By TYLER DAY
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill.– Austin Berry went from goat to hero with one flick of the head.
After lazily coughing up a ball early in the first half that led to a Deshorn Brown goal and an early Rapids lead, Berry’s fortunes changed in the 48th minute. Fire midfielder Jeff Larentowicz served a long cross from the left sideline to the back post that looked intended for teammate Bakary Soumare, but the ball floated over his head to an unmarked Berry. The reigning MLS rookie of the year smashed the header into the back of the net, and the Fire held on 2-1 over the visiting Rapids.
Berry’s redemption was almost erased as the Rapids narrowly missed on two opportunities in a frenetic stoppage time. Second half Rapids substitution Tony Cascio had a wide open net a few feet from goal, but fired the shot off the right post. A minute later, the Rapids thought they found the equalizer again when Deshorn Brown volleyed a cross past Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson, but he was called offside.
The win pushed the Fire’s league unbeaten streak to four games, undefeated since the arrival of Mike Magee and Soumare.
The Fire controlled play for much of the night, but in the 17th minute, Berry couldn’t handle a simple pass back from the midfield. Rapids forward Deshorn Brown pressured the reigning MLS rookie of the year, snatching the ball from his feet, and blasting a shot past an isolated Johnson.
“I basically passed it into him. I couldn’t have helped him out any more,” Berry said. “I was too lazy on the ball I didn’t play quick enough. It was stupid and it was frustrating but the whole team had my back and got me back in the game.”
Klopas praised the resilience of his young center back. “He’s got a pretty strong mentality. Those things don’t faze him. Other guys maybe it’s different, but with him I knew there was no issue.”
Chicago equalized six minutes later when forward Mike Magee kept up his torrid goal scoring pace. Dilly Duka, in perhaps his best performance of the season, got past Rapids defender Brian Mullan on the left side, forcing fellow defender Marvell Wynne into a sliding challenge on Duka. Wynne poked the ball away, but it popped into his hand, and the referee pointed to the spot. Magee took the penalty and gingerly chipped it over Rapids goalkeeper Clint Irwin.
“I felt a little more comfortable, a little more confident,” Duka said after the game. “This team definitely has a lot more depth. You have to fight with guys every training session. It’s not just one. It’s not just me and Joel Lindpere. It’s me and Joel and four other guys that are really competing. It’s going to make you a better player.”
Magee has now scored in all five games for his new club, three in league play, two in the U.S. Open Cup.
Magee had a few more good chances to extend the Fire’s lead, including one opportunity where the referee took back a goal when Magee looked to be a hair offside. He has been at the forefront of a suddenly dangerous Fire attack that went from scoring multiple goals just once in its first 11 games, to multiple goals in its last three.
But it wasn’t all rosy for Magee or the Fire, as he was forced out of the game in the 75th minute with an apparent back injury. Magee collapsed untouched in the first half clutching his back, but remained in the game. He fell to the ground again in the second half and was finally taken out.
“I think he’s a little bit sore, we’ll see better tomorrow,” Klopas said. “He’s got ice on it and hopefully it’s not that bad. We’ve got players on the team that we can count on and that’s going to be the case throughout the season.” Magee said after the game he didn’t think the injury was serious.
Minutes after Berry’s goal put the Fire on top 2-1 early in the second half, the Rapids had a few clear shots on goal from the top of the box. Martin Rivero pushed his shot wide and Edson Buddle a few minutes later hit the right post, but it went out for a goal kick.
The Rapids were shorthanded, lacking much of an offensive threat besides Buddle. Leading scorer Atiba Harris and Hendry Thomas both missed the game due to suspension after last weeks game with San Jose. Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja also missed the game after coming out of his coaching box during last weeks confrontation.
The loss drops the Rapids to 5-6-5, 20 points, good for 7th in the Western Conference. The team travels to red hot Portland Sunday night looking to get back on track.
The Fire remain 8th in the Eastern Conference, now just seven points out of playoff position with a game in hand. They travel to Columbus Saturday to take on the Crew, who they beat last week to advance to the quarterfinals in the U.S. Open Cup.
“There is an opportunity when you play a lot of matches to count on the team as a whole,” Klopas said. “We’ll see where the guys are tomorrow and we’ll adjust knowing we have three games in seven days.”