BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – The Chicago Fire kept their slim playoff hopes alive with an impressive 3-2 victory over Eastern Conference title hopefuls New York Red Bulls in front of 11,196 fans at Toyota Park.
The Fire (7-13-5, 26 points) moved to within two points of the sixth-placed Montreal Impact thanks to a performance rich in attacking quality, and finally looked like the potent team head coach Frank Yallop has been yearning for all season. That they did so against the high-flying Red Bulls (11-7-6, 39 points), who were unbeaten in six games, will do much for their confidence, especially with another two clashes against Jesse Marsch’s men to come in the last nine games.
Two goals from Kennedy Igboananike and another from Patrick Nyarko saw Yallop’s men recover from a 10th-minute penalty kick from Sacha Kljestan and a controversial Ronald Zubar strike early in the second half.
The Fire showed two changes to the team that lost 1-0 to the Colorado Rapids last time out, with Razvan Cocis returning to central midfield in place of Matt Watson and Gilberto starting up top in place of Harry Shipp. The Red Bulls made just one change following their comprehensive 3-0 victory over Toronto FC, with Zubar being deemed fully healthy to come on in at center back in place of Karl Ouimette.
An entertaining opening 45 minutes saw the visitors take an early lead, when Kljestan converted low to Sean Johnson’s left from the penalty spot after Jeff Larentowicz had fouled Matt Miazga on a corner.
The Fire responded with vigor, and Nyarko forced a good save from New York goalkeeper Luis Robles in the 17th minute following good play from David Accam and Gilberto.
Brazilian Gilberto then called Robles into action three minutes later when his close-range header off a Joevin Jones cross was turned away by the Red Bulls' starting netminder.
The hosts struck for the equalizer in the 22nd minute when Matt Polster stole the ball intuitively from Mike Grella inside his own half. Polster then released Gilberto and the ensuing superbly-weighted ball allowed Igboananike to finish low to Robles’ right.
Igboananike and Gilberto continued to overwork Robles, while Bradley Wright-Phillips was a constant threat at the other end. Wright-Phillips had a shot deflected behind by Eric Gehrig in the 34th minute.
The visitors almost stole one a minute later, but the vigilant Jones cleared on his six yard line with Lloyd Sam waiting to hammer home a cross from the left.
The Fire completed an impressive first half by taking the lead for the first time in the 41st minute with a superb team goal. Gilberto crossed from the right to Michael Stephens, whose controlled chest pass fell invitingly for Nyarko to turn and finish left-footed from 14 yards.
The Red Bulls restored parity four minutes into the second half with a cleverly worked corner kick routine that caught the Fire defense napping. Kljestan capitalized on a discretely taken corner by Sam, which allowed Kljestan to drive into the Fire penalty area unopposed before squaring for Zubar to sidefoot home from 10 yards. Sam’s contact on the ball in the corner may have been illegal since he touched it multiple times, but referee Allen Chapman saw no problem with it and the goal stood.
Cocis then went close at the other end from an Accam corner, while Igboananike drove over from distance as the Fire looked to retake the initiative.
Chicago did restore their advantage in some style in the 73rd minute, when Stephens, who impressed with his probing and industry all night, released Accam with a perfectly-placed pass with the outside of his right boot. Accam then took his time before picking out the unmarked Igboananike, who took his goal tally to six on the year with a delicate finish past Robles from 10 yards.
Igboananike was then denied a hat-trick when Robles stopped him again late on, but the Fire finished out the game to take all three points.
Next up for the Fire is a trip to Orlando City on Saturday, while New York host Eastern Conference leaders and rivals D.C. United a day later.