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Friday, October 8, 2010
Fire take control, blank Crew

By Charlie Corr

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire dominated in possession and scoring opportunities, and they properly rewarded themselves with a 2-0 victory over the Columbus Crew on Friday in front of 15,124 at Toyota Park.

Midfielder Peter Lowry and forward Brian McBride netted goals as Chicago won for only the second time over a 12-game stretch. The Fire had the bulk of control on both ends of the pitch.

"Our concentration was good," McBride said. "We probably sat back a little bit too much at the end, but we bent and didn't break."

"It was very good -- because guys are moving off the ball. The ball's moving," Fire defender C.J. Brown said. "It's not just getting off their foot, dribble, dribble, dribble. When we dribble, dribble, dribble, we get in trouble."

For Lowry, who rarely has played since Chicago made its multiple midseason acquisitions, he netted the 600th goal in Fire history in the 30th minute for a 1-0 lead. McBride, the original No. 1 overall MLS Draft selection by Columbus, tallied his goal in the 53rd minute.

Lowry's goal originated when Fire defender Steven Kinney dished to Patrick Nyarko, who made a quick touch to lead Lowry on the right side. Lowry took a dribble to gain inside space on Crew defender Chad Marshall, and Lowry directed the ball past Columbus goalkeeper William Hesmer, just inside the left post.

Lowry's tally was the Fire's first home goal since Collins John's 88th-minute strike during a 1-1 draw against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Sept. 4.

McBride gave the Fire (8-11-8) a 2-0 cushion when Nyarko made a clinical rolling pass from the right side. McBride simply had to put a foot on the ball for a textbook tally. The passing in the sequence was strong, too, with Kinney and Freddie Ljungberg putting touches on the ball before Nyarko set McBride up.

Nyarko has been dealing with an ankle problem and received an injection at halftime, but the team's assists leader gutted it out.

"Give the kid a lot of credit," Fire assistant coach Mike Matkovich said. "He stuck it out. He dug in deep, and that's a good mentality that the whole team needs. We need more guys like that."

The Crew (13-8-7) truly struggled in creating scoring chances, though they started to get their act together midway through the second half. The first legitimate opportunity came in the 66th minute when Frankie Hejduk took a deep, low strike as goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra made the kick save. Then in the 72nd, Dykstra dove to his right to halt a strike from Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

The Fire also dodged a couple of bullets when Schelotto missed a close chance in the 74th and Andres Mendoza hit the video monitor in the 76th.

In the 90th minute, Bratislav Ristic, playing at left defensive back, saved a sure Kevin Burns goal as Ristic cleared the ball in the goal box to preserve the clean sheet.

"The guy did great," Matkovich said of Ristic. "Maybe next game we'll put him in the goal, maybe the game after that put him at center back. The guy's done great. I can't say enough about him. The guy runs his tail off."

Dykstra made three saves as he filled in for rookie goalkeeper Sean Johnson (hyphema), whose status is still up in the air for Tuesday's match against the Kansas City Wizards.

"It's been a little while," Dykstra said of playing for the first time since SuperLiga earlier this summer. "Kind of feel a little rusty because you haven't seen that type of speed. You can't simulate something like that in practice. When you go against one of the more direct teams in the league that is very good at what they do, it made it a little tough on me. I feel like I wasn't perfect today."

The Fire defense did hold down the Crew's scoring chances, allowing only one shot through the first half.

"The defense was stellar tonight," Dykstra said. "All four of them, and if you include the midfield, they did a very good job keeping their positions, keeping everything in front of them."

Analysis: The Fire's concentration and improved play opened up the field on Friday, and they were able to maintain their slim mathematical chance at making the postseason.

It also has to be said that Chicago was facing a Crew team that has had a whopping six matches in 18 days, most recently coming off a Tuesday loss to Seattle Sounders FC in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup finale. The Crew hardly created an attack of substance in the first half, with a few crosses and corner kicks being the only outside threats.

Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos had to burn an early substitution in the 15th minute when Dasan Robinson injured his quad. Rookie Kwame Watson-Siriboe replaced him, and Watson-Siriboe had some low and high moments, but collectively the Fire defense held the Crew at bay.

Similar to the victory over the San Jose Earthquakes, this match falls in the too-little-too-late category looking at the grand scheme of things. But a home victory was a welcome sight for the Fire.