BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The Chicago Fire fell further back in the playoff race Saturday night, losing to the Portland Timbers 1-0 at Toyota Park.
The Fire were undone by a couple of critical calls, one which gave Portland a penalty kick that led to their 25th-minute goal and another that saw center back Yamith Cuesta sent off with his second yellow card in the 63rd minute.
While the Fire didn’t get any favors from the referee, they also didn’t take care of their own business, struggling in several areas en route to their second straight loss to the expansion Timbers.
This week’s On Fire takes a closer look at the Fire’s second loss to Portland this season.
1) More finishing woes
The Fire’s finishing issues continued on Saturday, with the team missing several good opportunities as they searched for an equalizer.
Chicago came closest to scoring in the 44th and 71st minutes, with defender Cory Gibbs (above) and forward Orr Barouch both ricocheting shots off the woodwork. Gibbs hit the frame first, running onto a Daniel Paladini corner kick at the near post before snapping a good header off the inside of the far bar.
“It was unlucky,” Gibbs said after the match. “[Defender Jalil Anibaba] did well setting the pick on my man and I headed it far post and it hit the post.”
Gibbs couldn’t have done much better with his chance, but Barouch probably should’ve put his opportunity away. A bouncing ball fell to the open rookie forward at the top of the six-yard box, but he couldn’t find the net, hitting a screaming half-volley off the bar and out of danger.
“It was just rolling back to me and I just tried to put it in the goal and ended up hitting the crossbar again,” Barouch said. “It’s very frustrating. I think that’s about the sixth time I’ve hit the crossbar this year.”
2) League break coming at the right time
The Fire plan on taking advantage of their two-and-a-half-week break from league play, using their time off to get their heads in order and prepare for what they hope will be a second-half playoff push.
"I think this break comes in handy for us," Fire winger Patrick Nyarko said. "Everyone should sit down and look at himself and look at how we can help the team get back our winning ways after the break. If you look at the table, we're not really that out of it yet. We're still in the mix."
Although the Fire are preparing to face Manchester United in the World Football Challenge on Saturday (5 pm ET, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes), Gibbs echoed Nyarko’s sentiments by telling reporters that the break from MLS competition will give the team time to understand what they need to do better.
“I think those two-and-a-half weeks are going to be needed for a reflection period,” Gibbs said. “Not to go crazy, but to mentally stay tuned.”
3) Oduro out of it
Dominic Oduro has been one of Chicago’s best players all season long, but it appears teams have figured out how to slow the speedy winger down.
Since his solid outing against Chivas USA on July 2, Oduro has been taken out of games by physical marking from the LA and Portland defenses. Both teams got a bit rough with the Ghanaian attacker and he didn’t respond very well in either match, failing to create the high number of opportunities he had in previous matches.
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.