BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The Chicago Fire felt like the referee got the best of them in Saturday’s 1-0 home loss to the Portland Timbers.
Chicago thought they were wronged on two critical decisions. The first came in the 23rd minute, when referee Elias Bazakos whistled Chicago left back Gonzalo Segares for a foul on Portland forward Jorge Perlaza at the top of the box, leading to the Timbers’ penalty kick goal.
The second incident occurred 40 minutes later, with Bazakos showing Chicago center back Yamith Cuesta his second yellow card for obstructing Timbers midfielder Jack Jewsbury.
Segares, who was not shown a card for the foul on Perlaza, told reporters after the match that his tackle got all ball.
“I didn’t kick him but he fell right away,” Segares said. “The ball went straight out; it didn’t even go where he was trying to cut it. I don’t know what the referee was calling, I guess he felt I tripped him or touched him.”
Other Fire players expressed disappointment with both decisions, and forward Orr Barouch said he thought Cuesta’s second yellow “was a very bad call” by the referee.
Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas was more diplomatic, but no less upset.
“What can I say?” Klopas said. “The referee’s there and he makes a call. Am I happy about it? No. But there’s nothing I can do at that point you live with that… We just have to take care of the things we have to take care of.”
And, for all the talk about the referee, the Fire didn’t exactly take care of their own business Saturday night. Chicago started the match poorly, nearly giving up a goal in the 16th minute and struggling to unlock Portland’s five-man midfield.
They seemed to figure things out once Portland went ahead, but they couldn’t finish any one of their many opportunities, hitting the post twice en route to their second loss of the year to the expansion Timbers.
“We knew it was a must win game for us,” Fire defender Cory Gibbs said. “We’re not saying our season’s over, but mentally it was a game that we had to win for our fans, for the people up top and for us as a team.”
The loss leaves the seventh-place Fire – who don’t play another league game for two-and-a-half weeks – at a crossroads. They’re still in the playoff picture, but their season will likely be made or broken in their next few MLS matches. If they can start to pick up results, the postseason will be a possibility. If not, Chicago will likely miss the playoffs for the second straight season.
“There’s no excuse,” Gibbs said. “People need to come in with fresh minds and collectively and individually look at ourselves and understand what we need to do better. I think those two-and-a-half weeks are going to be needed for a reflection period; not to go crazy but to mentally stay tuned.”
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.