The Fire moved into sole possession of third place in the Eastern Conference table with another big win against an Eastern foe at Toyota Park. Chicago improved to 7-0-1 in matches played at home against the East this season and didn't take long to make a statement in this match. Patrick Nyarko scored the fourth fastest goal in Fire history 51 seconds into the game and Houston played catch up from there on out.
The Fire seem to control their playoff destiny with home games remaining against Montreal, Columbus, Philadelphia, and DC United. It should also be noted that the club has already surpassed last season's point total of 43 with eight matches remaining in the season. The last two months will be hotly contested but there should be little doubt that Chicago is indeed one of the top five teams in the Eastern Conference. The Fire trail Kansas City for the top spot in the East by only six points and they currently hold a game in hand against both Sporting and New York. The locker room seemed confident after the match but there's still business to take care of. If the home form continues throughout the remainder of the season the Fire's two year playoff drought will be over.
GK Sean Johnson (6) - The Fire caught a bit of a break in the 13th minute when Andre Hainault's cross bounced away from Johnson and struck Mac Kandji in the arm to find it's way into the net. The goal was rightly disallowed but Johnson probably should have done better to corral the ball initially. Despite that play he responded in fine fashion again with a big time save in the 90th minute temporarily keeping Houston off the board. Johnson will join the USMNT for World Cup Qualifying in Jamaica this week but will be back with the Fire in time for the next regular season match.
D Jalil Anibaba (6) - Showed some good moves to work his way into the penalty area in the 68th and could have drawn a penalty on the play. Houston had a ton of possession but Brad Davis wasn't a huge factor until late. Set the ball over the top that led to Alex's goal.
D Arne Friedrich (6) - The Dynamo are extremely dangerous at set pieces and the Fire defended them well for the entire night. Even the lone score wasn't badly marked. Friedrich was all over Ching but he got just enough space to head it into the net. The rest of the night was pretty good given the possession disparity.
D Austin Berry (6) - Along with Friedrich, the size and mobility of both central defenders make the Fire difficult to contend with aerially. Not a spectacular night but he continues to build a case for rookie of the year votes.
D Gonzalo Segares (6) - All over Watson for most of the night breaking up attacks and preventing shots. Boniek Garcia was also not a factor on the right side of Houston's attack. Not involved much offensively but he didn't need to be.
M Pavel Pardo (6) - Houston held the possession edge (67-33) but the Fire played their 4-3-3 perfectly, counterattacking when necessary and not allowing Davis too much space to get into the middle or serve balls comfortably. Nearly sprung Nyarko in the 39th and led a counter in the 70th that resulted in a corner kick chance.
M Daniel Paladini (7) - Probably his best game in a Fire uniform. Not only scored from a well taken shot after an excellent run into the box but also played a big part defensively in disrupting Houston before any truly dangerous chances. The Fire could have done better in possession and limiting Houston's time with the ball but Paladini was a big factor in this match. "Whether it's coming off the bench, whether it's playing when guys are called upon you have to be ready," said Paladini after the match. "It's playoff time." (watch Paladini talk about the game and his role on the team at the Fire Confidential Facebook page)
M Patrick Nyarko (7) - Set the tone with the early goal and continued to play well on both sides of the pitch before being subbed out in the 77th. Nyarko also combined with Paladini to set up Fernandez in the 25th for what should have been a 3 goal lead. He's been one of the most consistently dangerous attackers in MLS for the last few years and if he can find a scoring touch he's a nightmare for defenders. "After the last performance we were kicking ourselves because we knew we were better than that. We didn't bring our game against DC," said Nyarko. (you can also see his post game reaction at the Fire Confidential FB page)
M Alvaro Fernandez (5) - Two misses will stand out in a less than stellar outing but Fernandez did have a few good moments. His steal led to Paladini's goal and he set up Nyarko with an excellent ball in the 62nd....but those two misses, particularly the first with the entire goal in front of him will be what people remember in this match.
F Chris Rolfe (5) - Managed a shot on goal in the 33rd but had an otherwise quiet night as Houston maintained possession. Moved to right mid when Alex entered the match. Subbed out in the 85th.
F Sherjill MacDonald (5) - Quiet in the same manner that Rolfe was but he did provide the assist on Paladini's goal. Subbed out for Alex in the 55th as the Fire looked to pressure Houston a bit more going forward on the ground.
F Alex (6) - Fairly uneventful night after entering the match for MacDonald in the 55th until an absolute blast in the 93rd minute of play sealed the win for the Fire. Seems to still be adjusting to the Fire/MLS but hopefully the goal will get him going.
F Dominic Oduro (6) - Entered the game in the 77th for Nyarko and made his mark off the bench again beating Houston defenders to the ball and setting up the play for Alex's goal. Also drew a yellow card foul just outside of the box in the 79th minute which led to a free kick chance for Pardo and sent in an excellent pass to set up Fernandez's second scoring chance. A very good night in short minutes for Oduro.
M Logan Pause (6) - It's a bit risky to get out him out this early after suffering cracked ribs and a collapsed lung but Pause showed why he wears the "C" on his sleeve. "After 10 days I got an x-ray and it confirmed that the collapsed lung had healed," he said after the match. The medical staff cleared him to return and he felt he could deal with pain enough to return. Davis ran at him immediately and he responded. Watch Logan Pause talk about his injury recovery at the Fire Confidential FB page.
C Frank Klopas (6) - The Fire continue to win at home, finally establishing Toyota Park as a legitimate home field advantage. Houston may have experienced some tired legs due to a Thursday night CCL match but Klopas won the strategic battle against one of the top coaches in the league in Dominic Kinnear. The only complaint I had was that Oduro should have gone into the match earlier than he did.