Following a gut-wrenching 4-3 loss Wednesday night to conference foe D.C. United at RFK Stadium, the Chicago Fire locker room was rife with disappointment and frustration at a missed opportunity to come away with an always precious point -- or three -- on the road.
On the strength of two second-half goals from attacking midfielder Christian Gomez, United gave the home fans reason to cheer, twice coming from behind -- and ending a 323-minute goal-scoring drought -- to emerge victorious against a white-hot Fire squad.
Fire coach Dave Sarachan said the result was especially tough to swallow given the effort his players put forth.
"I was proud of my team because I think we put a lot into this game," he said. "(But) when you give up four goals, it's tough to win."
Fire forward Chris Rolfe opened the scoring with an opportunistic goal a half-hour into the match. Fellow striker Nate Jaqua, who in his last three games has made everything he touches turn to gold, widened the lead only eight minutes later with a well-placed header off a Justin Mapp cross.
But just before the halftime whistle, United trimmed the lead in half with a penalty kick conversion by Jaime Moreno. The opening minutes of the second half saw the first of Gomez's goals, off a low cross from Santino Quaranta.
Sarachan, whose team had the momentum for the latter part of the first half, was not exactly enthused to give up the two goals to equalize in such rapid-fire fashion.
"When a team gets behind, they make a push," Sarachan said. "They made a push and as a group we have to make adjustments. We had two leads in the game tonight, but I give D.C. a lot of credit. They put a lot into it, they played very hard and tried to push the game, and they did.
"Going ahead 2-0 on the road was a great start for us. It was a questionable penalty, but it happens, and we still went into the locker room up 2-1. We knew they'd make a push coming into the second half. But I thought our attacking play in the first half was pretty good and pretty dangerous -- we had a lot of the ball and a lot of chances."
Chicago fullback Gonzalo Segares, on a feed from Rolfe following a beautiful move to get free on the left flank, gave his team another one-goal lead in the 62nd minute. But it didn't last long, as United scored the final two goals of the game, from Gomez and lastly by rookie defender Bobby Boswell, and held on to claim their fifth win of the season.
Rolfe, like his coach, was also ready to give United its due credit, but acknowledged his team experienced some breakdowns as well.
"They just took advantage of the opportunities they got," he said. "In the second half, when they were making good runs and had three runners in the box, I thought they were outhustling us. They were just getting on the end of their chances."
Sarachan pointed to the oppressive heat in the nation's capital and the quick turnaround since the Fire's last game as factors in his team's relatively flat effort in the second half.
"There was only so much gas in the tank with everybody tonight, with the heat and with last week [playing only three days ago]," he said. "Everybody hit the wall physically a little bit."
The game's outcome was emotionally draining for the Fire as well. The mood of the team was nothing short of dejected.
"It was a heartbreaker," said Rolfe. "It doesn't seem like we can hold a lead sometimes. You expect that if you score three goals, you'll come away with at least a point. But it just didn't work out that way tonight."
"Right now, everyone is just very disappointed with the result," added Segares. "But we got to put this behind us. We have another game on Saturday again, and we have to get some points to keep putting pressure on New England in first place."
There were definitely more than a few bright spots for the Fire tonight, however.
Segares, who made his MLS debut less than a month ago and has played every minute since cracking the starting 11 for Sarachan, was in the mix throughout.
Of his first professional goal in MLS, a confident one-time strike, he said, "Rolfe was in the corner and I started yelling that I was coming in behind him. When I was inside the 18, he played the ball to me and I just hit it into the other corner. We got the goal but it wasn't worth anything. We didn't get (any) points so it doesn't matter."
Sarachan bestowed praise upon his young defender.
"Gonzalo has been very solid for us," he said. "He's a good young player, and he got us the third goal. An unlikely source, but good for him. I thought he had a solid game."
Rolfe and Jaqua also kept up their strong play as of late, continuing to wreak havoc on defenses. Sarachan noted that "they once again put a lot into the game ... their combination play has been good."
But Rolfe, for his part, echoed Segares' sentiments about being a goalscorer in a losing effort.
"Sure I got a goal tonight just from hustling ... and I got the assist because Gonzalo worked hard and made it possible for me to get him the ball," Rolfe said. "But at the end of the day, what does it mean? We came away with zero points. I don't care how many points I get, we got zero points on the night and that's the bottom line."
Omar Garriott is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.