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Crew strike early, snuff out Fire 3-0

The SportsXchange

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Dominic Oduro opened the scoring early against his former club and it got worse from there for the Chicago Fire in a 3-0 loss to the Columbus Crew on Saturday night.

The Fire lost the lead and a player within the first half-hour. Oduro struck in the 15th minute and then Fire defender Bakary Soumare was ejected in the 29th minute for his challenge on Jairo Arrieta as the forward broke free toward the goal.

Despite being short-handed, the Fire (11-12-6) stayed in the game until goalkeeper Sean Johnson pulled down Arrieta and Federico Higuain converted the penalty for a 2-0 lead in the 70th minute.

Bernardo Anor added a goal in the 76th minute as the Crew (11-14-5) won its second straight and the Fire (11-12-6) fell to 2-3-2 in their past seven games.

"We hit the post. We hit the crossbar. We had opportunities," Fire midfielder and captain Jeff Larentowicz said. "Overall, it's just not good enough."

Chicago remained at 39 points but dropped from the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference to a tie for sixth with Philadelphia. New England, a 2-1 winner over D.C. United on Saturday, moved into the No. 5 spot with 40 points.

Meanwhile, the Crew has won three of four under interim coach Brian Bliss and is eighth at 38 points with four matches left. Chicago, New England and Philadelphia have played one fewer match.

"The change in attitude is that we know we can still make the playoffs," Oduro said. "We played a complete game today."

Oduro, acquired in February from Chicago for midfielder Dilly Duka, scored his team-best 11th goal with a ripped strike from the right side that Johnson was able to get his hands on but could not stop.

The play was started by high pressure from Tony Tchani and Higuain that resulted in a turnover. Higuain found Arrieta, who toe-poked the ball ahead to Oduro for his second goal in as many games.

"It wasn't off a great buildup," Bliss said. "It was more off a counterattack."

Columbus then almost immediately took advantage of Soumare's ejection as Chad Marshall got on the end of a Higuain corner kick for a powerful header that forced Johnson into a reflex save in the 31st minute.

Chicago came within inches of pulling even six minutes later when Juan Luis Anangono's header from a Mike Magee corner kick hit the crossbar.

"If we scored, they would have been under pressure," Chicago coach Frank Klopas said. "Sometimes it's not your night.

"The team left everything on the field. I feel good about the group. We have to regroup and get ready for next game."

Columbus had gone 203 minutes without a goal while playing with a man advantage at home until Higuain's penalty provided the key insurance goal.

"The next goal was going to be big," Larentowicz said. "We knew the longer we could keep it at 1-0 we could probably develop opportunities and create chances. The second goal was one that might have put the game out of reach."

It was a relief for the Crew.

"We've always struggled up a man for whatever," said goalkeeper Matt Lampson, who had six saves for his fourth shutout in 10 games this season. "With the cultural change and the tempo and intensity change, we really knew we had to get after it and we responded really well to coach Bliss and (assistant coach Mike) Lapper.

"We came out that second half and really dominated. It's a well-earned win. Credit to every single player out there. They did their job and they played their hearts out."

The Fire sought a sweep of the season series after beating the Crew 1-0 at home on April 20 and 2-1 in Columbus on June 22. Chicago also defeated the visiting Crew 2-1 on June 13 in the U.S. Open Cup.

"We played this team four times this year," Duka said. "We beat them three times. You can't win them all. This is MLS, man.

"We were a little unlucky. The ref, some of the calls he was making were a little ridiculous. I thought I was fouled in the first 25 minutes in the box. I clearly got pushed and the guy didn't touch the ball."

Chicago hosts Montreal on Sept. 28 and Columbus next plays at FC Dallas on Sept. 29.

NOTES: Fire defender and Ohio native (Cincinnati) Austin Berry started his 63rd consecutive game. He and defender Jalil Anibaba are the only players to see action in every minute of the Fire's first 29 games. ...The Fire made two lineup changes in a swap of midfielders as Alex and Duka replaced Patrick Nyarko and Joel Lindpere.
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