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In last home game for a month, Fire beat Union to stay in playoff race

Nemanja Nikolic scored twice, and the Fire earned a 2-0 victory despite Nicolas Gaitan’s red card.

Nemanja Nikolic celebrates scoring during Saturday night’s match.
Chicago Fire Soccer Club

The Fire’s game Saturday against the Union was their last at home until Sept. 14. Before they return to SeatGeek Stadium, it’s possible their move to Soldier Field might be announced and more clarity about their name might emerge.

But coach Veljko Paunovic and his players have no control over the off-the-field business. All they can do is try to win games and make up some of the points they dropped earlier this season.

The way the Fire have played lately, they might be returning home in almost a month with a distinct opportunity to reach the postseason.

Playing with 10 men for the entire second half, the Fire beat the Union 2-0. Nemanja Nikolic scored twice, Kenneth Kronholm made four saves for his third shutout and the Fire moved a point out of a playoff spot. They’ve won three of their last four games but stayed in 10th place in the Eastern Conference and have played more games than the other teams vying for a playoff spot.

‘‘I think we have to stay humble,’’ Paunovic said. ‘‘We have to keep doing what we were doing so far, believing and growing the spirit. The spirit of that locker room is starting to really, really believe in a comeback that we are chasing right now.’’

Playing without Aleksandar Katai, who was suspended for his red card Wednesday against the Timbers, the Fire beat the first-place team in the East. But they made things harder on themselves than necessary and will feel the effects in a week, when they play the first of two consecutive road games.

For the second game in a row, the Fire (8-11-9, 33 points) lost a key player to a red card. This time it was Nicolas Gaitan, who was sent off moments before halftime for his challenge on Jamiro Monteiro. The call was upheld after review, and it will keep Gaitan off the field for the Fire’s game Saturday against the Revolution.

Paunovic said he hadn’t seen video of the play but didn’t sound thrilled with the decision by referee Joseph Dickerson.

‘‘It’s a hard decision,’’ Paunovic said.

Instead of succumbing, however, the Fire blanked the Union, who lead the East with 48 goals.

‘‘We did what needed to be done to not only keep the victory but keep the clean sheet, as well,’’ midfielder Brandt Bronico said. ‘‘It was a good defensive performance in the second half.’’

Nikolic moved past Chris Rolfe and into second place in Fire history with 49 regular-season goals when he scored in the 38th minute. After the Union’s Aurelien Collin took down CJ Sapong in the box, Nikolic converted a penalty kick in the 45th minute for his 50th goal.

After a slow start, Nikolic has scored in four consecutive games and reached double figures for the third time in three seasons with the Fire.

‘‘I knew that I would start again to score goals,’’ Nikolic said. ‘‘It was just [a] question of time, if I can say that.’’