BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — All it took was 19 seconds for the Houston Dynamo to gain the stranglehold they needed over the Fire in a 2-1 Eastern Conference Knockout Round triumph on Wednesday night.
In that span just after the halftime break, Chicago left back Gonzalo Segares ceded possession to Houston, then the Dynamo's Calen Carr found teammate Will Bruin, and the second-year forward picked out a corner to score his second goal of the game and bury the Fire in a two-goal pit.
They would never fully recover.
"It was only one goal at half, and I thought we were creating good chances, good opportunities. I thought it wasn't out of reach," defender Austin Berry said. "It was just unfortunate how we started the second half."
Six weeks ago, the Fire may have come back from a one-goal deficit similar to Wednesday night's when Bruin scored on a near-post header 12 minutes into the game. But six weeks ago was when the Fire were in the midst of a stretch of seven wins in eight games, coming back from conceding the first goal on four occasions.
But something changed in late September because in their following six games, the Fire gave up the opening goal in four games and lost all of them.
"I think the mentality of what we were about dropped a little bit," midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "We stopped playing soccer, we made a lot of mistakes that really cost us. Tonight, two mistakes, we got punished and against a good team like this, it's always hard to climb back from two goals down."
In a season in which they lost only 12 games, the Fire gave up the first goal 20 times. In the end, that season-long trend came back to punish them.
"We kept reiterating: If we keep giving up the first goals, it's not easy to come back, especially when you get into the playoffs," forward Chris Rolfe said. "Teams who are in the playoffs, they drop back. [Houston] is a smart team with a coach that's very experienced. Give them chances like that, it's going to be hard to beat them."