By JUSTIN REASH
The Chicago Fire and Columbus Crew, two of the oldest MLS teams renewed their rivalry in a match requiring the Fire to earn three points to keep their playoff hopes alive. In the end, the points were shared after an open and entertaining match.
Goals from Mike Magee and Federico Higuain left the Eastern Conference rivals tied, and both having missed a chance to bolster their playoff hopes.
The Crew, still in fifth place in the East on 27 points after the draw, should feel disappointed after a competitive and exciting match. Federico Higuain was by far the best player on the pitch by for the first 20 minutes of play. Constantly picking up ball the as deep as the halfway line, Higuain’s energy and incisive passes should have produced a goal.
The Fire, on the other hand, lacked cohesion and dynamism in the final third. Still, after the first half hour Chicago was on top and looking for a goal. Winger Quincy Amarikwa and midfielder Matt Watson frequently found space to exploit the Crew’s left side, producing deep runs that tested the Crew to a breaking point.
The opening goal came in the 37th minute when Grant Ward broke down the right and crossed into the box, only to connect with defender Tyson Wahl’s right arm. Referee Silvio Petrescu immediately pointed to the spot. Mike Magee, invisible up to that point, calmly slotted the ball to Steve Clark’s left as the keeper dove right. It seemed promising for the Fire as they haven’t lost a game this season after scoring the first goal.
The second half opened in the worst possible way for Chicago. After a missed clearance, Higuain skipped past a defender and slid the ball past a helpless Johnson, only 20 seconds into the second half, calamitous defending leaving the Fire goalkeeper exposed.
The Crew controlled the match for 20 minutes after the equalizer with both Bedell and Finlay testing the Fire defense. First, Bedell produced a weak shot after a cutting Finlay pass. Next, Finlay failed to convert a Parkhurst pass in the six-yard box in the 61st minute.
After a back-and-forth exchange in which Sean Johnson made two great saves, Magee had a great opportunity to pull the Fire ahead in the 74th minute. Played through on the left side, his shot beat the keeper, but missed wide.
The final 15 minutes were a microcosm of the first 75: an open game in which any team could have stolen a victory. A Chicago free kick in the 88th minute came to nothing as the captain, Jeff Larentowicz, active on both ends throughout the match, pushed off before heading towards goal.
Chicago substitute Razvan Cocis curled a shot over the bar from outside the penalty box in the 90th minute. The last, and best, chance for the Fire to score in open play came in the 94th minute when Magee broke down the left and sent a low cross to Cocis. Wide open in the box, Cocis was denied by Clark’s extended left hand, sealing the crucial point to keep the Crew in the last playoff spot.