In his weekly conference call Monday afternoon, head coach Frank Yallop forewarned his side of D.C. United’s knack for churning out results while occasionally not performing at their best. On Wednesday, Ben Olsen’s bruised and battered group proved precisely that, and why they deserve to sit atop the Eastern Conference.
After a 3-0 thumping of the Montreal Impact, the Chicago Fire reverted to losing ways with a 3-1 defeat to D.C. United at RFK Stadium, their first loss since stumbling to Real Salt Lake on May 9 and first against an in-conference opponent.
"For whatever reason we stopped playing in a certain part in the game and started trying to soak up pressure when we can’t do that," Yallop said in his post-match press conference. "We were naïve a little bit tonight I think in the big picture and D.C. United kept going and were stronger than us.
"I haven’t seen the goals, so I have to look at them again on tape, but it’s never good to concede three goals at home or away but especially when you’re away and one goal up."
A hushed beginning to the match saw the Fire (4-6-2, 14 points) silence the home crowd in the 28th minute as Designated Player David Accam found the net for the third time in 2015. But a second-half brace from Jairo Arrieta and an insurance tally from Conor Doyle in the 75th minute secured all three points for the unflustered hosts, who extended their home unbeaten streak to 20 games, while the Men in Red slipped to seventh place in the standings.
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The Ghanaian found it difficult to establish a rhythm in the early going, but left back Joevin Jones’ darting run to elude multiple D.C. defenders in the fifth minute provided Frank Yallop’s side with the impetus to impose a similar strategy deployed against the Impact at Toyota Park five days earlier.
It was D.C., though, who would generate the first meaningful attack of the match, as Nick DeLeon was released into space behind the Fire back four, firing his cross-shot across Jon Busch - making his third consecutive start - only for the ‘keeper to palm comfortably wide.
Accam nearly produced the breakthrough in the 20th minute following Matt Polster’s break-up play in the midfield. The rookie collected the ball and darted toward D.C.’s defense to find the winger, but his sliding effort trickled inches wide of former Fire ‘keeper Andrew Dykstra’s goal.
In the 26th minute, D.C. defender Steven Birnbaum’s clumsy hand ball was whistled for a penalty kick, but Dykstra kept out skipper Jeff Larentowicz’s effort, before Accam struck a minute later.
Harry Shipp’s early recognition to find a sprinting Quincy Amarikwa - one of a bevy of changes to the Fire lineup - down the left flank resulted in a surprise 1-0 advantage to the visitors, as Accam latched onto a one-time, low driven cross from Amarikwa to bury past Dykstra and muzzle the 11,218 onlookers.
The second half saw a determined D.C. outfit take the game to the Men in Red, as substitute Fabian Espindola profoundly put his stamp on the match. After withstanding a quarter of an hour’s worth of pressure, Olsen’s delegation eventually breached an absorbent Fire defense.
Espindola’s corner kick delivery in the 61st minute was met by Arrieta, who lost his marks and headed past Busch to level the match at one apiece. Arrieta would inflict further damage eight minutes later, pouncing onto a loose ball in the box to fire past a stranded Busch once more.
Despite sending on the rested Razvan Cocis and Kennedy Igboananike in hopes of salvaging a third straight 2-2 draw on their travels, it was D.C. who struck again, this time via Conor Doyle, who provided the insurance goal with a tap-in in the 75th minute.
"For us, conceding three goals in any match is not good so we’ve got to look at it again, dig deep and get ready for Saturday’s game because it’s a big game for us," Yallop added.
For D.C., the victory cemented the team’s position at the summit of the Eastern Conference, while the loss marks the 15th game in which the Fire have failed to win on the road.
Next up, the Men in Red return for another quick turnaround with a home bout against expansion side Orlando City SC on Saturday. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. on CSN.
Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)
(4-4-1-1): Jon Busch; Lovel Palmer, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Eric Gehrig, Joevin Jones; Michael Stephens (Razvan Cocis, 62'), Matt Polster, Matt Watson (Kennedy Igboananike, 70'), David Accam (Guly do Prado, 77'); Harry Shipp; Quincy Amarikwa.