Last week Bastian Schweinsteiger was the story, but Saturday's win against the Columbus Crew was the Dax McCarty show.
McCarty assisted the game-winning goal, had some key defensive plays and helped control the midfield against a possession-oriented Columbus team in a 1-0 win against the Crew.
McCarty, who was named man of the match, slid a through ball to Nemanja Nikolic in the box in the 22nd minute. Nikolic scored his second goal of the season with a first-time low shot that got through goalkeeper Zack Steffen.
"Very, very satisfied with Dax's performance," coach Veljko Paunovic said. "I think every time and every game he is feeling more comfortable and getting in that role that we wanted and expected from him. The leader on and off the field. He is really feeling comfortable. We knew that it was going to take some time, but he's getting to that level."
Schweinsteiger played a much more subdued role than he did in his debut last week, but him and McCarty combined to win the possession battle against a Crew team which entered the match fifth in the league in that category. The Fire had 53 percent of the possession in the first half.
The Fire (2-1-2, 8 points) opened the match in a 3-4-3 formation with Jonathan Campbell, Joao Meira and Johan Kappelhof (back from his red card suspension) manning a three-man defense and having outside defenders Brandon Vincent and Michael Harrington push up higher the field.
Columbus (3-2-1, 10 points) made some halftime adjustments and started the second half as the aggressor. The chess match continued with Paunovic bringing on Drew Conner for Jonathan Campbell 10 minutes into the second half, which moved Vincent and Harrington into defense for a traditional four-man back line.
The Crew had a majority of the possession in the second half and finished with nearly 55 percent possession for the match, but couldn't get on the board.
"I'd say urgency is a good word to use, especially when you're defending a 1-0 lead," McCarty said of the team's defending. "I think there was a little frustration creeping in that we couldn't get the second goal."
The Fire came close to the second goal on a few occasions. A Schweinsteiger free kick just outside the box in the 76th minute forced a full extension save from Steffen. A few minutes later rookie substitute Daniel Johnson was on a breakaway and chipped the ball over Steffen, but Columbus defender Nicolai Naess was able to clear it off the line.
"I would say is a gutsy performance," McCarty said. "It certainly took a lot of heart, a lot of cojones. Certainly it was a very important three points for us because we have one more home game that we need to get another three points and then we go for a really, really tough road trip."
A week after playing a Montreal team without its two best players (Ignacio Piatti and Laurent Ciman) and failing to pick up a win, Columbus came to Toyota Park without Federico Higuain, Jonathan Mensah and Harrison Afful. This time the Fire took advantage and snapped the Crew's three-game winning streak.
Schweinsteiger and McCarty both said the second half wasn't as good as the first half for the Fire, but unlike last week, the Fire held on for the win.
"I hope we can control the game better so that we can enjoy playing football a little bit more," Schweinsteiger said. "At the end of the day, for us it's very important now at the moment to win points. I am happier today than last week when we played a draw. In my eyes we should have won the match. So today I am happy we won the match."
The win moved the Fire into second place in the Eastern Conference, ahead of the rest of Saturday's matches around the league.
Next week the Fire host New England to close out a three-game homestand.