Hard-fought win sets the tone for reborn Chicago Fire
For 90 full minutes, it looked like the Chicago Fire were headed toward yet another non-win, potentially their 12th in a row and a third-straight tie since Frank Klopas took over as coach. But 90 minutes is not the end.
And this time, several seconds after the 90-minute mark, the ball rolled the Fire's way, coming off Columbus Crew goalkeeper Will Hesmer's hand and falling kindly to Chicago striker Christian Nazarit, who tapped it home for a 1-0 win at Crew Stadium.
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"It was going to be a little different game than in Kansas City (on Thursday)," Klopas said after the match. "It was going to be be a litte more open game, which kind of suits us. In the end, I feel we pushed the game."
And they did. But the openness of the flow, something that the Crew normally try to stifle, and the Fire's attacking desire was nothing compared to their defensive effort. The Chicago defense was dominating, not conceding a shot on goal from the Crew.
"We wanted to focus on a couple of things, be better at defending as a team and not giving up goals on set pieces, which we had in the past," Klopas said.
The defense set the stage for the win for Chicago, who were playing their third match in eight days. The winning goal came thanks to the efforts of two subs, Nazarit and the emerging Orr Barouch, who has been a consistent threat as a late sub for the Fire.
Against Sporting on Thursday, he nearly won the match with a late strike that ricocheted off the woodwork. On Sunday, his late shot, coming after a mazy run into the Crew area, was saved and Nazarit was there to sweep the rebound over the line.
"The coaches told me to try to stay up high," Barouch said. "We were still tied and we knew we could get the win, so I just tried to push it as much as I could."
The win, of course, is the first for the Fire in 12 games. Afterward, Klopas celebrated with his players and the Chicago fans who traveled east to Columbus. His behavior recalled the excited celebrations of his playing career. And it seemed to set the tone for the players.
"It always feels good to get a win," midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "After an 11-game winless streak, it feels extra good. We came out to win, we kept it all out there, and we fought 'til the end."
Beyond the end, actually.