In its second consecutive fixture against an Eastern Conference opponent, the Chicago Fire snatched a late equalizer to earn a vital 2-2 draw against Columbus Crew SC Friday night.
Kei Kamara’s strikes in the eighth and 55th minutes - his eighth and ninth of 2015 - catapulted him above Clint Dempsey to the top of the MLS goalscoring chart, but goals from David Accam and Jason Johnson capped off a late surge from the Men in Red.
"Any time you can come back in a game like this is huge, against a very good team too," said head coach Frank Yallop after the match. "So, you got something out of the game and you come back, and I think the boys are really happy. I felt we, to be honest, we could’ve won it. We had the chances I thought late, but Columbus had a few as well so it was a pretty even game."
The brute, attacking force of Justin Meram, Federico Higuain, Ethan Finlay and Kei Kamara was felt early on as the latter’s nonstop running kept the Fire’s back four on its toes. And it didn’t take long before the Sierra Leonean’s persistence paid off.
Following some skillful interplay, Meram was able to find a hint of space to thread a ball to Finlay, who unselfishly squared the ball to Kamara only for the in-form striker to tap in to give Crew SC an early 1-0 advantage.
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For the remainder of the first half, it was Crew SC who piled on the pressure while complacency began to set in just before the halftime whistle. Spurned opportunities and key saves from Jon Busch - who became the fourth player in MLS history to hit a 300-game milestone - left a pedestrian Fire somewhat relieved as Frank Yallop’s side went into the break still within arm’s reach.
Despite showing more gumption at the start of the second half, the Fire fell victim to Kamara yet again. In the 55th minute, an Higuain corner kick found the head of Kevan George, whose redirected effort landed at Busch’s back post for Kamara to nod home for his third brace of the season and give Crew SC a comfortable 2-0 lead.
The 35 minutes that ensued demonstrated flashes of the Men in Red’s collapse at the hands of New York City FC last week, when Yallop’s outfit succumbed to a late rally from the expansion side to only come away with a 2-2 draw. Only against Gregg Berhalter’s delegation, it was the Fire who took on the role of the aggressor and seized control of the match.
Three minutes after Kamara found the back of the net, Accam got on the end of a Kennedy Igboananike cross to nod home from close range, pulling the Fire back within a goal.
With sustained pressure, second half substitutions from Yallop proved to be the difference on the night. As Crew SC sat back in their defensive half, Quincy Amarikwa and Jason Johnson provided the spark that perhaps went missing in a lax first half outing.
Just as it appeared as if luck was not on the Fire’s side - as Amarikwa ringed shots off the post and woodwork - it was Johnson who came to the Men in Red’s rescue. The former Houston Dynamo forward latched onto a cross from Eric Gehrig to head past a stranded Steve Clark in the fourth minute of second half stoppage time to give Yallop’s outfit a deserved point from Columbus.
"[I’m] very happy," Yallop said. "You put them on for a reason ... I said to the guys, well done to the team that started, but well done to the subs. They really made a difference in the match, seeing them sort through and could’ve won the game. So very happy with the all-around squad today."
It wasn’t pretty, but the Fire likely won’t be too bothered. After last week’s 2-2 draw elicited feelings of disappointment and regret, Friday’s 2-2 draw at MAPFRE Stadium will feel more like a win as the Men in Red return to Toyota Park next week to face the Montreal Impact.
Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)
(4-2-3-1): Jon Busch; Eric Gehrig, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Adailton, Joevin Jones; Matt Polster, Razvan Cocis (Quincy Amarikwa, 71'); Harry Shipp (Jason Johnson, 67'), Shaun Maloney, David Accam; Kennedy Igboananike (Guly do Prado, 83')