Chicago welcomed Columbus Crew to Toyota Park on a clear October night, knowing that their 2011 playoff chances were over, but hoping to spoil any chance Columbus had of securing first place in the East. As Chicago took the field sporting commemorative Breast Cancer Awareness jerseys being auctioned post-game for charity, it was clear they wanted to finish the season strong, playing for the pride of the badge. They would not disappoint.
The Fire controlled play early, passing well and connecting far better than previously against FC Dallas, or even their win against DC United. Their tenacity and composure over the ball paid immediate dividends, as Pavel Pardo would connect with Jalil Anibaba, who headed home the first goal of the evening for his 2nd goal in 2011 across all competitions. The Fire would continue to press, in spite of good chances by Columbus in the 20th and 34th minutes. Anibaba would complete his brace in the 30th minute, however, with another header, this time courtesy of a Cory Gibbs cross, putting Chicago up 2-0 in the first half. Columbus, sensing a need for more offense, made a first half substitution, bringing on Robbie Rogers in place of Kevin Burns.
Chicago continued to control possession and scoring chances in the 2nd half, but Columbus struck back in the 73rd minute with a strike from Emilio Renteria off a Eddie Gavin cross, then answered again in the 79th minute when a Jalil Anibaba clearance was muffed to the feet of Dilly Duka, who struck it home with authority. No sooner did Columbus draw even though, than an attack up the right side by Dominic Oduro fell away from Hesmer, and Diego Chaves, who’s made a habit of crashing the goal to clean up shots, tipped home the game winner in the 81st minute. Chicago would hold off a few last Crew attacks to close out the evening with a win, and the season with a .500 record, in spite of a tough first few months.
The Fire finished out their season on a positive note, something that was important to the team, as well as interim head coach Frank Klopas. “We made it exciting again, but it was great to finish on a positive note, for sure. There’s not much to say. It’s very exciting at the moment.” Logan Pause added to Klopas’ sentiment, while also expressing the obvious disappointment of missing the playoffs for a second year in a row. “That was one thing in the way that we looked at it, and we had to look at it, was our playoffs started two months ago, knowing that we had to win games and a lot of games. It somewhat came down to the last couple weeks, which is exciting, but yeah, it’s disappointing not to be playing next week.
In spite of missing the playoffs, the Fire feel like the group assembled for the second half of the season is a core they can build on and improve on next season. Chicago now begins their 2012 season prep with questions regarding a permanent head coach and the missing pieces necessary to propel them through next year’s campaign and deep into the playoffs.