Columbus Crew SC scored its first road win of the season as it overcame a spirited Chicago Fire side 1-0 on Wednesday, the first of two meetings between the two this week.
Gregg Berhalter’s side (7-7-6, 27 points) now climb to second in the Eastern Conference, eight points adrift of leaders D.C. United, while the Frank Yallop’s Fire (5-10-3, 18 points) remain rooted to the foot of the table with their fifth home defeat of the season in front of a crowd of 14,092 at Toyota Park.
Kei Kamara, who scored twice in the 2-2 draw between the two at MAPFRE Stadium back in May, was the Columbus hero once again, heading home Ethan Finlay’s 41st-minute cross to capitalize on a dominant first-half performance.
The Fire were forced into one change, with Matt Polster moving to center back for the suspended Adailton, with Chris Ritter getting the start in center midfield. Elsewhere, Michael Stephens came in for Patrick Nyarko on the right of midfield.
Crew SC showed three changes to the side beaten 3-0 by the Montreal Impact, with midfielder Wil Trapp earning his first start since April, and Tyson Wahl and Chad Barson starting in defense. Mohammed Saaid, Emanuel Pogatetz and Hector Jimenez were the players to miss out.
The visitors dominated a one-sided first half in which they opened up the Fire defense and created chances at will. The fact it was only 1-0 at the break was down to the heroics of Sean Johnson in the Chicago goal, who looks to have rediscovered his best form with seven key saves after a lay-off earlier this year.
He had to deny Kamara as early as the fifth minute, while the Crew SC striker should have done better four minutes later when he brushed aside the stumbling challenge of Polster to break through on goal before dragging his shot wide.
Kamara and Justin Meram then went close before Johnson produced the save of the match, coming to the Fire’s rescue in the 15th minute with a point-blank save from Kamara off Meram’s left-wing center.
Barson had a header pushed over by the overworked Johnson just before the half hour, while Kamara then tried his luck again – but Johnson was again equal to his best efforts.
The visitors eventually got the opener their endeavor deserved when Kamara, of course, headed home Ethan Finlay’s right-wing cross in the 41st minute. It was Kamara’s MLS-leading 13th strike of a highly productive season thus far.
Columbus continued to press forward and a Finlay cross from the right just eluded a couple of Crew SC forwards in the 44th minute as the Fire goal continued to lead a charmed life.
Mike Magee almost found a way through in the 55th minute from Lovel Palmer’s cross as the Fire began the second half with a little more purpose. But Finlay had a shot turned away by Johnson, who had to be at his best again in the 64th minute when Federico Higuain drilled a free kick towards the bottom right corner, Chicago's 'keeper getting down quickly to palm it away to his left.
Harry Shipp went close with a 22-yard free kick in the 76th minute, while lively substitute David Accam forced Steve Clark into a tricky save in the 81st minute as the hosts searched for an equalizer.
Kamara, who had been a constant menace throughout, almost got his second of the night three minutes from time, but his diving header was well stopped by Johnson.
Fire substitute Jason Johnson, a late hero against the Seattle Sounders on Saturday, went close with a header in the dying minutes, but Crew SC held on to deservedly take all three points and spark a chorus of boos from the home fans.
The two sides meet again this Sunday, when the Fire travel to Columbus for the third of three regular season meetings this year.