CHICAGO - The Chicago Fire were left scratching their heads after a late goal was disallowed by referee Brian Hall, leaving their Eastern Conference Semifinal Series with D.C. United all even after a scoreless draw in the first leg on Friday night.
After 90 minutes of scoreless soccer and scant chances for either side, Chad Barrett seemingly scored a go-ahead goal for the home side just as the full 90 minutes ticked over.
Hall spotted an infringement in the penalty area and disallowed the goal. The call was a watershed moment for the otherwise mildly uneventful match.
"When he called it, he didn't call it on me," said the would-be goal scorer. "I asked him immediately, and he said he called it off the ball in the middle of the box."
Veteran midfielder Jesse Marsch fumed.
"I asked if the foul was on me," Marsch said. "He said no. I asked who the foul was on and he said four or five guys were pushing.
"It's spineless. There were so many little battles within the game where he either called it for the wrong team or he could have let things go.
"I'll say this, he gives me a sick feeling in my stomach because I start to feel like he's got something against us. You look at our games that he did this year and it makes you sick."
Even Fire midfielder Chris Armas was miffed.
"It looked like the last [goal from the corner] was good. I don't know why it got called back," said Armas.
But the Fire captain offered a more balanced view.
"It was debatable whether Jamie [Moreno] was fouled in the box earlier in the game, and that wasn't called. We get a goal late that is disallowed and that is questionable. So it went both ways," Armas said. "If we get the soccer right, the refs won't matter.
Marsch looked ahead to the second leg of the series Oct. 30 at RFK Stadium.
"It's going to be a much more difficult task with them having Ben Olsen back and being in D.C., but nothing is easy in the playoffs. I've learned that over the years," he said. "Whether it's 1998 or any of the years you look at, we tie a game here or there and all of a sudden we are in the final. It takes a few breaks, we didn't get one and now we go to D.C."
Said Fire head coach Dave Sarachan: "We had some chances; I'm still a little puzzled by the ending there. But it was a tight game and our guys put a lot into it. In the end, we didn't lose the game. We'll go to D.C. looking to win the series there."
Ivaldo Basso is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.