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The Brian Bliss – Columbus Crew era is officially on a hot streak. The Crew welcomed rivals Chicago Fire to Crew Stadium on Saturday in a clash that would go a long way in deciding the playoff fates of both teams. The Crew came into the game 4 points behind Chicago, in 8th place and a couple places out of the playoff picture. The Nordecke was alive and well as the two teams took the field, and a giant “Pipa’s Happy” sign could be seen flowing in the Ohio wind. Nothing other than a Crew win would suffice against the conference rivals, and the players and coaches knew it. The Fire had won the previous 2 meetings this season, and it was time for revenge in Columbus.
The game started off a frenetic pace, with the visitors settling well into the game. That all changed when Dominic Oduro opened the scoring for the home side only 15 minutes into the contest. His low, far post, shot was past Sean Johnson before he even knew what was happening. Oduro, sporting his new black and gold Mohawk, celebrated by running over to the stands and eating some pizza. It got even better for Columbus in the 29th minute, when a through ball found Jairo Arrieta one on one with the Fire goalkeeper. Johnson decided to stay on his line, and Fire defender Bakary Soumare tripped up the Costa Rican right outside the box. It was a straight red card for the center back and the Crew would play the rest of the match up a man. The Fire never really got into the game after that, and seemed content to try and soak up Crew pressure and hit on the counter attack. A lot of credit needs to go to the Crew though, as it is sometimes easy to get complacent when up against 10 men. They stuck to what they did well, and finished out the game in an emphatic manner. After the halftime interval, the Crew made it 2 – 0 through a Higuain penalty. Arrieta found himself in the box, and a haphazard challenge from Sean Johnson brought him down. There was some initial conversation between Arrieta and Higuain about who would take the spot kick, but the captain pulled rank and slotted it nicely into the corner. The game was over at that point, but a 3rd was scored in the last couple minutes of the game by Bernardo Anor. A wonderful pass from Tony Tchani hit Anor in stride, and his toe poke finish cemented all 3 points.
It was a wonderful team performance, and the Crew were completely deserving of the score line. The Fire shot themselves in the foot with the red card, but even before the card was shown, the Crew had started to dominate large portions of the play. It is an encouraging result for Bliss and the team (and a change since the Warzycha reign) after failing to beat the Fire in two early season matchups. The Fire still hold the season record against the Crew in a potential tie breaker, but winning by 3 clear goals against a rival will do wonders for the collective team confidence. The early Oduro goal swung the balance of play firmly to the Black and Gold side after some decent play from the visitors in the first 10 minutes. Goalkeeker Matt Lampson, standing in for the injured Andy Gruenebaum, has recorded 5 clean sheets already this season and has been very solid. It’s also refreshing to see Agustin Viana back in the thick of the action after missing so much time at the beginning of the year.
The Crew has now won 2 games in a row, after that defeat in Kansas City, and has played some sparkling soccer during those two games. The front four are clicking into place nicely, and finally seem to have the understanding that it takes to become a more cohesive, devastating side. Dominic Oduro has finally regained some of his early season form, and Higuain has been at his magical best. The injury plague that hit the Crew in the early season seems to have partially subsided, and the team has learned how to cope with the huge absences of Glauber and Eddie Gaven. Optimism abounds in Columbus, and the Brian Bliss era, whilst only a handful of games, seems to have put a new spark into the team. The Crew plays away in Dallas next Sunday the 30th and will try to continue this push to the playoffs.