After months of toil, nerve-jangling win pushes Chicago Fire into long-hunted playoff place: "It's a big step"
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Chicago Fire midfielder Mike Magee's emotional state was suspended between pure joy and terrible disappointment for a few seconds after Alex scored the game-winning goal in Saturday's 3-2 win over New England, which catapulted the Fire into the Eastern Conference's fifth playoff spot.
For a few seconds, the Brazilian didn't seem to be celebrating, which worried Magee. But when he saw his teammates erupt and mob the midfielder, Magee knew that Chicago had finally reached the fifth playoff spot after a four-month climb from the depths of the Eastern Conference.
“At first, I was about to go nuts, and then I looked at him, and I was like, 'It didn't go in,' because he didn't celebrate,” Magee said. “So then I was in extreme disappointment and then went nuts again. So it was amazing. We've been trying to get that type of goal at the end of a game for a while now, and now that it finally came at especially an important time, it was massive.”
Just 45 minutes of game time earlier, frustration was all Magee and his Fire teammates felt.
Several players and coaches gathered around referee Ismail Elfath at the end of the first half, stating their cases about two calls that didn't go their way in the half's waning minutes that resulted in a 2-1 deficit at the break.
When they entered the locker room, Jeff Larentowicz and coach Frank Klopas had a few words with the team to restore their focus, which went haywire after Patrick Nyarko wasn't given a penalty kick after going down in the box in the 45th minute and Dimitry Imbongo seemingly handled the ball before New England's first-half stoppage-time goal.
“The thing that I told the group, 'It's good to play with emotions, but you have to be under control, not to do something silly now where we hurt the team with a red card,' because I knew we were going to be back in the game,” Klopas said. “That's how I felt. It was difficult to go in, but there was a belief as a group.”
Chances to jump into a playoff spot were running out, and Chicago knew they couldn't afford to come away from their third-to-last home game empty-handed.
They gained new life in the second half after receiving a lucky call of their own. Saer Sene was called offside in the 50th minute after he looked as if he'd bagged his second goal of the game, but replays showed he was clearly onside.
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Five minutes later, Magee scored on a give-and-go with Patrick Nyarko, when Juan Luis Anangono deftly shielded a defender. Sean Johnson made a diving save on an 83rd-minute header from Kelyn Rowe that looked destined for the upper corner.
Finally, Alex blasted his gamewinner, just three minutes after he came into the game.
“Alex didn't start tonight, but he came on and he helped the team, and he helped the team in a big way,” Larentowicz said. “He deserves all the credit, it was a great goal.”
And after a few seconds, Magee celebrated.
After missing chance after chance to reach this point, the Chicago are finally in a playoff spot.
With six games to go, that's right where they want to be.
“To get that weight off of our back after all that work we did just to put ourself in a spot to get into a top five spot was amazing,” Magee said. “To get over the hump now, it's a big step.”