You knew Chicago Fire midfielder Marco Pappa was due for a big performance. You just didn’t know it’d be this big.
The Guatemalan star bagged a hat trick in Chicago’s incredibly important – and somewhat shocking – 3-0 victory at 10-man Real Salt Lake on Wednesday night, scoring in the ninth, 36th and 75th minutes to move the Fire within three points of a playoff spot with four games left on the schedule.
The breakout performance was a long time coming for Pappa who, before Wednesday’s match, hadn’t scored a goal since Chicago’s 1-1 tie with New York on June 26.
“I really want to score goals,” Pappa told MLSsoccer.com by phone after the match, “I love to score goals and tonight I’m excited that I got the hat trick. But the most important is that the team got three really important points.”
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Pappa’s best goal was his third. He picked off a looping ball at midfield and darted to the sideline, shimmying past one defender before turning and burning another to escape down the right flank. With nothing but green space in front of him, Pappa cut into the box and completed his hat trick – and sealed the game – with a curling, left-footed bomb that found the inside of the far post.
He didn’t cap the hat trick with his usual post-goal back flip, instead opting for a far simpler sprint-and-slide bit. But don’t think that the comparatively straightforward celebration was for a lack of enthusiasm; the smile on Pappa’s face said it all: It was a big goal for him and a big win for Chicago.
“It means a lot,” said Pappa, who now has eight goals this season. “Playing away at Salt Lake is tough. They’re a really good team but we went into it like it was a playoff game and we did a good job to get the three points.”
“Now we’re looking forward to the playoffs and [next week’s] Open Cup final.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org