Fire learns its key to winning: defense

If the Chicago Fire is going to have a good season, the team will have to win a lot of games the way it won Saturday night at Toyota Park.

The 1-0 result against Columbus featured a defense so strong that goalkeeper Sean Johnson was not credited with any saves. The Fire goal was a product of the team’s central defenders setting up central midfielder Jeff Larentowicz for a header in the 83rd minute, capping a workmanlike effort by a team that sees scoring as a team effort, in part because it doesn’t have the kind of striker who can dominate.

“I think we had a different purpose today,” midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. “We needed the win and we played like it.”

“I think it’s a lesson learned,” central defender Jalil Anibaba said. “I think it’s the type of game we need to start to build on. Whether it’s 0-0 or 1-0, we need to keep more clean sheets. It only helps our team to be in good position to win the game.”

After a lackluster first half, the Fire (2-4-1, 7 points) found a little extra determination in the second, pressuring the Columbus goal until hitting pay dirt. Jalil Anibaba started the play with a throw-in into the penalty area from the right side, and Austin Berry’s flick-on header kept it alive in front of the Crew net so Larentowicz, an off-season acquisition, could finish for the first time in a Fire uniform.

“I tried to keep the ball going,” Berry said. “That’s just my job, to put it in the mix, and we have a bunch of guys in the middle of the box to put it in. Jeff was in the right spot and finished well.”

Five players have scored the Fire’s 6 goals this season.

But just as important was the shutout for a team that entered the game having allowed a league-high 12 goals.

“We’ve been doing a lot of hard work, and it’s been coming and tonight was a full 90 that we put it together,” Berry said.

“Defensively, I think we were stellar all over the field,” Anibaba added. “From (Sherjill MacDonald and Maicon Santos) all the way back to Sean, we were good and it was a team effort for sure.”

With veteran defender Arne Friedrich yet to play this season due to injury and looking like it will be a while before he can play, the Fire needs Anibaba and Berry to be a wall in front of Johnson. Saturday night they were.

“It was just a matter of time,” Anibaba said of the Fire’s second shutout of the season. “We have a great group. It was just a matter of us building our confidence and jelling, and I think it’s starting to show on the pitch.”

Ÿ Follow Orrin on Twitter @orrin_schwarz

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