If the Chicago Fire is going to reach the MLS playoffs for a second straight season, it has to win at Toyota Park.
On Wednesday night the Fire squeaked out a 1-0 home victory against the Montreal Impact in front of an announced crowd of 10,067 at Toyota Park. Right back Kevin Ellis helped the Fire salvage the 3 points with his 89th-minute goal, the second consecutive game he has scored.
The Fire (3-4-2, 11 points) moved to 2-3-1 for just 7 points out of 18 at home this season, a trend the team needed to correct with a victory against Montreal.
It explains why the Fire is in seventh place, still 3 points out of a playoff berth despite the win.
"I think it's important to win every game you play at home," veteran defender Johan Kappelhof said before the game. "I think we were close to winning also the tough opponents, but today is a new opportunity for us to show our fans we can get a win at home."
The Fire got the formula right in 2017, going 12-2-3 in Bridgeview, earning a playoff berth for the first time since 2012 in the process.
"It's important for the fans to get the flow we had last year. We won a lot of games at home. We need to get it back," Kappelhof added.
"The progression we had in the last month was huge, actually," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said in his postgame news conference. "The confidence in building the good momentum, especially here at home. Winning the games and playing good games, good matches."
Losing 2-1 to Atlanta United on Saturday was understandable. Atlanta is one of the best teams in MLS this season. Montreal is now 1-6 on the road this season, 3-7-0 overall. Montreal is the kind of team the Fire has to defeat at home.
Ellis not only came to the Fire's rescue with his 89th-minute goal, his 3 shots and 2 shots on target also led the team.
"It's amazing," Paunovic said of Ellis, playing in place of the injured Matt Polster, who is expected to return to training soon. "I think the importance in the structure of the team when the moment comes for the veteran players, the experienced players to step in and take responsibility, make decisions like he did.
"Taking initiative in this game from him in that moment, our game plan was we had to feed the box. He changed, obviously, he came inside and then he made the decision to take a shot."
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