Magee powers Fire to win over Union

Magee powers Fire to win over Union
August 3, 2013, 10:30 pm
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Len Ziehm

Saturday’s 2-1 victory at Philadelphia was a big one for the Fire – but, then again, they’re all big matches now.

Especially the next one – a Wednesday night meeting with D.C. United in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.  A win in that match at Toyota Park and the Fire is in the final for the seventh time.  To win the Cup for the fifth time – and first since 2006 – the Fire would have to do it on the road.  A coin flip, conducted by U.S. Soccer, gave the home field advantage in the final to the winner of the other semifinal between the Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake.

The Fire shouldn’t get ahead of itself, though.  Granted, D.C. United has had a dismal season in Major League Soccer with its 3-15-4 record.  United, though, is on the upswing after Saturday’s  3-1 victory over the Montreal Impact.  That was the first time since April 24 that United scored more than one goal in a Major League Soccer match.

Fire owner Andrew Hauptman took the extraordinary step of writing a letter to his fan base, urging a big turnout for the D.C. match and including the incentives of free parking and $2 hot dogs to encourage it.

D.C. United could salvage some respect for its season with its Open Cup performance, but the Fire is coming off a big win, too.  The win at Philadelphia keeps the Fire in the chase for an Eastern Conference playoff berth, but the Fire (8-9-4) is still on the outside looking in with 13 matches left in the regular season.

The Fire knocked off a team with a higher spot in the standings, the Union (9-7-7) standing in fourth place with five clubs making it to postseason play. Philadelphia has 34 points in 23 matches.  Fifth-place Houston has 33 in 21, sixth-place New England 30 in 21 and the seventh-place Fire 28 in 21.

A loss at Philadelphia might have doomed the Fire’s playoff chances, but the team pulled together for the road win and resumes its playoff drive with a home match against Montreal (10-6-5) on Saturday.

"We knew there were a lot of important games coming up," said coach Frank Klopas, "and we dropped a lot of points on the road early on, so these games are massive right now.  It’s exciting.  It’s going to come down to the end, because there’s so much parity in the league.  You couldn’t ask for anything else."

The Fire, in a welcome change of pace, scored first at Philadelphia when Patrick Nyarko converted a feed from Joel Lindpere in the ninth minute. That ended a 265-minute scoreless streak for the Union that dated back to July 12.

 Sheanon Williams’ goal tied it in the 60th before "Magic" Mike Magee tallied the game-winner in the 75th off a pass from Nyarko.

Magee leads the MLS Golden Boot race with 14 goals.  Eight have come in 10 games since he came to the Fire in a trade with Los Angeles on May 25.  Prior to his arrival the Fire had dropped consecutive 1-0 home-and-away meetings with the Union.

Though newly-acquired Ecuadoran striker Juan Luis Anangono completed paperwork in time to make him available for the Philadelphia match Klopas went in other directions with his starting 11 and substitutions.  Daniel Paladini came on for Alex, Dilly Duka for LIndpere and Quincy Amarikwa for Chris Rolfe. Anangono has experienced some hamstring tightness in his first week of training with the Fire, and that may have contributed to Klopas’ decisions.

With the Open Cup match closing in and another big MLS match on Saturday in Bridgeview, these are exciting times for the Fire.  And the excitement for soccer in Chicago doesn’t end there.  The Red Stars are still alive in the battle to make the playoffs in the National Women’s Soccer League.

The Red Stars (7-7-5) beat the Seattle Reign 3-1 before a sellout home crowd of 3,400 in Lisle on Saturday to bolster their chances for a postseason berth.  They visit the Washington Spirit on Wednesday and then take on Sky Blue FC in the last home match of the regular season on Saturday.