The Chicago Fire’s fading playoff hopes nearly burnt out on Saturday night with a 3-0 loss to FC Dallas at Pizza Hut Park.
The loss, which netted FC Dallas their 10th consecutive Brimstone Cup, keeps the Fire in 11th place, 11 points behind the San Jose Earthquakes for the eighth and final playoff spot with just four games left.
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Saturday’s disappointing effort comes just three days after the Fire defeated San Jose 3-0 at Buck Shaw Stadium. That game, one of the best of the Fire’s season, featured solid possession play, good finishing and stout defending.
Nothing like that was on display against Dallas, something which can surely be blamed on tired legs. But it’s still no consolation for a team even closer to missing the postseason for the first time since 2004.
The Fire were outplayed right from the start on Saturday night. Dallas controlled possession from the get-go, creating early chances before eventually going ahead in the 19th minute. Milton Rodriguez put Dallas on the board, controlling goalkeeper Dario Sala’s free kick just outside the box before putting a 15-yard left footed shot into the top left corner.
Centerbacks Dasan Robinson and Kwame Watson-Siriboe were largely at fault on the goal. Neither took Sala’s free kick out of the air, allowing Rodriguez to run onto the bouncing ball before finishing the chance.
The defending wasn’t much better on Dallas’s second goal, scored by winger Marvin Chavez in the 46th minute. Midfielder David Ferreira played Chavez into the left side of the box, where the Honduran dribbled towards the end line, created space with a nifty cut back, and then fired a right footed shot off the leg of right back Steven Kinney and into the back of the net.
If there were any doubts about the outcome of the game, Jeff Cunningham put them to rest in the 67th minute. The substitute forward drew a penalty kick in the 66th, when Robinson fouled him after he collected Ferreira’s fantastic through ball in the box. The veteran Cunningham took the spot kick in the 67th, sending a right footed drive into the lower left corner to put the game out of reach and notching his 132nd career goal, tying him with Jaime Moreno for the all-time mark.
While Chicago’s defense was bad, their attack was equally to blame. The Fire managed just six shots in the game, only two of which went on goal. The team had decent spurts of possession, but couldn’t manage many extended spells in Dallas’ half.
The finishing, as it has been all year, was suspect. The Fire’s most glaring miss came in the 85th minute, when substitute forward Brian McBride – who was wide open at the back post – sent Calen Carr’s perfect cross over the bar from five yards.
The Fire resume playing out the string this Friday, when they’ll host the Columbus Crew at Toyota Park. But the match – normally one of the more intense fixtures of the season – will have less meaning that it has in previous years, thanks to the Fire’s dark hopes of making the most of an increasingly dismal situation.
Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.