The Chicago Fire spoiled the Columbus Crew’s bid to clinch a top-three seed in the Eastern Conference at Toyota Park on Saturday night, getting a late goal from forward Diego Chaves to beat Columbus 3-2 in both sides’ regular season finales.
The Fire got off to a great start, getting a pair of goals from rookie defender Jalil Anibaba to head into the break up 2-0. Columbus stormed back in the second half, getting a 72nd minute goal from Emilio Renteria and an 80th minute strike from Dilly Duka to tie the game at 2-2.
Chaves broke the tie one minute later, tapping home a close-range rebound to send the crowd of 20,237 into hysterics.
The loss keeps the Crew in third place in the East. Columbus will fall to fourth – and thereby be forced into the Wild Card round of the MLS Cup playoffs – if Houston beats L.A. on Sunday night.
Columbus would’ve clinched a place in the top-three with a win on Saturday.
The win moves the already-eliminated Fire to 11th place in the league. Chicago was purely playing the role of spoiler on Saturday night. They learned that they’d be missing the playoffs for the second straight year on Thursday night, when New York clinched the final postseason spot.
Anibaba opened the scoring with his first career MLS goal in the 11th minute. The rookie defender got on the end of midfielder Pavel Pardo’s cross at the penalty spot, out-jumping Crew defender Julius James before flicking the ball inside the left post for his first career MLS goal.
Anibaba made it 2-0 with a fantastic goal in the 30th minute. Fellow center back Cory Gibbs crossed to Anibaba in the top left side of the box, setting Anibaba up for a wonderful 15-yard header that found the top right corner of the goal.
The Crew had a couple good looks after Anibaba’s second, but they couldn’t quite find a goal before the half. Columbus’s best chance came in the 43rd minute, when midfielder Dilly Duka volleyed a loose ball off a defender and off the far post.
Forward Emilio Renteria finally broke through for the Crew with an incredible 72nd minute strike. Midfielder Eddie Gaven hit a hard cross to the near post and Renteria acrobatically side-volleyed home to pull Columbus within one.
Duka capitalized on a horrible mistake by Anibaba to pull the Crew even in the 80th. Anibaba botched a clearance deep in Chicago’s box, allowing Duka to pounce on the loose ball and bury his shot into the upper right corner.
Chaves saved the three points for Chicago in the 81st. Oduro set up the chance, making a great run down the right wing and hitting a shot on net that Hesmer couldn’t hold, allowing Chaves to convert the close-range tap in.
The Crew went down a man in the 90th minute, when midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo was shown his second yellow card for a hard foul on Oduro.
Columbus now face a nervous wait to find out their playoff fate, as Sunday night’s Houston-L.A. match will decide if they slide into the wildcard round.