On a night when playoff hopefuls New York City FC and Montreal Impact each posted three goals in victories over the San Jose Earthquakes and New England Revolution, the onus was very much on the Chicago Fire to usurp Orlando City SC on Saturday night.
Results around the Eastern Conference have helped the Fire on many occasions, but the Men in Red - playing the Lions for the fourth time in all competitions - failed to produce a similar result, and saw their playoff hopes all but fade away.
After a giveaway by Razvan Cocis in the defensive third, Brek Shea strode past Joevin Jones with ease en route to delivering a ball across the box to Darwin Cerén. Bryan Rochez took the ball off his foot and finished past Jon Busch in the 86th minute, which proved to be the difference on the night as the Fire (7-16-6, 27 points) slipped to a 1-0 defeat to Orlando City (9-13-8, 35 points) in front of an announced crowd of 20,280 at Toyota Park.
"They hit the crossbar, had the goal; we had some near misses," Fire coach Frank Yallop said. "The final pass wasn't there for us. That's the story of the game."
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The loss - the Fire's 16th of 2015 - leaves them rooted to the bottom of the table and nine points adrift of sixth-placed Montreal. After snapping a six-match winless streak with a 3-1 win over Sporting Kansas City last week, Orlando City’s second win on the trot inches them closer toward breaking into the top six.
Yallop made just two changes from the side that fell on the road to the New York Red Bulls last time out. Busch replaced Sean Johnson in goal for his first start (all competitions) since the Fire's 3-1 victory over Orlando City in the U.S. Open Cup on July 22. Cocis made his return and deputized for the suspended Matt Polster in central midfield.
Both sides struggled to develop a rhythm in the early going, and exchanged half chances until Orlando City midfielder Carlos Rivas clanged a side-footed effort off the crossbar in the 18th minute. Cyle Larin bullied Fire right back Daneil Cyrus off the ball, and squared to Rivas, who was unlucky not to punish the Trinidadian for his error.
Kennedy Igboananike and Harry Shipp were at the heart of the Fire's two most dangerous chances, forcing diving saves from Orlando City goalkeeper Tally Hall in the 34th and 38th minutes.
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Following a tame opening 45, the second stanza provided much of the same back-and-forth. The visitors did well to keep the hosts out as Cocis was on the receiving end of an Igboananike cross in the 61st minute, seeing his ensuing header batted away by Hall.
As the half wore on, Adrian Heath's unit stood firm against the Men in Red's persistence while attempting to break on the counter attack. In the 67th minute, Larin was released into space and freed himself in the box, but sent a harmless effort toward goal. Rivas supplied Larin a minute later, but the rookie's one-time effort trickled past Busch's left post.
Four minutes from time, Orlando City broke the deadlock. Shea, Cerén and Rochez - all second-half substitutes - exploited the Fire back four, with Rochez finishing from close range to help Orlando City snatch all three points.
"It's just frustrating," Yallop added. "I feel really bad for the guys. We work hard, we do the things that, I feel and we feel as a group, are good enough to get more points in the table than we're getting. It's very frustrating right now. We seem to find every sort of opportunity to give goals up."
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Next up for the Fire is a midweek clash against the Montreal Impact on Sept. 23, the third and final meeting between the two teams.
Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)
(4-4-2) - Jon Busch; Daneil Cyrus, Ty Harden, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Joevin Jones; Patrick Nyarko (Mike Magee, 85'), Razvan Cocis, Michael Stephens (Jason Johnson, 85'), Harry Shipp (Gilberto, 71'); David Accam, Kennedy Igboananike.
- Two players were ruled unavailable prior to kickoff: Eric Gehrig (heel) and Sean Johnson (shoulder pain) will both have MRIs next week to determine the extent of their injuries.