Rookie forward Steven Lenhart came off the bench to score in the 87th minute as the Columbus Crew rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie the Chicago Fire, 2-2 at Crew Stadium, and extend their unbeaten streak to four games.
While Chicago saw its winless streak reach five games, with two draws now having followed three losses, the Fire did improve to 4-0-3 in Crew Stadium since July 3, 2004 before a season-high crowd in Columbus that included the usual strong showing by the Fire supporters, who took over three sections in the south end.
Forward Chris Rolfe, who grew up in Kettering, Ohio and played collegiately about 60 miles west of Columbus at the University of Dayton, returned to the Buckeye State to put a damper on the festive crowd by scoring the first goal and assisting on the second, from Calen Carr, to put the Fire up 2-0 before the game was 25 minutes over. But before the half was out, Emmanuel Ekpo cut the deficit in half.
The Fire hadn't scored in 333 minutes of league play coming into the game, but that stat went by the wayside very early thanks to the brilliance of Cuauhtemoc Blanco in the eighth minute. The midfielder was 15 yards across the center stripe when he saw the Crew defenders creeping up into an offside trap. But a quick, over-the-top service to midfielder Justin Mapp kept the play legal and Mapp took the ball and fired a shot off the left post. Rolfe never gave up on the play and was in perfect position to drive in the rebound from 12 yards for his third goal.
Rolfe's early goal that permitted the teams to eschew the usual feeling out period and chances for both sides followed. First, the Crew thought they had the equalizer in the 16th when Alejandro Moreno charged down the middle of the box to take a crossing pass from Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
Moreno slid feet first into Busch as the 'keeper went to the ground for the ball. Moreno poked the ball past Busch into the net but also collided with him and was called for a foul.
In the 25th minute, the Fire doubled their lead. Rolfe played a give-and-go with Gonzalo Segares before Segares took the pass on the left flank and with a turn spotted forward Calen Carr on a run down the heart of the Crew defense. Carr was at full speed when he took the ball and hooked a shot past Hesmer to notch his second score.
Rolfe has six goals and two assists in 11 career matches against Columbus.
The Crew were reeling but found renewed life in the 36th minute when Fire defender Bakary Soumare coughed up the ball in his own penalty area. Unfortunately for him, the steal was made by Schelotto and he turned the miscue into a goal by finding Ekpo on a near-post run that the midfielder converted for his second goal in as many games.
From there, the Crew had two golden opportunities for the leveling goal before the break but were denied by Busch and the woodwork. Schelotto had a powerful strike from 25 yards in the 43rd minute that Busch had to leap to push over the crossbar. Then in the first minute of stoppage time Robbie Rogers headed a corner from Schelotto off the bar to complete an entertaining opening 45 minutes.
Each goalkeeper made four saves in the first half and the Fire had nine of the 16 shots.
The Crew kept the pressure up in the first 15 minutes after the break but Busch once again came to the Fire rescue in the 54th minute. An innocent looking cross from right back Frankie Hejduk carried and carried until it become a 30-yard shot that Busch had to make an acrobatic save to prevent the ball from nestling in the upper left corner.
Busch made his first appearance against the Crew since a parting of ways prior to the 2007 season. He was with the Crew for five seasons and helped the club to the 2002 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, the only title in team history.
He didn't have an opportunity Saturday to see the man who had released him. Crew head coach Sigi Schmid missed the match to attend his daughter's wedding in southern California and assistant coach Robert Warzycha was in charge.
Late in the match, Miglioranzi seemed to have leveled the score for the Crew with a header from close range on a corner, but it was cleared off the line by Brandon Prideaux -- though the Crew players all called for a handball in the area.
A couple of minutes later it made no difference as Lenhart was able to get onto the end of Schelotto's service for his second goal in as many weeks, the first of his professional career.
Craig Merz is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.