Through the opening 26 minutes of Friday night's Eastern Conference bout between the Fire and New York Red Bulls, Frank Yallop's men appeared to be on their way toward grabbing the seemingly elusive first away win of the season - and first since July 12, 2014.
After Jeff Larentowicz opened the scoring a minute shy of the quarter-hour mark, David Accam notched his team-leading eighth goal 12 minutes later. But Jesse Marsch's side came roaring back, answering in the 28th and 38th minutes through Bradley Wright-Phillips and Mike Grella before Sacha Kljestan's penalty kick in the 71st minute sealed all three points for the hosts.
An impressive fightback display from the Red Bulls (13-7-6, 45 points) sends them to the top of the East - pending the result of D.C. United's match in Colorado on Saturday. For the Fire (7-15-6, 27 points), a 15th loss - the most recorded in any season since the club began play in MLS in 1997 - leaves them rooted to the bottom of the table with six games remaining.
[NBC SHOP: Buy a Fire jersey here]
On Aug. 26, both sides thoroughly entertained the estimated 11,196 on hand at Toyota Park, which saw the Men in Red put in a valiant effort on both sides of the ball. On Friday, the scoreline was identical, but the outcome favored the Red Bulls in front of an announced crowd of 17,184 at Red Bull Arena.
Yallop's displeasure with the defense that conceded four goals to Didier Drogba and the Montreal Impact six days earlier translated into wholesale changes along the back four. Daneil Cyrus and Ty Harden made their club debut, and stepped in for Lovel Palmer and Eric Gehrig, respectively, while Joevin Jones replaced Greg Cochrane at left back. Matt Polster returned to central midfield alongside Michael Stephens, with Accam deputizing for Gilberto up front.
Despite relinquishing a majority of possession to their counterparts during the early stages, it was the Men in Red who struck first against the run of play. Kennedy Igboananike was taken down by Red Bulls defender Damien Perrinelle at the corner of the box and rewarded with a penalty kick. Larentowicz stepped up and sent goalkeeper Luis Robles the wrong way for his fifth spot kick conversion of 2015, level with David Villa and Chris Wondolowski.
The Fire doubled their lead in the 26th minute after Accam was sent through on a counterattack. The Ghanaian eased his way past Conor Lade, sidestepped Robles and dispatched in an empty net. Two minutes later, the Red Bulls hit back with a quick reply when Kljestan collected near the top of the area and slipped a sharp pass to Wright-Phillips. The Englishman stabbed it past Sean Johnson to cut the visitors' advantage in half.
Seven minutes shy of the halftime interval, the Fire were left to rue another series of defensive mistakes. Jones failed to prevent Lloyd Sam's delivery to Grella at the top of the six, and, despite Larentowicz' best effort to get back into position, Grella produced a swift spin-and-turn finish to pull the hosts level.
Already on the back foot for much of the game, the Men in Red were pegged back and dealt the final blow of the encounter 19 minutes from time.
An onrushing Sam made a darting run into the box and was tugged down by Stephens. As in the previous meeting, it was Kljestan who stepped up and coolly slotted home the penalty to supply the Red Bulls with their first lead of the night, and this time, one they would effectively see out.
Yallop's group gets the benefit of an eight-day break in action before returning home to face Orlando City SC next Saturday.
Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)
(4-4-2) - Sean Johnson; Daneil Cyrus, Ty Harden, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Joevin Jones; Patrick Nyarko (Jason Johnson, 80'), Matt Polster, Michael Stephens (Razvan Cocis, 72'), Harry Shipp; David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike (Mike Magee, 61').
- Gilberto, who left training early on Wednesday with hamstring tightness, did not travel with the team to New York. A club spokesperson confirmed before kickoff that the Brazilian is questionable for next weekend's clash with Orlando City at Toyota Park.
- Igboananike came off in the 61st minute with a calf strain.
- Polster picked up a caution in the 65th minute, and will be unavailable against Orlando City through yellow card accumulation.