The Chicago Fire went down to a second consecutive defeat for the first time this season Sunday, falling 1-0 to FC Dallas on a steamy afternoon at Pizza Hut Park.
Kenny Cooper's 17th-minute goal came in a first half when the Fire logged just three shots. The Chicago attack came to life after the break with eight shots, but in the end the Fire left north Texas without a win for an 11th consecutive trip.
"I think we gave up an early goal and a bad goal," Chicago head coach Denis Hamlett said. "It was just a little too easy after that. The field conditions made it hard and whoever got that first goal was going to sort of sit and look for the counter. To our credit, in the second half, we had a better idea as far as pushing. We kept the ball on the ground and created a couple of chances but we just weren't clinical enough. We gave up a few chances, but that's going to happen when you're trying to push the game for the equalizer."
For the most part, FCD did a great job of limiting the effectiveness of Fire midfielder Cuauhtemoc Blanco, who had just one shot on the day. The Mexican international was fouled six times as the Hoops committed five times as many fouls as Chicago.
"That's a pattern that's going on in the last couple games," Hamlett said about Blanco being fouled so much by the opposition. "We have a special player who can make special plays with the ball. And in the last three games, there is a pattern that he's getting fouled six or seven times and the referees haven't figured out that it's a tactical play that these teams are doing. We just have to understand that now and step up on that part of it. The foul count today was 15-3, so you figure out how they were stopping our advantages."
Chicago's Chad Barrett and Justin Mapp agreed that the Hoops did a good job of limiting Blanco's impact on the match.
"They did that and they hit him a couple of times," Barrett said. "But I still thought that Cuauhtemoc did a good job today of dropping back in the midfield and connecting. Every time he did get the ball, you could see the other players back off of him because of the enormous respect they had for him. We had a bunch of other chances. Justin had some chances and I did to. It's something we will have to sharpen up before our next game."
Mapp agreed. "It's like that for him in every game, so it's nothing new," he said. "We just need for other guys to step up. We weren't able to get the goals today but everyone was trying and that's all you can ask for. He's used to the physical play."
At kickoff, the temperature was 97 degrees and both sides definitely felt the effects of the stifling Texas heat.
"It was a tough game," Barrett said. "Dallas came out pretty well. I don't think I've ever played in something that hot, so that was definitely a factor against us that might have helped them out a little bit. In the second half, I thought we responded well. We came out and controlled the tempo of the game. They did a pretty good job of packing it in but let us come at them. We got looks and at this level, if you get a chance, you've got to try and make the most of it."
But, as Mapp pointed out, the conditions were the same for both teams.
"It was hot for everybody," he said. "We had some chances in the second half but couldn't finish. Everybody was tired out there and we just couldn't get over the hump."
While it's the first two-game losing streak of 2008 for the Fire, they won't have much time to dwell on the loss. On Thursday, they will face Chivas USA at The Home Depot Center and the Men in Red headed directly to L.A. to begin preparations for that game.
"It's really not too big of a deal," Barrett said. "We got off to enough of a good start that we can afford to slip up in two games. But if we win these next two games, we're one point behind New England, caught up with them in games and still at the top of the league. We have to know that we have to get as much rest as we can before we go to Chivas."
For Mapp, the recipe for turning things around is pretty basic.
"We just have to turn around and get ready for Thursday," he said. "We'll put it behind us. That's all we can do. We don't have a full week to wait and get at it on Thursday. We'll give it our best shot."
Steve Hunt is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.