The Chicago Fire were playing toe-to-toe with the Montreal Impact on Saturday afternoon, before a six-minute span in the second half resulted in their collapse.
A moment of brilliance from Andres Romero and a call that didn't go the Fire's way changed everything in the 2-0 loss. First Romero's cut-back and upper-90 goal put the Fire in a hole in the 57th minute, and that was followed by Jeff Larentowicz's red card in the 63rd minute to permanently change the face of the game.
“I did not feel like they had the momentum at all [before the first goal],” midfielder Patrick Nyarko told MLSsoccer.com. “We attacked, they attacked and we were quite willing to play it out that way because we know getting to the end of games, we can make a push.
"And on the road, it's not a bad thing just to take the zeroes. [Romero's goal] brought the crowd back into the game, and the tide turned there and then.”
After a strong first 25 minutes, the Fire became less threatening in attack, misplacing passes all over the field and failing to hold possession. But the Impact weren't creating many chances of their own, and a 0-0 final began to look like a very real possibility.
Defensive lapses, however, once again cost the Fire.
Romero's goal came after he cut back on an overcommitted Logan Pause in the box and beat Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson to the upper corner. Then Larentowicz's red came in the 63rd minute when he appeared to have clipped Andrea Pisanu just outside the penalty area when the Italian was in on goal. Referee Fotis Bazakos judged it to be a denial of a goal-scoring opportunity.
“The red card was the knife in our chest,” Nyarko said. “Even after the goal, we have the team, with the confidence we're playing at, we can come back. I don't think Montreal played their best game, so I feel like we were in the game. But I felt like the red card just took everything away from us.”
Coming into Saturday's match, the Fire were finally playing like the team they thought they'd be entering the season.
But after winning two out of three, mistakes at key moments killed them.
“That's what's most disappointing, because we feel like these last three games, we were playing very well,” Nyarko said. “Right now, we're just making so many mistakes that are being punished. In all honesty, I think we'll be fine, but we just need to correct those mistakes.”
Anthony Zilis covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com.