Fire top Columbus for much-needed win

Fire top Columbus for much-needed win
April 21, 2013, 10:15 am
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Len Ziehm

One win didn’t solve all the Fire’s early-season problems, but it certainly helped.

The Fire maintained its domination over the Columbus Crew on Saturday, taking a 1-0 victory at Toyota Park that improved the club’s record to a still unimpressive 2-4-1.  When the Fire made its return to the Major League Soccer playoffs last season after a two-year absence, the record after seven matches was 3-2-2, so clearly there’s plenty of work to be done.

Coach Frank Klopas used his seventh different starting 11 in as many matches, and this one couldn’t score until Jeff Larentowicz slipped a header past Columbus goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum in the 83rd minute.

Gruenebaum was brilliant, the best player on the field on another chilly night that drew a crowd of 12,813.  They saw the Fire run its unbeaten streak against the Crew (2-2-3) to 10 matches (6-0-4).  Columbus has won in Bridgeview only once, and that was seven years ago.

Though both clubs consider the matchup their best rivalry opponent, the Fire has dominated with a 23-12-13 all-time advantage.

This latest meeting underscored a more important statistic, though. When the Fire can score first it’s a team that – so far – has been impossible to beat with Klopas in charge.  Since he took over the Fire is 18-0-4 when scoring the first goal.

The Fire had doubts that first – or only – goal would ever come.

"It was one of those games that you’re thinking at one point, here we go again. It’s not going to happen again," said midfielder Patrick Nyarko, who returned to the starting 11 after battling a nagging hamstring during last week’s 2-1 loss at Houston. "The ‘keeper (Gruenebaum) played unbelievably. He made great saves…. But we did not hang our head low. We kept fighting and creating. One went in, so that’s all we needed."

Larentowicz was the key offseason acquisition for the Fire, which didn’t bring in any foreign players – a extreme rarity in the club’s 16-year history. He’s played every minute of every match, but the Fire hasn’t been anything special since he arrived.  An MLS veteran and member of a championship team at Colorado, he made his first goal for the Fire a difference-maker.

The scoring play started with a long throw-in by Jalil Anibaba from the right side. Austin Berry used a flick-header to get the ball to Larentowicz, who in turn headed it past Gruenebaum.

"I'm sure there are a lot of people I still have to win over, and hopefully that’s a good addition to the games I’ve played so far," said Larentowicz.

Defensively the Fire was more solid than it’s been all season.  Prior to getting the second clean sheet of the season on Saturday the Fire had allowed more goals (12) than any other team in MLS. This time goalkeeper Sean Johnson had an easy night even with former teammate Dominic Oduro a major threat on the other side.

Oduro, traded to the Crew during the preseason for midfielder Dilly Duka, led Columbus with three goals coming into the match. He had only one good chance – from 12 yards out in the 15th minute. It sailed wide.

"It was a very emotional match for (Oduro)," said Nyarko, his Ghanaian teammate when both were with the Fire. "I was very aware of where he could be dangerous."

"They were under a lot of pressure to win the game," said Oduro. "The whole season they had only won one game. It was a lot of pressure to win the home game. We knew they were going to come real hard."

The Fire did do that, particularly striker Sherjill MacDonald who was still thwarted again in his bid for that elusive first goal of the season.

"I can tell you that they played like the better team," said Columbus coach Robert Warzycha. "They played much better than us, especially in the second half.  They created chances.  They played to win, and they deserved to win."