Slumping Chicago Fire vow to clean up mistakes ahead of crucial clashes

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Chicago Fire no longer occupy one of the top two spots in the Eastern Conference following Saturday’s 3-1 loss at Columbus Crew SC that pivoted on uncharacteristic errors from the Men in Red.

The Fire conceded just five minutes after taking an early lead, and then were hit for two more goals on Crew SC counterattacks. As a result, Chicago lost their grip on one of the top two spots in the conference standings for the first time since mid-May.

“I think today we actually killed ourselves,” Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic said afterward. “I think we conceded things and mistakes that we had and the adjustments we did weren’t good enough.”

It all started so well, with midfielder Michael de Leeuw scoring to give the lead to a Chicago side that entered Saturday 12-0-2 when scoring first.

But things quickly turned with Kekuta Manneh’s 18th-minute equalizer, and despite controlling the rest of the first half, Chicago were unable to breakdown a compact Columbus side.

As the game wore on, the increasingly frustrated Fire grew more vulnerable.

“I think we played well in certain parts of the game, but most of all we were very sloppy,” de Leeuw said. “I think we had 20 unforced errors and at the end, the goals came from where I was. Also the third goal was a mistake for me. The positive – I think we played well, but the sloppy mistakes were too much.”

Paunovic agreed with that assessment as his team fell to 2-6-4 on the road this season.

“I think [Crew SC] did very well, but I think we conceded very innocent mistakes,” he said. “We gave up a couple of balls that you just cannot do that; against a team like Columbus, you cannot do that. You cannot do that against [Toronto FC], you cannot do that against [D.C. United] you cannot do that against any team in this league, so we just have to understand.”

With TFC and New York City FC both winning on Saturday night, the Fire fall to third and are six points back of the Reds, albeit with a match in hand.

Chicago go on the road again on Wednesday to face the Montreal Impact before returning home next Saturday to take on TFC in front of what is expected to be an overflow crowd.

But Paunovic doesn’t want his team looking ahead or worrying too much about what other teams are doing when there is work to do internally.

“We are just focusing on us,” he said. “We obviously follow other teams. Toronto is doing well and we have Toronto at home very soon. We have to get better, we have to come back to where we were at some point this season where you couldn’t find the difference playing at home or on the road, so that’s what we have to achieve again.”