By CARL SETTERLUND
The Chicago Fire might still be near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, but Frank Yallop’s men have started to show signs of life lately.
A positive stretch for the Fire continued Saturday night at Gillette Stadium as a third-minute display of physical prowess by Quincy Amarikwa made the difference, as the 26-year-old shrugged off the rugged Andrew Farrell to score the early winner in a 1-0 road victory over the reeling New England Revolution.
“You lean in one direction to compensate,” Amarikwa said of holding off a challenge by Farrell, one of the league’s top young defenders. “By the time he hits you, he’s kind of hitting you upright. It’s a balancing act. You learn the strength of each player on the field as you’re playing. You try to – almost like a chess match – you try to outplay them.”
After a late penalty kick save by Bobby Shuttleworth denied the Fire a victory over the Revs at Toyota Park back in April, Sean Johnson returned the favor in poetic fashion Saturday night.
The keeper reserved the best of his seven saves for last, denying Chris Tierney from the spot to send the Fire (3-4-10) to just its second shutout of the season.
“When it comes down to those moments, you kind of have to live in the moment,” Johnson said of his PK strategy. “You don’t really think about it too much. You just kind of react and I just got a good jump on that side and was able to save it.”
Tierney took a well-placed penalty aimed waist-height just inside the left post, but Johnson got there for a deflection and then circled back around to secure the ball, which went off the left post and dangerously back toward the goal line.
It’s worth mentioning that the Revs’ normal penalty taker, midfielder Lee Nguyen, was suspended for the match on a retroactive disciplinary ruling by MLS for an apparent stomp last week versus Real Salt Lake. Nguyen was not booked at the time.
Mike Magee earned an assist on the Amarikwa goal, giving him a point for a third straight game. The long, high-bouncing through ball cut right in behind the Revolution defense and Amarikwa did the work from there, chipping it past the oncoming Shuttleworth (5 saves).
Farrell owned up to it on his end. “I’ll take full blame for that goal,” he said after the game.
Chicago is now unbeaten in its last six matches in all competitions, going 4-0-2 over a stretch that includes three U.S. Open Cup wins.
“We played against Kansas (City) on Sunday, went to Atlanta for an Open Cup game a couple of days later, and then came here for a tough league match,” Yallop said. “To get two wins and a tie out of these last few games is fantastic. We went to the semifinals of the Open Cup where we saw some great competition and then came here and got three points. I would say this has been a successful week.”
On the other side, New England (7-8-2) has now lost its last five MLS matches, and also fell to Philadelphia in a midweek U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal this past Tuesday.
“That one really hurt because I thought we had some tough decisions against us last week and I thought we responded well,” Revs coach Jay Heaps said. “I thought we were going to come out flying and we got punched right in the face the first 2-1/2 minutes. We have to be better and it’s on us.”
To add to the team’s frustration, holding midfielder Andy Dorman suffered a right knee injury in the opening half hour and is uncertain for Wednesday’s road clash against the Los Angeles Galaxy.
The Revs managed 24 shots on Saturday, but could only put seven of them on target.
“No one gave up, that’s for darn sure,” Heaps said. “Drawing the penalty kick in the 86th minute with a team that’s hunkered in, it’s not easy. You’re trying to probe and pick teams apart. It’s unfortunate, but you’ve got to use the positives and just keep going.”
Meanwhile, Harry Shipp was efficient for Chicago, putting all four of his shots on frame.
The Fire is midway through an eight-game July, but get a full week’s rest before starting a stretch of four matches in 11 days at home against Philadelphia next Saturday.
That slate also includes a friendly against Tottenham Hotspur on July 26.
“We’ve got a lot of draws but that just means we’re hard to beat, as proved by tonight,” Amarikwa said. “Hopefully it translates into more wins and we jump to the top of the table.”
Watch the match highlights below: