BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – D.C. United finished their improbable run to second place in the Eastern Conference, extending their unbeaten streak to seven games after surviving a few desperate moments in a 1-1 tie with the Chicago Fire.
The Fire, meanwhile, blew several chances in the battle for the No. 2 seed and will head to the Knockout Round, hosting Houston at Toyota Park on Wednesday, after winning just one of their last five matches. D.C. will have home-field advantage in a first-round series against New York, a scenario that gives them a week off to prepare for the Red Bulls.
Patrick Nyarko opened the scoring with a world-class cut and blast from distance, and Lionard Pajoy evened matters for United in the second half with a diving header. There were plenty more chances for both sides but neither was able to capitalize.
In the 16th minute, Nyarko gave the Fire the lead when he took two dribbles around midfielder Marcelo Saragosa and drilled an unstoppable shot from outside the penalty area past goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
Sherjill MacDonald had a chance to stretch the lead four minutes later when Chris Rolfe found him for an open shot inside the penalty area, but Hamid made himself big to block the point-blank shot.
Pajoy equaled the score early in the second half, when he connected on a cross from Branko Boskovic. Boskovic, whose service had left something to be desired throughout the match, whipped in a left-footed cross that the forward dove to direct on frame.
MacDonald almost gave the Fire the lead in the 63rd minute when he was open just outside the six yard box, but Hamid once again bested him by saving the Dutchman's effort.
Second-half substitute Dominic Oduro had a wide open chance when MacDOnald found him at the back post with a cross, but he couldn’t get his shot on target.
The Fire once again looked like they’d take the lead in stoppage time, when Jalil Anibaba collected a shot off the post inside the box with Hamid out of position, but his shot was blocked by a diving Nick DeLeon.
Alex had one last chance to keep the Fire out of the Knockout Round with a shot from 30 yards, but Hamid leapt high in the air to tip the ball over the goal.
The Fire now find themselves in a position that, just a few weeks ago, seemed improbable when they won seven out of eight games. Meanwhile, D.C. United are 5-0-2 without 2011 MVP Dwayne De Rosario as they get set for their first playoff appearance since 2007.
Lineups and boxscore (MLSsoccer.com)
Opta Chalkboard (MLSsoccer.com)