Fire earns three crucial points in 2-1 comeback win over New England

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More than a third of the MLS season remains for the Chicago Fire, but last night may very well have been a turning point for the team as the Men in Red rallied for a 2-1 victory over the New England Revolution. The win puts them three points ahead of the Revs, in sole possession of fourth place in the Eastern Conference and right into the thick of a crowded playoff hunt.

The Fire started brightly enough at Toyota Park, with Freddie Ljungberg once again at the center of the attack. The finishing touch was not quite there, though, and the Revolution began to get into the match. Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson was called into action twice in the first 15 minutes, and while the rookie made two good saves, he could do nothing when New England opened the scoring in the 16h minute. Chicago’s All-Star defender Wilman Conde slipped with the ball under pressure, allowing Marko Perovic to charge into the box for a one-v-one with the keeper. Johnson went for the ball, but Perovic rounded him and easily slid the ball into the empty net to strike first blood.

By: Sam Svoboda

The Fire did not let the soft goal demoralize them, however, and equalized 16 minutes later. Ljungberg tried to slip a through ball to midfielder Baggio Husidic in the box, and while the pass was blocked, it fell right to striker Brian McBride. The captain found Husidic- via a New England leg- alone in the penalty area and Husidic calmly placed the ball past Matt Reis at the far post to tie the match at one.

Both teams had chances as the game opened up in the second half, but the final ball just was not there. It looked like the Fire was heading for a second consecutive home draw, but the match- and maybe the season- turned in the 86th minute. Ljungberg fed the ball wide left the Calen Carr, who had replaced Brian McBride in the 70th minute. Carr, who was playing in his first match of the year after returning from injury, cut in from the right and hit a low shot toward the near post from the top of the box. It was not a particularly fierce strike, but it beat Reis- who may have been screened by his own defender- and found its way into the back of the net. The fight back was complete, and the match ended 2-1.

It was not exactly a dominating performance by the Fire, but it could be crucial to the team’s increasingly-brighter playoff hopes. In MLS, the top two teams from each conference qualify for the playoffs, and then the teams with the four next best records make it as Wild Cards. Through 17 matches, the Fire now has 24 points, tenth most in the league (which means two spots out of the playoffs). Both San Jose and Toronto are just ahead on 26 points, but they have played 18 and 19 matches, respectively.

In fact, the Fire has played two to four less matches than every other team ahead of them in the playoff race. All of that means that the Men in Red basically control their own destiny. If the victory over the rival Revolution can provide the momentum for them to keep on winning, Chicago fans can expect to see their team still playing come playoff time. And as recent playoffs have proven, a team’s form becomes far more important than its seed in the postseason. In other words, anything can happen.

Of course, it’s still far too early to ask what this Fire team can accomplish in the playoffs. But if we find ourselves asking that question in a few months, last night’s victory could be a big reason why.

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