BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The Chicago Fire’s playoff hopes seemed bleak just over a week ago. Two matches later, a good dose of Major League Soccer chaos has the Fire just three points out of a playoff spot.
With the New England Revolution and Toronto FC drawing in separate matches Saturday, the Fire took advantage of an opening and beat the Montreal Impact 3-2 at SeatGeek Stadium.
The Fire (7-10-9, 30 points) are still near the bottom of the Eastern Conference table in 10th place, but they are now just four points behind sixth-place New England in the conference and three points behind the Montreal Impact (10-13-3, 33 points), who hold the seventh and final playoff spot. Toronto FC is eighth with the same amount of points as Montreal, but fewer wins. Orlando is tied in points with the Fire, but holds onto ninth place with more wins.
Bastian Schweinsteiger assisted on the opening goal and headed in a corner kick in the 88th minute for the game-winner. It was Schweinsteiger’s first goal of the season and one of his most important since joining the Fire in 2017.
“If you talk about this season, I think it was a very important win for us, at home,” Schweinsteiger said. “The last three games we have made seven points. That gives us confidence for the next games.”
New England, Toronto and Orlando have a game in hand on the Fire and Montreal. The Fire also have five of the final eight matches on the road.
But for now, there is justified optimism around the 2019 Fire for the first time in months.
“He’s got so many years of experience on big clubs, big games so to see him do that, to help lift us up, it was amazing to be part of,” Fire defender Jonathan Bornstein said. “Hopefully he can do more of that. Also, he’s playing really well in the back.”
Bornstein’s contributions have been subtle so far, but the Fire have seven points from three matches since he joined.
Schweinsteiger assisted Dax McCarty on the opening goal in the eighth minute. The German kept the ball in play by the endline off a corner kick and fed McCarty for a first-touch finish. That was McCarty’s first goal with the Fire.
Nemanja Nikolić doubled the lead in the 19th minute for his eighth goal of the season.
Saphir Taïder got the Impact back in the match by drawing and then converting a penalty kick in the 33rd minute. He got in behind the Fire defense for a breakaway and was then tripped by Fire goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm in the box.
Bacary Sagna tied the match in the 76th minute with a header off a short corner. Jorge Corrales, who joined the Impact from the Fire in a trade just three days earlier, had the assisting cross.
It looked like a disastrous turn of events for the Fire, which had failed to close out games on numerous occasions at home this season. This was something different. This was Schweinsteiger saving the day, and maybe the Fire’s season. Fire coach Veljko Paunović said the team didn’t have many performances like this one this year.
The Fire still have plenty of work to do to get a playoff spot. For now, this win means the Fire’s hopes are still somewhat realistic.
“We fought until the end,” Schweinsteiger said. “It was not an easy game to play, especially after they tied. But we are very happy that we kept the three points at home.”
Bojan Krkic made his Montreal debut, coming off the bench in the 62nd minute.