The Chicago Fire may not be dead yet.
In an important Eastern Conference match on Saturday night at Toyota Park, forward Michael de Leeuw had a hand in all three goals and goalkeeper Sean Johnson enjoyed a brilliant night in goal as the Fire rolled past the Philadelphia Union, 3-0.
De Leeuw finished with a goal and an assist and Arturo Alvarez also scored for the Fire, who came into the night alone in last place in the Eastern Conference but pulled to within six points of the Eastern Conference red line with the win.
The Union remain in good playoff position in fourth place in the East, but are about to enter a difficult stretch.
The Fire scored the only goal in the first half on a weird play with Roland Alberg tracking back to make a defensive tackle on de Leeuw but instead deflecting the ball behind goalkeeper John McCarthy and into the back of the net for an own goal.
De Leeuw then got into the scoring column for real, heading in a 71st-minute rebound on an open net after McCarthy saved a Luis Solignac attempt.
Alvarez put an exclamation mark on the win with a pretty 90th-minute goal.
McCarthy, who was making his first start of the season in place of Andre Blake (international duty), finished with four saves. Johnson had five saves, including a couple of spectacular ones, en route to his fifth shutout of the season.
- 22' — CHI — Roland Alberg (OG)
- 71' — CHI — Michael de Leeuw
- 90' — CHI — Arturo Alvarez (Michael de Leeuw)
- Full box score
- Watch highlights
1. FIRE FLYING HIGH: It remains a huge uphill climb for the Fire to make the playoffs, but Saturday’s convincing three-goal win certainly showed how much parity exists in the Eastern Conference. And although the Fire remain near the bottom of the table, the dirty little secret is they’ve been a tough team to beat at Toyota Park as they extended their home unbeaten streak to 12 games. Of course, to have any shot of making a run at the postseason over the final two months of the regular season, they’ll need to improve their ugly 1-10-2 road record.
2. INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: Both teams were missing key players as the Union’s Alejandro Bedoya and Blake and the Fire’s David Accam were away with their respective national teams. Philly certainly missed Bedoya in the midfield, and playing without their All-Star goalkeeper is never an easy task either. But McCarthy actually made a few big saves in his first start of the season. He just wasn’t quite as good as Johnson, who took center stage with a leaping one-handed stop of Chris Pontius in the 31st minute, among other great plays.
3. DE LEEUW BREAKS OUT: The Fire certainly didn’t struggle offensively without Accam, thanks in large part to de Leeuw. Signed in May, the Dutch forward is still trying to find his way in MLS. But he now has goals in two straight games after scoring just once in his first nine MLS contests. And he could have easily had more Saturday as he gave the Philly defense headaches throughout the night.