Winning on the road against conference opponents will get you into the playoffs. Chicago managed to escape a flurry of missed chances by a New England Revolution side that had yet to lose a game at home to keep pace with Toronto FC at the top of the Eastern Conference and MLS overall. The victory brings the Fire record to 9-3-4 on the season and they have equalled their point total (31) from all of 2016.
Staying composed and finding ways to not only pick up points, but win games outright away from home is a sure sign that this version of the Fire are capable of serious contention within a league full of squads that straddle the line between good and just slightly better than mediocre. Chicago seems to be for real and the current eight game unbeaten run puts them squarely in the middle of the conversation over which side has been the best team in the league as we approach the half-way mark of the season.
Toronto FC has also gone unbeaten in the last eight to remain one point ahead of Chicago in the standings. There's a long way to go before then but the two teams face off against each other on August 19 at Toyota Park. If the last eight games are any indication, the next eight should provide high entertainment before that match-up takes place.
The Fire are for real but there are some big tests ahead in the next eight, including three consecutive road games against Portland, New York City FC, and Sporting Kansas City. Suddenly, those matches are no longer dreaded.
GK Matt Lampson (5.5) - Despite the botched attempt to punch the ball out of danger in the 70th minute that resulted in New England's only goal Lampson was pretty good through the rest of the game. A couple of saves in the 49th minute were key as New England pressed early in the second half to try to even the score. Four saves on the day but New England helped with a slew of close range misses as well.
D Brandon Vincent (6) - A few shots that were well off the mark and crosses weren't consistently there but did contribute with 9 recoveries. There were some gaps on the left side that were covered by New England misses/near misses but there is some talent on that side that was held off the board.
D Joao Meira (6) - Scrambled a bit with attackers getting behind but was aided by Schweinsteiger acting as a third centerback for most of the game. 9 clearances and 4 recoveries in contribution to a team effort on the road.
D Johan Kappelhof (7) - Although he's officially credited with only 5 interceptions, Kappelhof was on the spot whenever he was needed. Stopped a 3v3 counter in midfield in the 28th that could have resulted in a dangerous chance. Easily the best of the Fire's "defenders" in this match.
D Matt Polster (6.5) - Continues to look better at right back than midfield this season. Involved in the attack consistently again. A well timed pass to Nikolic in the 18th to beat the offside trap resulted in the Fire's first goal. The outside backs were caught a little bit in this game but Polster also had a handful of standout defensive sequences. 85% passing fro right back is solid.
M Bastian Schweinsteiger (7) - Paunovic dropped him deeper in front of the backline against Atlanta last week and the tactic was used to even greater effect in this match with McCarty back in the lineup. Acting as a sweeper put him in position to clean up any lapses and prevented New England from many really clean chances despite the amount of attempts they had. His success from this spot was the key to coming away with three points.
M Dax McCarty (6.5) - Allowed the Fire to drop Schweinsteiger back to defend by handling the center of the park against a good New England midfield. Having him back kept the possession numbers close although the Revolution did launch 24 attempts on goal. Instrumental in pumping the pass completion numbers to 85% on the road, on turf.
M Juninho (6.5) - Paired with McCarty in central midfield as Schweinsteiger dropped back. Wasn't as obviously impactful as some others but only had an impressive 1 unsuccessful pass attempt in almost 70 tries. Kept the ball moving positively.
M Michael de Leeuw (7) - A deft touch to Solignac in the 61st set up the decisive goal in the match. Contributed on both ends with 3 clearances, 3 recoveries, and a shot blocked in the box. de Leeuw has been a key figure in the Fire's success over the last two months without getting on the score sheet himself yet. Selfless attitude and work enable road wins such as this.
M Luis Solignac (6.5) - Didn't get a whole lot of touches but he was asked to help on both sides and both ends of the field. Took his best chance of the game very well and finished it in the 61st to give the Fire a 2-0 lead.
F Nemanja Nikolic (7) - Scored the Fire's first goal after Cropper made the initial save on his first attempt in the 18th. His pass over the top to de Leeuw set up the Fire's second goal. Two massive blocked shots on the defensive end in the 89th helped seal the win.
D Jonathan Campbell (6) - Replaced Solignac in the 73rd as the Fire looked to add some additional cover in back and wind the game down. Credited with 3 clearances and 1 big block in the 95th minute after a mad scramble in front of the Fire net.
M Arturo Alvarez (6) - Subbed in for de Leeuw in the 83rd. Not many touches but helped a bit defensively.
D Drew Conner (5.5) - Came on for Nikolic in the 92nd as the Fire looked to hang on and kill the clock.