Crew rally, tie Fire in big East clash

Chicago Fire midfielder Peter Lowry scored a pair of first-half goals but Columbus Crew forward Guillermo Barros Schelotto matched him in the second half, forging a 2-2 tie between the two Eastern Conference leaders.

With the tie, the Crew raised their record to 11-4-10, for 43 points, tied for the most overall in Major League Soccer. The Fire, who started the game three points behind the Crew in the Eastern Conference standings, are 10-6-10 for 40 points.

Lowry, a substitute for injured midfielder John Thorrington into the starting lineup, scored his second and third career goals from nearly the same spot, both as a result of being in the right place at the right time.

But the Crew put pressure on with a goal by Schelotto in the 55th minute. A steady rain started in the game's 70th minute, and in the 78th minute, Fire defender Wilman Conde was whistled for a foul against the Crew's Steven Lenhart in the box. Scheletto fired home the penalty kick for his second goal of the game and 12th of the season.

With Tim Ward and Gonzalo Segares still out due to injury, Fire coach Denis Hamlett started veterans Brandon Prideaux, C.J. Brown and Conde on the back line with Mike Banner, who has proven to be a dangerous second-half substitute this season. It was Banner's fourth start of the season.

Lowry earned another midfield start, his sixth, with Thorrington unavailable due to injury.

The Fire got one of their quickest goals of the season, as Lowry got his second goal from about 15 yards out in the sixth minute. Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Brandon Prideaux had a couple of passes back and forth before Prideaux sent a cross into the box from the right side. Brian McBride knocked the ball down and laid it off to Lowry, who fired an angled shot into the left side of the goal past Crew 'keeper William Hesmer.

The Crew got their first good opportunity in the 25th minute when the ball bounced off several players and ended up at the foot of Alejandro Moreno about 40 yards out. He got a step on Brown and had a direct attack on Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch from the right angle, but his shot went right at Busch, who punched the ball out.

In the 33rd minute, a flurry of passes outside the box by the Crew put the ball to Emmanuel Ekpo 10 yards out right of the goal but his shot went wide right.

The Fire scored again in the 35th minute and it was Lowry again, in the right place at the right time. A pass into the box from Chris Rolfe bounced off two defenders and out to Lowry, at almost the same spot as his first goal. Lowry took one dribble then fired the shot at nearly the same angle as his first, through the legs of Crew defender Gino Padula, with the same result.

The two goals marked only the fifth time in 13 home games this season in which the Fire have scored more than one goal.

The Fire had a chance to take a 3-0 lead in the 50th when Rolfe had a run at Hesmer. But as he was setting up his shot, crew defender Eric Brunner came from behind and swept the ball away.

In the 54th minute, Crew midfielder Robbie Rodgers sent a ball perpendicular to the goalmouth that didn't get touched by anyone until it ended up on the opposite side.

One minute later, Rodgers outfought Prideaux for the ball on the left sideline, then lifted a cross inside the 6-yard box that Schelotto headed in for the Crew's first goal.

In the 62nd minute, Blanco suffered a hamstring pull and left the game. Justin Mapp was inserted into the lineup in his place. In the 65th minute, Conde went down, also with a leg injury, but he stayed in the game.

The Crew got the equalizer in 79th minute when Conde and Lenhart went up for a header inside the box. Referee Mark Geiger called the foul on Conde and Schelotto got the chance to tie the game.

Substitute Patrick Nyarko had one more chance in stoppage time, but Hesmer easily grabbed the weak attempt. With the draw, the Fire's home record fell to 4-4-5.

Both clubs will be at home next Saturday for their next league match, the Fire taking on Toronto FC and the Crew meeting the LA Galaxy.

Kent McDill is a contributor to MLSnet.com.