Published on March 4th, 2017 | by Jeff Engelhardt0
Fire starts late but finishes strong in 1-1 draw vs Columbus
The Chicago Fire rode a strong final 20 minutes Saturday to pull out a deserved 1-1 draw against the Columbus Crew to start their 2017 campaign.
Hopes were high as the Fire headed to MAPFRE Stadium for the first match of the season, but a dreadful first 45 minutes that saw only two shot attempts from the Men in Red — neither on goal — caused unwanted flashbacks to the most recent previous seasons.
The Fire, who were without Juninho after an unexpected suspension from a red card he received in Liga MX, appeared to have only one functioning midfielder in the first half. Dax McCarty was tasked with stopping frequent Crew attacks and it was often with little support as John Goossens struggled to to make an impact.
Within the first five minutes, the Crew had a strong chance on goal as Ethan Finlay found an unmarked Justin Meram on a late run into the box. New Fire keeper Jorge Bava made an incredible save to keep the game scoreless.
But Columbus persisted in its attack and eventually exposed the Fire’s biggest weakness in the 17th minute. Meram easily created space from right back Michael Harrington and sent in a cross that found Finlay between center backs Johan Kappelhof and Joao Meira for a header and the first goal.
The Fire’s best chance came when David Accam broke up a pass in the midfield. The ball spilled out to McCarty who played a pass to Michael de Leeuw who then played a quick pass to Nemanja Nikolic. Nikolic broke out in front of two defenders but leaned back on his shot and sent it over the cross bar.
With the Fire down 1-0 at the half, Chicago came out much more aggressively in the second. Goossens established himself right away and help set the tone when he took a shot from 20 yards out that just missed the far corner.
Columbus still threatened though, most notably when Ola Kamara got free up the left side and forced a point-blank save from Bava, who did well to make his second huge stop of the contest. The game fell into a lull with neither team creating much with their possession. But in the 73rd minute, David Accam equalized the game and breathed life into the Fire.
The goal came courtesy of another turnover forced by McCarty. This time McCarty found Goossens who had acres of space to pick out a pass. His pass toward Accam in the box ended up deflecting off a sliding Harrison Afful but fell right to Accam’s feet anyway. Accam pulled off a nice move on Crew’s DP center back Jonathan Mensah to create just enough space to slide a shot past Zack Steffen.
From that point on, it was all Chicago. Accam created another chance after blocking a pass on the right wing. He used his patent speed to get in the box before laying off a pass to de Leeuw. De Leeuw’s shot deflected just past Nikolic and the ball continued to find the feet of Chicago players in a hectic sequence the Crew somehow survived.
The Fire nearly struck again when Harrington sent in a cross that found substitute Luis Solignac all alone in the box. Solignac froze when his touch took him slightly off balance and failed to get the shot off on what looked like a sure-fire winner.
The match ended with some chaos created by Columbus as they pushed for a winner in extra time, but the Fire never lost control and did not end up conceding late as was the habit so many times last season. The biggest blow came when Goossens landed awkwardly on his left ankle. He did not put any weight on his foot as trainers carried him off at the end of the game. It was a disappointing scene after he played such a critical role in turning around the momentum for the team in the second half.
While the winless streak in season openers continue it was a good point to take in a tough road game. If the Fire can play like they did in the second half, especially in the final 20 minutes, the promise of the preseason may just carry over this time. Hopefully they can come out of the gate stronger at home.