Photo by ISIPhotos.com
By TYLER DAY
Mike Magee didn’t score, but he still was the difference.
After an awkward 73rd-minute own goal, the Chicago Fire were locked 2-2 at home with fewer than ten minutes to play against a depleted San Jose side.
In the 84th minute, Magee dribbled the ball from 30 yards out on the left side of the field. His low, hard pass cut through the teeth of the Earthquakes defense and right to the foot of Chris Rolfe. Magee’s strike partner knocked the ball into the back of the net net, propelling the Fire to a 3-2 victory.
Magee admitted afterwards he didn’t see Rolfe charging at the far post.
“I took it in front of me to shoot and as soon as I was going to hit it, I changed my mind,” Magee said. “At first I thought it was a terrible ball, but obviously it was pretty good.”
The Earthquakes knew they had a difficult challenge on their hands missing seven first-team players: Victor Bernardez and Shea Salinas on suspension; Steven Lenhart on injury; and Chris Wondolowski, Clarence Goodson, Marvin Chaves, and Nana Attakora on international duty.
Earthquakes striker Alan Gordon picked up where he left off from last week’s thriller in Los Angeles, this time from the start of the match. Gordon opened the scoring in the 14th minute when he headed a Steven Beitashour pass up and over Fire goalkeeper Paolo Tornaghi, who is starting in goal while Sean Johnson is away with the USMNT.
Gordon’s shot hit the cross bar, but it fortunately bounced straight back to him. The hard-charging striker gave it a second header to put it into the back of the net.
The Fire, trailing early for their third straight MLS match, found an equalizer in the 36th minute. Defender Gonzalo Segares checked a pass back to the top of the box to a perfectly positioned Dilly Duka. The former Generation Adidas player probably should have taken the shot first time, but he managed to get off a bouncing shot seconds later that made it 1-1.
Mike Magee has received the bulwark of praise as the newcomer who turned around the Chicago Fire’s season, but with more performances like Wednesday, Dilly Duka is poised to command some attention of his own.
The young winger put in his fourth consecutive strong game, contributing a goal and an assist to put the Fire in position for the win. Duka was involved in a trade with Columbus that included the rights to Robbie Rogers, which were later dealt to Los Angeles for Magee.
“The overall picture is just really good right now,” Duka said after the game. “A career is all about moments. It’s a marathon and you just have to keep positive and keep going. I feel like we are just in a good situation right now. I’m confident.”
Duka again showed his newfound confidence early in the second half when he took on Beitashour outside the left box. Duka sent a low, bouncing ball in front of goal that Patrick Nyarko just managed to get a foot in before Earthquakes defender Justin Morrow. The ball was directed the ball past Busch and into the net to make it 2-1 for the Fire.
“It was a matter of time before (Duka) was going to get his confidence, to get acquainted with the players,” Fire head coach Frank Klopas said after the match. “All that cohesion you develop, it doesn’t happen overnight. You’ve seen the qualities that he has, and now we need to keep pushing him. I expect a lot bigger things for him.”
The Fire looked to be in control and ready to open its lead, but a Joel Lindpere own goal in the 72nd minute put the Earthquakes right back in the match. Beitashour sent a corner kick into the center of the box that bounced in front of a crowd and eventually rebounded off Lindpere for the equalizer.
But a dozen minutes later, the Fire were back in front for good thanks to the play of their tandem up front.
“Tactically the guys followed the plan we discussed, we created chances, and we were dangerous,” Klopas said. “It was an exciting game and again we found a way to not only create chances but also score some goals.”
The win pushes the Fire’s unbeaten streak to nine games in all competitions, including six league games dating back to May 25. They now sit at sixth in the Eastern Conference with a 6-7-3 record. Chicago continues its home stand this Sunday afternoon with a visit from Sporting Kansas City.
The Earthquakes are only three points out of playoff position with a 5-8-6 record. The team should get a boost from Bernardez and Salinas’s returns for their Saturday afternoon road match against the New England Revolution.
Here are the match highlights: