Saturday, October 22, 2011
Fire cap off season with win over Crew
By Charlie Corr
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire wanted to end their season on a high note, and they did so by reaching the .500 mark for the first time since April 9.
Fire forward Diego Chaves scored his second game-winning goal in as many games and Fire defender Jalil Anibaba had two goals as Chicago topped the Columbus Crew, 3-2, on Saturday in front of a sellout crowd of 20,237 at Toyota Park.
The Fire completed the season with 9-9-16 mark (43 points), but Chicago missed the postseason for a second straight year and the third time in the team's 14-season history.
"Obviously we're disappointed not to be in the playoffs because that was our goal from the beginning," Klopas said. "But I feel very good at this point of the season where we are as a team. There's a lot to build from this."
As the Fire move into next season, the first major question is whether they will remove Klopas' interim tag and have him continue as the team's head coach.
"In the next couple weeks we're going to sit down as an organization and make the best decision going forward for the Fire," Klopas said. "But I've enjoyed every single second of my professional job, especially what I did now as the interim coach. I really enjoyed it with this group, because I've always believed in this group."
On Saturday, Chaves provided another game-winner following his dramatic stoppage-time goal against D.C. United the previous week. In the 81st minute against the Crew, Chaves provided a tally one minute after Columbus' Dilly Duka netted an equalizer on a botched defensive clearance.
Following the Crew goal, the Fire's Dominic Oduro was on the attack and ripped a shot from the right side, forcing Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer to dive to the right for the save. Chaves ran on in and tallied the unassisted score for the 3-2 win.
Anibaba had a solid day on the offensive side with the first two goals of his young MLS career. Anibaba gave the Fire a 1-0 lead in the 11th minute off of a Pavel Pardo assist, cutting in front of Crew defender Julius James and heading the ball past Hesmer.
Anibaba then netted his second goal in the 30th minute, coming up with a difficult header that was redirected toward the far right corner of the goal for a 2-0 lead. Fellow defender Cory Gibbs assisted from the left side.
"It was a good service out wide from Cory," Anibaba said. "I pointed to the spot and he literally put it right there. It was just a matter of me getting on the end of a good service."
Columbus fell to 13-13-8 (47 points), but the Crew prepares for the postseason.
The Fire put together a strong second-half run. Still, there were quite a few of those league-high 16 draws that could have turned into additional points.
"We made as hard of a push as we could have," Fire captain Logan Pause said. "Obviously it's a little bittersweet because we want to continue to play. You want to put yourself with a chance to make the playoffs and compete, and try to win a trophy. That was one of our goals that we didn't succeed with. But I think it is a silver lining and it feels as good as it can."
Analysis: The Fire's playoff fate already was sealed heading into Saturday, but Chicago made a strong enough statement in improving to .500. The Fire also improved to 6-3-8 at Toyota Park this season, a home mark that is an improvement from recent years.
Going forward, there is the sentiment that Chicago has the bulk of its plan in place, which was a complete reversal from the previous offseason. The next few weeks should be interesting to see what decisions the Fire make about keeping Klopas, retaining the likes of midfielders Pardo and Sebastian Grazzini (who was out Saturday with his hamstring injury) and going elsewhere to find some other pieces -- perhaps another striker and more midfield depth.
The Fire progressed well during the second half of the season, but they need to establish the postseason standard that was a given year in and year out. Missing this year's playoffs certainly is a bitter pill to swallow, especially considering this year's playoffs expanded to 10 teams.