The noise from the crowd said it all when Michael de Leeuw headed in a loose ball in the second half on Saturday night.
His goal gave the Fire a two-goal lead in the 72nd minute and seemingly put the game away. It was the first time the Chicago Fire had a two-goal lead in an MLS match at home this season.
For a team that has struggled to hold onto second-half leads at home, especially lately, it was a welcome change for the home fans. The loud cheer that accompanied the goal, one of the loudest of the season, seemed to say ‘finally.’
"In that moment we were able to break the opponent and finally score that second goal, which was very important and part of our gameplan at halftime," coach Veljko Paunovic said.
Arturo Alvarez added a third goal in the 90th minute after Roland Alberg’s own goal gave the Fire the lead in the first half. The 3-0 win broke a streak of three straight home draws for the Fire (6-12-8, 26 points), all of which the Fire held leads in.
A number of times at home this season, the Fire have had chances on the counter while leading and had never added that exclamation point to seal a game. When Luis Solignac broke free on a counter and saw his shot saved, it seemed another chance would be wasted. Instead, de Leeuw, who has quickly built a reputation as a forward who positions himself well to clean up the scraps, was there to head in the rebound and make it 2-0.
The win could prove to be a needed confidence boost for the Fire after the most lopsided loss of the season last weekend, a 6-2 defeat at D.C.
"The most important thing is we create a lot of chances and can score a lot of goals," de Leeuw said. "You can see it in the last four or five games. We created a lot of chances. You can’t score all your chances, but it’s good to create chances. The confidence is big because of that.
"At this point I think everybody’s confidence is high.”
Alberg scored a hat trick for Philadelphia (11-10-7, 40 points) when the Union beat the Fire 4-3 on June 22, but he scored in the wrong net this time around. Matt Polster dribbled into the box and tried to slide a ball through to de Leeuw. Alberg slid to break up the play and in doing so wrong-footed goalkeeper John McCarthy, who had to watch the ball slowly trickle into the goal.
Sean Johnson had a standout game in goal for the Fire, including a highlight-reel full extension save on a curling Chris Pontius shot in the first half and a couple reaction saves later on to preserve the shutout. He was credited with five saves.
Johnson said the team did a good job of putting the ugly D.C. loss behind it.
"We finally have a foundation," Johnson said. "I think we’ve done an impressive job over the past few weeks of really building on the first result we had away at Montreal and using that momentum to get better and better. On the night, a fantastic job all the way around the pitch and just doing what I can to contribute."
The Fire remain at home next Saturday against Toronto FC.