Last-second penalty kick gives Fire U-17/18 a draw against Crew
By Curt Herron
Mere seconds were the difference between a frustrating afternoon and a disappointing one on Sunday for the Fire Academy's U-17/18 team.
After being rewarded a penalty kick with just seconds remaining in their match with the Columbus Crew, the Fire converted for a 1-1 draw.
But the tie resulted in little satisfaction for Chicago, which hoped to win both of its weekend matches at Toyota Park's practice field.
The Fire was unable to follow up on a 2-0 victory over the Internationals on Saturday, the team's first divisional win on its home field.
Instead, the Fire owns a 2-3-3 record with nine points as it reached the midway point of competition in rugged Great Lakes Division play.
After a hand ball was called in the box in the final moments of the match, Victor Pineda proceeded to make the subsequent penalty kick.
Almost right after the ball was brought to the middle of the field, the referee blew the final whistle, much to the chagrin of the Crew.
Columbus (2-3-4, 10 points) had been in control of the match after it collected the only other goal shortly before the halftime break.
"We had a slow start again which kind of reminded me of he beginning of the year," Fire assistant coach Tony Kees said. "We came out flat and found our way at moments but couldn't sustain it.
"When their backs are against the wall and they push, they play better, but usually they have to get their backs against the wall first. It was really just a case of too little, too late.
"You would think that they were feeling good about themselves after Saturday, when we had a good formula and a lot of jump. So it was tough to see them have to fight back just to get a point."
Despite facing their only fellow MLS Academy team in divisional play, the Fire was unable to match the Crew's intensity during the first half.
That was clear during the final part of the opening half, when the Crew, who had lost 4-1 to the Chicago Magic a day earlier, dominated.
Fortunately for the Fire, keeper Zak Allen was on top of his game and managed to hold off the Crew on several good scoring opportunities.
Connor Klekota started things with a liner on a free kick and then Brett Elder fired off a pair of short attempts that Allen turned away.
The Crew caught a break when Khai Celestin was ruled to have been fouled in the box, but Allen dove to stop the penalty kick by Klekota.
But before the Fire had time to celebrate the excellent work of their keeper, Zachary Leedom was able to connect during the 37th minute.
Chicago picked up its play after the break, applying pressure to keeper Ryan McLaughlin, who did a good job of keeping it from scoring.
Brady Wahl started things with a free kick to Keaton Albert, whose header was stopped and Pineda was denied on a free kick a while later.
In between a pair of good chances from Manny Guzman that were stopped by the Crew keeper, Jacob Brindle sent an attempt wide of the net.
After Allen stopped a pair of late liners with the Fire a man down, it looked like the visitors would be able to hold on for the victory.
But the referee ruled a hand ball in the box on Chicago's final push and Pineda lined in the subsequent PK to create an unexpected draw.