Wednesday was hardly Austin Berry’s night – even though the young defender scored the Fire’s winning goal in a 2-1 victory over the Colorado Rapids at Toyota Park.
The second-year centerback went from goat to hero as the Fire (4-7-3) extended its unbeaten streak across all competitions to six games.
Colorado (5-6-5) was hardly at its best for the clubs’ only Major League Soccer matchup of the season. The Rapids, coming off an emotional 2-1 home loss to the San Jose Earthquakes on Saturday that ended their own six-game unbeaten run, were without head coach Oscar Pareja and starters Atiba Harris and Hendry Thomas. All were serving suspensions as a result of shenanigans involved in the San Jose loss.
The Rapids were also reeling from the Monday trade of veteran star Pablo Mastroenni, who was sent to the Los Angeles Galaxy in exchange for a second-round pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft and an interntional roster spot through the 2014 season. Interestingly, the Rapids also gave up their MLS rights to ex-Fire midfielder Baggio Husidic in the deal.
Dave Dir, deep in Chicago roots, was Colorado’s interim head coach in Pareja’s place. Dir played his youth soccer for the Chicago Kickers, then went to Western Illinois University before the Chicago Sting made him their first-round selection in the 1980 college draft.
This match wasn’t about the Rapids’ travails, however. It had much more to do with those created by Berry, the MLS Rookie of the Year in 2012.
In the 17th minute Colorado’s Deshorn Brown took the ball away from Berry 40 yards from the Fire goal and then beat goalkeeper Sean Johnson one-on-one. Berry fell after losing the ball, making Brown’s goal an easy one.
"Obviously it was my fault,’’ said Berry. "Basically, I passed the ball to him. I couldn’t have helped him out anymore. I was too lazy on the ball. I didn’t play quickly enough and he caught me.’’
That wasn’t the last thing Berry did wrong. He was the reason Mike Magee had to leave the game early with a back injury.
Magee scored his fifth goal in as many games since coming to the Fire in a trade with the Galaxy but couldn’t stay on the pitch beyond the 75th minute. He left clearly in discomfort with a back injury and underwent ice treatment after the match, leaving his status for Saturday’s road match against the Columbus Crew in doubt.
"Austin got me from behind on a set piece,’’ said Magee, who said his back was "just tight’’ after undergoing treatment.
"Some nerves back there might be a little funky,’’ Magee said.
Coach Frank Klopas didn’t think Magee’s injury was serious, but – with two more matches in an eight day stretch --wouldn’t commit to a lineup for the next outing. The Fire also has a quarterfinal match in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on next Wednesday in Bridgeview.
Berry’s night at least ended on a happy note. He headed in Jeff Larentowicz’ long ball in the 47th minute for what proved to be the game-winner. It wasn’t the first game he went from goat to hero. In his first MLS appearance last season, he gave the opposition an early penalty kick, then made amends by scoring his first goal in what turned out an award-winning season.
In 2012 the University of Louisville product and Fire first-round draft selection got the chance to play early when Cory Gibbs was lost with career-ending knee surgery after three games. Berry benefitted from having an experienced sidekick, German recruit Arne Friedrich, beside him in the middle the rest of the season.
Friedrich, nursing hamstring and hip problems, hasn’t played this season and Berry had to be the back line anchor until Bakary Soumare arrived in a trade with Philadelphia. The Fire hasn’t lost since Magee and Soumare arrived, but the streak was in jeopardy for awhile against Colorado – a team has never won in Bridgeview (0-6-2).
"It’s great that we can get good results to make up for our mistakes,’’ said Berry. "We have to remember not to get down on ourselves, but we can’t always rely on coming back.’’
The Fire didn’t get down on Berry after his mishap, and Berry didn’t get down on himself.
"He’s got a pretty strong mentality and those things don’t faze him,’’ said Klopas.
"(The blunder on Colorado’s goal) let you see how strong the kid is,’’ said midfielder Patrick Nyarko. "He came back and scored a goal and we won the game.’’
The Fire is hoping to continue its good fortune against Columbus on Saturday. The Fire has beaten the Crew twice already this season, 1-0 in MLS play on April 20 and 2-1 in the fourth round of the Open Cup on June 13. Both matches were at Toyota Park. Columbus (5-5-5) is five points ahead of the eighth place Fire in the Eastern Conference but has played one more match. Only the top five qualify for postseason play, and the Fire’s 15 points is seven behind fifth place Sporting Kansas City.