Andy Gruenebaum could only do so much to prevent the Columbus Crew's winless streak in Chicago from reaching double figures.
Big save after big save — three in the opening six minutes of the second half — kept a listless Crew scoreless with their Eastern Conference rivals, but the goalkeeper was finally bested in the 83rd minute when Jeff Larentowicz stormed down the middle to head the Fire to a 1-0 victory on Saturday in Bridgeview, Ill.
"Things got out of hand and we started dropping deeper and deeper," Gruenebaum told MLSsoccer.com by phone. "For long periods of time we couldn't take control of the game like we needed to."
Until the goal, the Crew (2-2-3) were clinging to the possibility of extending their modest four-game (1-0-3) unbeaten streak thanks to Gruenebaum.
"Andy stood on his head for us the whole half," Columbus defender Josh Williams told the media. "Even though they were getting chances I didn't feel like they were going to score. I thought we were going to be able to hold them off but if you keep giving them chances in the box, he can't save everything."
First, Gruenebaum denied Sherjill MacDonald in the 46th. Then it was a beauty of a left-legged save of an unmarked Gonzalo Segares in the 49th. That was followed two minutes later with a stop of Patrick Nyarko's 10-yard strike from the right side.
Meanwhile, the Crew did nothing offensively in the second half and rarely strung more than a couple of passes together before a carelessly coughing up the ball.
"They played to win and they deserved to win," Columbus head coach Robert Warzycha said to reporters afterward. "One team was better than the other, obviously. We tried to win the game but you can't win giving up all the chances."
The Fire's unyielding pressure nearly paid off in the 75th minute, but Gruenebaum made a brilliant reflex save with his left hand from an Austin Berry attempt and smothered the rebound before it crossed the goal line. Seconds later, he went the other way to stop Chris Rolfe.
Gruenebaum's fortunes didn't last, though, as Larentowicz out-positioned midfielder Kevan George, who had just entered for Danny O'Rourke, for the goal that sent the Crew to their 10th straight game (0-6-4) without a win at Toyota Park since 2006.
"With our height in the back we have to do a better job," Gruenebaum said. "We knew they were good on long throw-ins and we addressed that before the game."
The Crew were outshot 21-6 and did not have one on target, but the good news is they go home for three straight after playing just two games at Crew Stadium so far.
"We have to go back to the drawing board and get control of the game, especially at home," Gruenebaum said.