BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. – Before Saturday night's contest against league-leading Toronto FC, the Chicago Fire had not lost a game in Toyota Park this season. Despite strong support from the home crowd, the Fire were unable to keep that streak alive, falling 3-1 to the Supporters' Shield leaders in a game that could serve to be a playoff preview in a few short months.
The Fire have struggled in recent weeks, dropping four of their last five coming into Saturday's match. Struggling form on the road had been contrasted by domination at home, however. The Fire entered the game against TFC with a home record of 10-0-1, netting 12 goals in their previous three home wins. For head coach Veljko Paunovic, the effort Saturday night simply wasn't good enough for a team that has been so dominant in front of their home fans.
"We will always look to give our best and give our supporters the best possible soccer," Paunovic said after Saturday's loss. "Overall we didn't play the way we are used to. But as I said, we are a good team and we are committed to turn this back around and bring the team where it was just a month ago."
Even if the loss came to the league leaders, the Fire players reiterated their belief in their own abilities.
"The fans were behind us, but we just didn't do enough to win the game," Fire forward David Accam said. "We know we are a good team, so we'll go back to work and come back stronger next match."
Toronto FC head coach Greg Vanney echoed the importance of the game at this point in the season, and the possible preview of a matchup in the playoffs.
"They're a tough team. I thought tonight was maybe one of three games [for us] this year that had kind of a playoff feel to it. We knew it was an important game, and it was a really important game for them because of the stretch of games and results that they've been on. We knew they were relying on three points, and so we knew this was going to be a tough day."
Was it an important game for Toronto FC? They had it circled on their calendars.
"This is a game we've been looking forward to for a long time," Toronto FC captain Michael Bradley told MLSsoccer.com. "Obviously in a long season it's natural that you look at certain games as important ones in your season, and tonight was certainly one of those. They've let a few points get away from them in the last few weeks so in the end the gap is a little bit bigger, but nonetheless there was a lot riding on this one.
"They had not lost [at home] this season up until tonight," Bradley said. "We wanted to send out a message across the league that said the Supporters' Shield means a lot to us, and we're giving everything we have to win it."