D.C. United's fall fade continued on Sunday evening with a 3-2 loss to the Chicago Fire at RFK Stadium, closing the club's regular season on a three-game losing streak and extinguishing any hopes of regaining momentum on the eve of the postseason.
"I don't remember when we lost three games in a row since I've been here," said head coach Peter Nowak. "It's reality ... We just cannot feel sorry for ourselves. We make mistakes that cost us goals and we have to chase the game. Even considering the last game against New England, we have enough chances tonight to tie the game and win the game. We just made too many mistakes defensively and that's why we are where we are."
An appalling start saw the Black-and-Red go behind 2-0 after just 24 minutes thanks to goals from Gonzalo Segares and Nate Jaqua, and it could have been even worse had D.C. goalkeeper Nick Rimando not saved Andy Herron's penalty kick just three minutes into the match.
"I just think it was a slow start," said United center back Bobby Boswell. "We came out and gave up two goals to a good team, and had to play catch up the whole game. That's not good."
Though Christian Gomez responded with his 13th goal of the season for United, Herron got his revenge with a blistering 74th-minute finish that put the game out of reach despite another Gomez tally eight minutes from time.
The Argentinean playmaker was D.C.'s only consistent performer on the evening, but like many of his teammates, expressed an urgent desire to move forward to the clean slate of the postseason.
"Individually, any time you score goals to help your team, you're happy," said Gomez, who added to his campaign for the league's MVP award with his gutsy display. "But overall, I'm very upset that we lost. It's not the way that we wanted to end the season. But everything is new now. The whole season is behind us and we've just got to focus on the playoffs next weekend."
Despite having won the MLS Supporters' Shield with the league's best regular-season record, week after week of mediocre play and underwhelming results have left United looking extremely vulnerable on the eve of their Eastern Conference Semifinal Series with New York.
"Everyone on the team knows that we can do better," said striker Alecko Eskandarian. "From the top to the bottom, everyone needs to go around and take a long look in the mirror, and realize that if you screw up now, we're all going home, we're all going fishing. So we've got to pick it up."
The early onset of offseason plans was also on Nowak's mind as he rued the bad luck that seems to be dogging his side. United finally made headway against Chicago's packed defense in the game's final 10 minutes, when both Josh Gros and Ben Olsen missed point-blank opportunities that could have snatched a late draw.
"The soccer gods are maybe not on our side right now," lamented the United boss. "If you consider missing the chances like Josh did, and in the last minute the chance from Benny, you just shake your head. But as I said, we gave up the goals like a U-12 team. So we cannot do that because in the playoffs it's going to cost us the game, it's going to cost us the series and we all go fishing."
Charles Boehm is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.