BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Robert Earnshaw scored his second goal in two games to earn the Chicago Fire their third home victory and end FC Dallas’ 10-game stretch without defeat in front of a buoyant 16,824 fans at Toyota Park on Saturday.
The Welsh international striker directed captain Jeff Larentowicz’s pinpoint center from the left past Dallas goalkeeper Raul Fernandez to decide a game that was delicately poised throughout.
The victory moves the Fire (5-6-14, 29 pts) to within four points of the fifth-placed Columbus Crew in the Estern Conference, while Dallas (12-8-6, 42 pts) remain third in the West, six points behind leaders Seattle.
The match seemed destined for a scoreless draw after neither side was able to convert any of their chances until substitute Earnshaw did in the 83rd minute. FC Dallas' Ryan Hollingshead worked an opening for himself in the 15th minute but he could only shoot straight at Sean Johnson, while at the other end birthday boy Lovel Palmer forced a good save from Fernandez with a speculative effort from 30 yards.
Fire veteran Razvan Cocis then shot over after linking well with Sanna Nyassi, but the Romanian went to ground under the close mark of Matt Hedges in the 22nd minute. Subsequent appeals for a penalty were turned down by referee Marcos de Oliviera.
Bakary Soumare and Larentowicz were well on top in their battle with red-hot Fabian Castillo and Hollingshead, although Castillo was denied superbly by the feet of Johnson in the 40th minute after a mazy run at the heart of the Chicago goal.
The sides went into their locker rooms scoreless at the end of an evenly matched first half, although the hosts won the possession battle by 56 to 44 percent.
High-flying Dallas almost broke the deadlock in the 52nd minute when the lively Hollingshead’s left-footed volley clipped the crossbar from 12 yards, and Johnson then saved Matt Watson’s blushes when he raced out to smother at the feet of Castillo after the Colombian had dispossessed the Fire midfielder in the 61st minute.
The introduction of Earnshaw and Harry Shipp in the 63rd minute gave the Fire renewed impetus, and Quincy Amarikwa went close with a long range effort in the 69th minute before being denied by the alert Fernandez on another chance two minutes later.
The Fire finally broke through seven minutes before the final whistle. Larentowicz hit a right-footed cross from the left that was perfectly placed for Earnshaw to flick inside the far post. Earnshaw missed two late chances to put the game away, but Frank Yallop’s men held on to keep their playoff hopes alive with nine games to go in the season.
Dallas return to Western Conference action when they visit Real Salt Lake next Saturday.