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Chicago Fire ‘stop the bleeding’ in draw against Columbus Crew

Aug 23, 2018; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Fire forward Michael de Leeuw (8) gets his cleat tangled up with Columbus Crew defender Harrison Afful (25) during the first half at Bridgeview Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — When trying to snap a losing skid, sometimes a draw is enough to stop the bleeding.

The Chicago Fire weren’t happy with a 1-1 draw against the visiting Columbus Crew SC, but it put an end to a club record eight-match MLS losing streak.

Nemanja Nikolic scored a gift of a goal in the 67th minute to give the Fire (6-15-6) a lead and a chance at a first win since June. However, Columbus’ Niko Hansen tied it in the 87th minute.

“Finally we stopped the bleeding,” Fire coach Veljko Paunović said. “One point is not what we expected and we wanted. How much effort we put there to get the whole three points, but it’s something. We will build on top of this.

“Disappointed, but it’s just a small step forward. At least you didn’t lose. That’s the big difference.”

Nikolic intercepted a back pass from Crew defender Milton Valenzuela and converted the ensuing breakaway. It was Nikolic’s 12th goal of the season. He has scored in consecutive matches.

Like last weekend in Montreal, the Fire gave up a late goal to drop points. Johan Kappelhof was unable to get a clean clearance on a centering ball from Patrick Mullins. The ball popped right to an open Hansen in the box and he buried the chance.

While the draw does end the Fire’s losing streak, there were still frustrated faces and slammed lockers in the Fire’s locker room. Still, some of the players were trying to look at the positive.

“I think we had a good game, (except) only at the end,” Fire forward Michael de Leeuw said. “The result is not what we were hoping for and it’s harsh that they equalize. They had a very late point.”

De Leeuw made his first start since coming back from an ACL injury. He partnered with Djordje Mihailovic, also recently back after an ACL injury, in support of Nikolic in the attack. De Leeuw played 60 minutes before being replaced by Aleksandar Katai.

The Fire’s struggles on defense this season have led Paunović to take a slightly more defensive approach to matches. The Fire didn’t have a shot on target in the first half, but didn’t allow many chances either. When asked about defense, Paunović said “it was better.”

The draw didn’t do much in the standings for Columbus. The Crew (11-8-7) are firmly in fourth place in the Eastern Conference, eight points behind New York City FC for third and seven ahead of Philadelphia and Montreal for fifth.

“They made it difficult for us,” Columbus coach Gregg Berhalter said. “I think we have ourselves to blame with the tempo of how we played. When I see 566 passes, I know we weren’t playing quick enough.”

The match was moved ahead two days to accommodate the Fire’s travel to Munich for Bastian Schweinsteiger’s tribute match. The Fire fly to Munich Friday morning and will play Schweinsteiger’s former club, Bayern Munich, at Allianz Arena.

After returning from Germany, the Fire won’t play again until Sept. 16 against Orlando. In addition to having this upcoming weekend off, the international window gives the Fire more of a gap to settle back in for the final seven matches of the season.

The Fire’s losing streak, place in the standings, continued tension with supporters’ groups and the 6 p.m. kickoff time on a weekday all contributed to a season-low announced attendance of 8,551.

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