By JOEL HOOVER
CHESTER, Pa.– Mike Magee’s return to his hometown of Chicago and the Chicago Fire’s subsequent rise up the Eastern Conference table have been linked hand-in-hand with each other over the past few weeks.
Saturday night, MLS’ leading goalscorer showed just why that has been the case–with yet another big goal.
Magee’s 75th-minute winner, backed up by several big saves from keeper Sean Johnson, handed the Chicago Fire a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night at PPL Park. P
atrick Nyarko also scored for the visitors, while Sheanon Williams tallied the lone goal for the Union.
It was just the second road win for the Fire in 10 road matches this season, which also snapped the Union’s six-match home unbeaten run. The win also keeps the Fire (8-9-4; 28 pts.) within five points of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The winning goal from the in-form Magee came in the 75th minute. After peeling off to the back post, Magee took a pass from Nyarko and swept it home past Zac MacMath to score his eighth goal in ten matches since joining Chicago and his league-leading 14th overall this season.
“(Magee’s) a good player,” Union manager John Hackworth said afterward. “Everywhere he goes he scores. He’s a class player.”
After building some early pressure, Patrick Nyarko had put the visitors in front just nine minutes into the match. With Chris Rolfe and Mike Magee unbalancing the Union defense with their runs, Joel Lindpere crossed from the left to an unmarked Nyarko in the penalty area. The Ghanaian winger placed his finish to the back post past MacMath for his fourth goal of the season.
Chicago continued to press the issue throughout the game’s first half hour. Their collectively high line in both defense and attack forced turnovers and frequently won them possession in the middle of the field.
“The first 30 minutes, we struggled,” MacMath said of the Union’s performance during that span. “(Chicago) put a lot of pressure on us, so a lot of credit goes to them.”
The Union slowly worked their way into the game late in the half, creating several chances around Fire’s penalty area. Their most notable opportunity was a strong strike from Danny Cruz in the 41st minute that was parried away by Sean Johnson.
Chances continued to open up down the flanks for the home side in the second half, which helped lead to their equalizer in the 60th minute. After Jack McInerney’s hold up play won the Union a free kick on the right side, Sebastien Le Toux’s delivery found Sheanon Williams diving in at the near post. Despite missing his header, Williams was able to bundle the ball into the bottom corner while falling to the ground to level the match.
“I just got to a good spot and was lucky to get enough on it to put it in the goal,” Williams said of the goal afterward, also mentioning that the final touch had come off his ankle.
The Union ramped up the pressure following the goal, winning a series of corner kicks that they failed to capitalize on thanks to last-ditch defending by the Fire and a brilliant save by Johnson on an Amobi Okugo header.
Despite the growing pressure on their defense, the Fire were able to recapture the lead in the 75th minute thanks to Magee’s timely strike against the run of play.
The Union pumped in a series of chances late on, with Jack McInerney seeing an effort from close range deflect wide and Okugo strike on in stoppage time just inches past the far post. Antoine Hoppenot also had a penalty appeal waved away in stoppage time as he drove into the penalty area. In the end though, Chicago were able to hang on to pick up a major victory in their push for a playoff position.
“We knew Chicago was going to come in and give us a really good game,” Hackworth said, calling it a “missed opportunity” for his side. “They’ve been a really good team the last two months, so it was never going to be easy. We had opportunity after opportunity, and to give one up the way we did was unfortunate.”
Chicago are now just two points behind the New England Revolution for the sixth spot in the East and five points behind the Houston Dynamo for the fifth and final playoff spot in the conference. The Fire host Montreal next Saturday in league play, which follows a U.S. Open Cup semifinal match at home against D.C. United on Wednesday.
Philadelphia (9-7-7; 34 pts.) stay fourth in the Eastern Conference by one point over Houston, who along with New England and Chicago have two games in hand on the Union. They return to action back home at PPL Park next Saturday against D.C. United.