By CARL SETTERLUND
The stakes were clear when the Chicago Fire and New England Revolution met at Toyota Park on Saturday night: only one, if either team, will be making the playoffs.
The game of musical chairs taking place in the bottom half of the Eastern Conference playoff picture continued with an eventful 3-2 victory by the Fire. The hosts twice came from behind before Alex banged in his 86th-minute goal.
Mike Magee had a role in all three goals and sent in the right side corner preceding Alex’s tally. Revolution center back Jose Goncalves headed it out to an unmarked Alex, who took a touch and poked a left-footed shot inside the right post to secure three invaluable points.
“I just think that the team never gave up,” said Fire coach Frank Klopas. “The group has the right mentality. You want to be right there in the end and we are right there, so there is a lot to play for.”
Magee also played in the initial ball on Juan Luis Anangonó’s 30th-minute opener and added a 55th-minute goal of his own, his 16th of the season.
The Chicago native’s score came from a roundabout give-and-go played with Patrick Nyarko. Magee made a looping run around the back side and swooped in at the right post to slot a lefty shot inside the left post. Anangonó shielded Goncalves on the play, freeing up the Golden Boot contender for the score.
Magee, 29, sits two goals behind leader Marco Di Vaio of the Montreal Impact.
Meanwhile, it was the first league goal for 24-year-old Ecuadorian forward Anangonó, who signed with the Fire as a Designated Player in July.
Chicago (11-11-7, 40 points) jumped into the fifth and final playoff position through 29 matches, while New England (10-11-8, 38 points) fell from fifth to seventh in one day.
“This is probably our third chance at trying to get a win and move into the top five,” Magee said. “It’s nice to get that weight off of our back after all the work we’ve done just to put ourselves into a top five spot. To get over the hump is a big step.”
It was the Fire’s first win in four September matches and also avenged a testy 2-0 loss in Foxborough, Mass., back on Aug. 17. The Revs were going for a three-game season sweep.
Both New England goals came quickly off of goal kicks by Bobby Shuttleworth, who had seven saves on the night.
The Revs’ talented creative midfielder Kelyn Rowe continued his trend of scoring from long-distance this season by sniping it from 30 yards out in the ninth minute. Rowe cut in and let rip, with a deflection off Nyarko giving the shot a looping topspin that fell in over the top of Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
“It’s a little bit of confidence,” Rowe said. “I saw space in front of me and it took a nice little deflection… a goal is a goal. I will take it. Unfortunately it didn’t lead to anything.”
Anangonó first asserted himself in the 13th minute, with a slick turn in the box that forced New England keeper Bobby Shuttleworth into a diving save.
Magee set the play in motion with a ball down the right side to Nyarko. The Ghanaian moved it centrally to Anangonó, who shielded and turned onto his left foot.
Magee was also connected by one degree of separation on Anangonó’s goal, laying it off to Joel Lindpere, who delivered the ball on a dime for Anangonó. The big Ecuadorian controlled with his right foot, eluded Goncalves and Andrew Farrell, and then crossed up Shuttleworth by aiming a low lefty shot at the right point.
“It always takes a little bit of time to get acclimated to a new lifestyle, but I thank everyone here at the Chicago Fire and Section 8 supporters because they’ve been so great to me,” Anangonó said. “Every day I feel better and more involved with the team and it shows with my performance on the field.”
Saer Sene put New England back in front seconds into first half stoppage time as Dimitry Imbongo took hold of a Shuttleworth kick at the edge of the offensive third and, after carrying it about 20 yards, distributed it wide left to Sene.
The Frenchman took a one-touch shot that caught Johnson off-balance and tucked inside the far right post to make it a 2-1 Revs advantage at the break.
“It’s basically 45 minutes to keep ourselves in it,” said Fire captain Jeff Larentowicz, who gave a speech during the intermission. “Every week the season gets shorter, obviously, and the chances to get into the playoffs and make a push become less and less, so I just said to make sure the last 45 minutes to give it their all.”
Chicago fans may have felt hard done by after replays showed the ball hitting Imbongo’s hand on his initial control, but karma bit back at the Revs early in the second half as a 50th-minute goal by Sene was incorrectly ruled offside.
“Saer’s goal is good, we just saw the film on it,” Revs coach Jay Heaps said. “It’s disappointing because that makes it three-one. It’s two-fold there, at our level, we can’t defend the way we did but the assistant referee cannot miss the call he missed, simple as that. All of us need to be better for our league to go forward.”
Here are the match highlights (disclaimer: no sound after 2:23):