By Alex Simon
With a two goal cushion at halftime, I should have been feeling pretty confident about the Fire’s chances of holding on for the win. However, my pessimistic attitude was indeed deemed right, as I watched the home side settle for a 2-2 tie against their division rival Columbus Crew. (Six years of Rex Grossman + Wrigleyville resident of 21 years = pessimism)
The Fire got an unexpected boost from rookie Peter Lowry, who notched two first half goals. Lowry’s first goal started with a nice give and go between Brandon Prideaux and Cuauhtemoc Blanco on the right flank, ending with Lowry finishing a one touch layoff from Brian McBride in the 6th minute.
Columbus was without reigning MLS Defensive Player of the Year Chad Marshall due to injury, and it clearly showed in the 35th minute. A mishap between Columbus’s two central backs led to a loose ball in the box that was put away by a brilliant strike from Peter Lowry, his (and the Fire’s) second to go up 2-0 heading into the midway point.
The second half played out nothing like the first half for the Fire. The Crew got on the board in the 54th minute from a Guillermo Barros Schelotto header, cutting the Fire’s lead in half. In the 63rd minute, Blanco, was replaced by the woeful Justin Mapp because of a pulled hammy.
Just when it looked like the Fire might hang on for the three points, more bad luck came the Fire’s way. Columbus was awarded a penalty kick in the 79th minute for a foul committed by Wilman Conde that appeared to be a 50/50 ball in the box. The Crew benefited from the blown call as Schelotto scored on the penalty kick, thus ending the game in a 2-2 draw.
During a quick interview with Fire goalkeeper Jon Busch after the game, I asked him what he though of the call that gave Columbus the ever so important penalty kick after the game. “I’m positive that when they review the tapes, they will realize they got it wrong.” Busch continued, “I thought we played well enough to get the win. It’s a shame it had to play out like that given it was such a big one for us.”
The Fire not being able to sustain their first half lead was detrimental to both their regular season and postseason hopes. If the Fire were able to win, they would have been tied with the visiting Columbus Crew, as well as the Houston Dynamo for the Supporters Shield trophy. (The trophy is awarded to the team with the most points in the regular season.) With Shield hopes all but gone given there are only four games remaining during the regular season, the Fire must now focus on getting ready for the playoffs. And a playoff run to the MLS Cup will be much more difficult now. If the Fire do get past round one of the playoffs, they will most likely have to knock off the Crew in Columbus. Fire fans remember how last year ended- the Crew knocking out the Fire in Columbus, in a game where the winner went on to play in the championship.