The Chicago Fire's record nine-game road trip ended in disaster, suffering their worst loss of the season Saturday night, falling 3-1 to Real Salt Lake at Rice-Eccles Stadium.
Jeff Cunningham, given a starting role after scoring four goals in his last three games all as a substitute, scored two goals for Real as all the scoring came in the second half. Real added a third through an own goal; the Fire's lone marker was the first professional goal for Brian Plotkin.
The Fire created chances early. Only four minutes into the match Andy Herron flew around RSL defender Willis Forko who misplayed a high ball and let it fall behind him. Herron centered a pass into Thiago, who was about 12 yards from goal. Thiago sent a first time chip wide of the frame.
Real had their first crack at the net in the 15th minute. Jason Kreis guided a slick ball through the Chicago defense and into the path of a charging Chris Klein. The RSL midfielder's flick was smartly played away from danger by a sliding Zach Thornton.
Dasan Robinson stopped another Salt Lake attack the following minute. Kreis had a step on Robinson and looked to be able to beat the young Fire defender, but Robinson recovered and was able to bump Kreis off his balance just outside the penalty area. Still, Robinson received a yellow card for his actions.
Herron continued to spearhead the Chicago offensive effort. In the 24th minute Herron received a cross on his foot from rookie Plotkin. With little pressure from the Salt Lake defense Herron settled and drove his volley wide.
As both sides repeatedly traded possession at midfield, Chris Armas found himself on the ball with acres of space. He carried until he was about 20 yards out and sent a drive directly at Scott Garlick's chest. The RSL 'keeper bobbled the initial strike, but was able to smother the rebound.
Just following the intermission Plotkin had his own go at goal. Finding himself alone 35 yards from goal, the rookie, in his first professional start, unleashed a blast that froze Garlick and shook the goal frame as it rocketed off the crossbar.
A couple minutes later Cunningham put the home side on the board. The RSL striker took a high ball out of midfield from Carey Talley and cut it back across the face of the goal. The ball trickled past Thornton and into the side netting for Cunningham's sixth goal of the season.
The visitors answered right back with Plotkin's first career goal in the 62nd minute. For the second time Plotkin was unmarked outside the box, this time just outside the corner. The former Indiana University product unloaded a rocket past a diving Garlick and into the far side netting.
Herron had a chance to give Chicago the lead five minutes later. The Costa Rican international was on a breakaway with only Garlick to beat, but his shot was gathered in by the Salt Lake goalkeeper.
After that, the Fire's luck got worse. A Cunningham cross from the endline in the 69th minute was deflected into own goal by Robinson, putting RSL up 2-1.
The game continued to fall away from Chicago, and in the 77th minute, Cunningham notched his second goal of the night, chipping Thornton from outside the right-hand corner of the penalty area to secure the win and extend Real's unbeaten streak to four games, a club record.
Scott McAllister is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.