There has been little distance between the Crew and the Chicago Fire the past three seasons.
They met in the Eastern Conference Final in 2008 with the Crew emerging victorious en route to their first MLS Cup. Last season the Crew won the conference by four points over the Fire and the previous five regular season meetings ended in ties.
So when the Crew finally beat the Fire for the first time in nine tries dating back to Oct. 7, 2006, the mood changed in the winning locker room.
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The Crew not only won 2-1 on Saturday in Crew Stadium but it did not allow the Fire to score because the lone Chicago tally came on a Frankie Hejduk own goal.
Columbus (8-2-3, 27 points) carried a 2-1 lead into the break and held it in the final 45 minutes for its first regular season home victory over the Fire in exactly six years.
“We’ve had battles against Chicago every single time,” Hejduk said. “I don’t think this was much of a battle as it normally is. We outclassed them a little bit. Aside from the own goal we really outclassed them and outplayed them.”
A minute later, Hejduk headed the ball into the Crew goal in a failed attempt to stop a cross from Baggio Husidic to tie the score.
“That was one of my better goals. I got ‘Jabulanied’,” Hejduk said in reference to complaints about the aerodynamics of the ball used at the World Cup. “The ball just knuckled on me. You’ve seen it the whole World Cup and it happened to me. I probably couldn’t do that if I tried a hundred more times. It was one of those things.”
The Crew responded a couple of minutes into stoppage time when Jason Garey got on the end of an Eddie Gaven pass for a terrific header.
“It was a great ball by Eddie,” Garey said. “I was glad I was able to finish. We’ve been creating a lot of chances lately. It was a big momentum swing for us going into the locker room.
“I saw Eddie peek up and look at me,” he added. “I knew it was coming. He played a perfect little chip with his left foot right on my head. He put it on a platter.”
Crew coach Robert Warzycha was pleased with the first 45 minutes.
“They (Chicago) were laying back,” he said. “They were waiting for something to happen in the middle of the field. They were trying to steal the ball and go quick. We were patient enough to possess the ball and find the channels and be dangerous and we got rewarded at the end of the first half.
“It was a great response from us. It was at the right time. We were glad we finished the first half with a goal. It was huge.”
Hejduk felt the Fire (4-4-5) never mounted a serious threat although they had 16 shots (two on goal).
“They were taking notes out of the World Cup and dropping and trying to counterattack,” he said. “That’s what they did. They let us play out of the back in the first half. Aside from the own goal and the breakdown after the first goal of letting them come down and get a chance right away I thought we were pretty solid.”