After failing to garner any results from Western Conference opponents this season, that trend continued for the Chicago Fire on Sunday in an end-to-end and topsy-turvy encounter with Sporting Kansas City.
The 1-0 defeat in front of 19,581 at Sporting Park effectively ended the Men in Red's run of three consecutive wins coming into the match, and it leaves Frank Yallop's side in sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
"We did enough to at least get a goal today and it’s just disappointing to come away with nothing out of the game," Yallop said in his post-match press conference.
Despite being held goalless for the first time since their home-opening loss to Vancouver Whitecaps FC in March and limited to 38 percent of possession in the first half, the Fire weathered the storm of Sporting KC's relentless pressure throughout the first half.
Guly do Prado, earning his second start of the season, combined well with Designated Player David Accam at the corner of the area in the 13th minute and unleashed a low, hard shot at goalkeeper Tim Melia, who palmed the effort away. Six minutes later, Chris Ritter swung in a ball that found the head of Eric Gehrig, but the defender was denied once more by an alert Melia.
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Vermes' side continued to pile on the pressure and their most dangerous and clear-cut chances came in a span of two minutes. A delightful scoop from Benny Feilhaber over the top of the Fire defense found an unmarked Dom Dwyer, but the forward spurned his opportunity in the 31st minute. Two minutes later, defender Kevin Ellis rocked a header off of Sean Johnson's crossbar, which sparked a Fire counter attack toward the other end, with do Prado being foiled by Melia once again.
After emerging from the halftime break on the back foot, the Men in Red showed signs of gaining momentum and working their way back into the game, but a series of poorly timed runs and mental lapses prevented them from getting a clear sight at Melia's goal.
In the 75th minute, the Fire defense unraveled when former defender Jalil Anibaba sent in a cross from the right flank and picked out substitute Paulo Nagamura, who made no mistake and sent his looping header past a diving Sean Johnson to give the home side a 1-0 lead.
"In the second half I thought we did well," Yallop said. "I thought we were on top of the game; we bossed it a little bit. The goal was kind of out of the blue and once that happens, you’re on top and think you’re going to win, and all of a sudden a goal and it changes things."
The goal was followed by an increased initiative from Yallop's side to push for an equalizer, as Quincy Amarikwa and Kennedy Igboananike entered the fray, but any chance of salvaging a result was lost after David Accam was shown a straight red card in the 89th minute for a flailing arm in the face of Anibaba.
The loss leaves the Men in Red with nine points after seven games played in the Eastern Conference, but they will look to call a halt to the losing trend against Western Conference opponents when they face Real Salt Lake at Toyota Park on May 9 at 2 p.m.
"We’ve got three difficult away games coming up in-conference," captain Jeff Larentowicz said after the match. "We’ve got to have the ability to play well on the road. At this point we haven’t done that. We’ve shown we can play at home, but on the road it’s a different story."
"Our first focus is Real Salt Lake next Saturday," midfielder Harry Shipp added. "Hopefully we play well and get three points at home, then we start focusing on those conference road games."
(4-4-1-1): Sean Johnson; Eric Gehrig (Lovel Palmer, 85'), Jeff Larentowicz (C), Adailton, Joevin Jones; Harry Shipp, Matt Polster, Chris Ritter (Kennedy Igboananike, 77'), David Accam; Shaun Maloney; Guly do Prado (Quincy Amarikwa, 72').