Entering Tuesday's U.S. Open Cup semifinal at New England, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said it was the 'game of the season' for his team.
If that was the case, his line may have been fitting in a way he didn't intend. The 3-1 loss to the Revolution was a microcosm of the season in a number of ways.
The Fire struggled on the road in the cup like they have on the road in Major League Soccer this season. The Fire have lost nine in a row on the road in MLS and struggled on Tuesday just like in two road defeats at Gillette Stadium in league play.
New England took the lead via a Kei Kamara penalty kick in the 16th minute. Rodrigo Ramos tripped Kelyn Rowe just inside the box with the Revolution midfielder actually going away from goal.
The Fire’s hero, even if only for a short period, was yet again David Accam. Accam scored his fifth goal of this Open Cup in four matches to tie for the golden boot race in the competition. Michael de Leeuw slid to win a loose ball in the box and direct it to Accam. From there, the Ghanaian put some moves on in the box to get free and score from close range.
However, in a fitting summation of the Fire’s year, New England regained the lead two minutes after Accam’s goal. Kei Kamara headed a corner kick towards the goal, but it was blocked. Je-Vaughn Watson nodded in the loose ball in the 42nd minute.
The loss, which was the Fire’s fourth semifinal Open Cup loss in four years, will go down as a missed opportunity for the Fire. A win would have meant hosting the final and winning the cup would have marked a significant milestone in the turnaround of the club.
Instead, the same problems that have plagued the Fire all year showed up in the loss. The Fire started slow, struggled to keep possession, created few chances and were forced to scramble defensively. The Fire’s attack came to life a bit in the second half, mostly through Accam and John Goossens, but few times did they truly challenged goalkeeper Brad Knighton. Then Teal Bunbury sealed the deal with a long-range shot that tucked inside the far corner in the 85th minute.
Accam showed some of his frustration in a harsh challenge on Rowe in the final minutes. The two then got into a bickering match with some shoves involved. Accam got sent off, with Rowe receiving a yellow card, and kicked some of the sideboards on his way out.
The Fire now face a tough reality in the final two and a half months of the season. The team is now out of the cup and, with the worst record in MLS, playoff hopes remain slim. The final third of the season could end up being a tryout for 2017 with the Fire holding club options on most of the roster.