On a night when the Chicago Fire needed three points to keep their playoff hopes alive, they welcomed Montreal Impact to Toyota Park for a match that would favor the visitors in nearly every category except the final score. The end result would find Chicago edging Montreal by a score of 2-1 in front of a season best 17,297.
Chicago came into the match without the services of Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko, who were nursing a strained calf and concussion symptoms, respectively. Those omissions from the starting lineup resulted in newly acquired Ecuadorian international Juan Anangono getting his first start in a Fire uniform. It also allowed Joel Lindpere, who has struggled to make the starting XI in recent weeks, to slot opposite Dilly Duka. Chicago was also without Chris Rolfe in the starting lineup, another player nursing a few recent knocks. Rolfe would eventually come on as a 2nd half sub, but Brazilian midfielder Alex positioned alongside Anangono, a spot he hadn't played since preseason.
Chicago allowed Montreal to come out early and set the tone of the game, but they did so without surrendering a first goal as they have 15+ times in the 2013 season. They would get their break just 6 minutes in when a Joel Lindpere strike through traffic deflected off Daniele Paponi and past the reach of Troy Perkins to give Chicago the early lead.
Chicago struck again in the 23rd minute, when Dilly Duka dismantled the Montreal defense and, with the help of a fortunate bounce off a Montreal leg on the dribble, angled into the box and sent a low blast to the corner to put Chicago up 2-0, the eventual game winner.
Despite being down two goals midway through the 1st half, Montreal commanded every facet of the game, with a heavy edge in possession (70/30), duels won (66/33) and passing accuracy (85/73). Those numbers would hold true through the match as well. Montreal pushed hard in the 2nd half, although Chicago lacked the sense of panic or disarray they've displayed when in a similar position in previous matches. Montreal would chip away at the Chicago lead in the 57th minute, when Felipe Martins found space at the top of the box, and placed a Sanna Nyassi pass perfectly past Sean Johnson to cut the Chicago lead in half.
Montreal would continue to press, but to no avail, as Chicago's back line held together well, and played their best game in weeks against a tough Montreal offense that included Marco Di Vaio coming on to help the cause in the 55th minute. It wasn't meant to be for the Impact, though, as their final push in stoppage time would come up short. In the closing seconds, a Montreal corner kick looked to be the equalizer, as Matteo Ferrari got on the end of a cross with a clear header at goal that was cleared off the line by Chris Rolfe. That play would be the difference, as Chicago closed out the game seconds later, handing Montreal their second straight loss.
The win finds Chicago preparing to enter the last third of the season in a good position to contend for a playoff spot. With the addition of their new DP striker, as well as this week's announcement that Chicago had signed Uruguyan international Arevalo Rios, Frank Klopas was confident in his team's abilities down the stretch.
“We definitely have the quality and the depth in the team. I think last year, when you look at the playoff game it came down to little things and I think now all these game and the experience we got last year in those playoff games, those little things really matter. The addition of Juan is going to help, but also a guy like Rios….Everybody can talk **** and everything about the commitment of our owner, excuse my language, to bring a guy like that at this point because this is a world class player, and I can guarantee you a lot of teams, a lot of teams, would not have made that commitment but it’s all about winning. He’s been there, we haven’t always gotten it right…..We’ll see, I don’t know what’s going to happen, but we definitely have the quality right now and the depth to make a strong push."
Chicago now prepares to face New England next week, in a game that could see them claim the last playoff spot in the east with 12 games to go. Montreal will look to recover and right a ship that has seen them win just once in their last 8 games when they face DC United next weekend at Stadia Saputo.