Fire overcomes distractions to beat Kansas City

The Chicago Fire passed its stress test Friday night at Toyota Park.

Needing a victory to stay in the playoff race; playing without suspended coach Frank Klopas, assistant coach Leo Percovich and central defender Bakary Soumare; and just two days after an “editorial” on the club’s website unleashed a storm of controversy, the Fire overcame the distractions to defeat first-place Sporting Kansas City 1-0 in front of 17,085 fans.

“No distractions,” forward Mike Magee said, dismissing the week’s events. “No distractions.”

“Those things happen in the sport,” acting coach Mike Matkovich added. “Professionally the guys are focused. That stuff happens off the field, but more importantly we’re a group and we’re focused on the field. We knew what was at stake. We have 11 games and 33 points (to play, including Friday’s win), and every point is valuable, so we can’t let that stuff distract us. We’re in a playoff race and I think the guys are focused.”

The Fire also seemed to be playing with a chip on its collective shoulder, going hard into every play.

“We’re trying to make the playoffs,” Magee said. “We’ve got a big chip on our shoulder right now. Playing at home we need points, and obviously last week we had a terrible result, so this week we were trying to make up for it.”

The victory lifts the Fire (10-10-4, 34 points) into sixth place, just 2 points behind Houston for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Houston is next into Toyota Park, coming for a Sept. 1 fixture.

The goal came in just the 13th minute on a lunging header from just 3 yards out by Hunter Jumper, stepping in for Soumare and playing just his second game of the season.

“It still hasn’t sunk in yet,” Jumper said. “It feels pretty good just because we get the 3 points, and going into it we knew it was a really big game.”

It was the Fire’s first shutout since June 2 against D.C. United.

“It’s 11 (games). Eleven. I counted,” Matkovich said of the streak the Fire was happy to end. “Trust me. We kept things tight. ... For the most part we were pretty strong defensively.”

“I don’t know if I’m the missing ingredient or what,” Jumper added, “but I tell you what. It was easy out there tonight because the communication between the whole back four and then (Arevalo Rios) and Jeff Larentowicz, it was unbelievable.”

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