2-2-3. They host D.C. United next Saturday night.
After the worst start to the season in club history, the Fire has begun to turn things around with two wins in its last three games. They now sit 2-4-1, just two points behind Columbus. They travel for a difficult test in Montreal next Saturday afternoon.
“It was a huge win for us, we’ll enjoy it tonight,” Klopas said. “But it is a long season and things change pretty quick. So we just have to enjoy it, regroup starting Monday and get back to work for a tough game in Montreal.”