David Accam's fifth goal of 2015 provided the Chicago Fire a glimmer of hope, but it was too little too late as the Men in Red succumbed to back-to-back defeats against Columbus Crew SC, stomaching a 3-1 decision in front of an announced crowd of 15,455 at Mapfre Stadium Sunday night.
Coming into the game after plucking four points from the Houston Dynamo and Seattle Sounders FC, Frank Yallop's men were hoping to atone for a dismal first-half display and subsequent defeat to Gregg Berhalter's outfit on Wednesday. Instead, a stout Crew SC held on to add to their formidable home record, dashing any hopes of a first away win of the season for the Fire.
A back-and-forth exchange in the opening stages saw Federico Higuaín convert a spot kick in the second minute to give the hosts a dream start until Accam answered with a blistering free kick seven minutes later. Goals from Kei Kamara -- his fourth in three encounters with the Men in Red -- and Ethan Finlay in the 17th and 83rd minutes, however, helped the Black & Gold inch within five points of Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United.
Yallop made a quintet of changes from the side that featured midweek, with Adaílton returning from suspension (yellow card accumulation) and sliding alongside Eric Gehrig at center back, moving Matt Polster to right back in place of Lovel Palmer. Patrick Nyarko and Matt Watson came in for Michael Stephens and Chris Ritter, respectively, while Accam earned his first start since the Fire's 3-2 defeat to Orlando City SC on June 6, allowing Harry Shipp -- deputizing for Mike Magee -- to take up a No. 10 role behind forward Jason Johnson, who stood in for Kennedy Igboananike.
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The third and final installment between the two sides got off to a flying start, as the hosts went direct from the opening kick, drawing a penalty kick 12 seconds in -- the earliest ever awarded in an MLS match -- after Ethan Finlay was dubiously brought down by Sean Johnson in the box. Higuaín stepped up and cooly slotted home for his 32nd career goal for Crew SC and 13th career penalty kick conversion.
Seven minutes later, Jason Johnson's fine holdup play on the edge of the area helped Accam cement his storming introduction, hitting a free kick that deflected off Justin Meram in the Crew wall and past 'keeper Steve Clark. It was the seventh time Berhalter's group conceded in the first 15 minutes of matches this year.
After the Fire nearly found the go-ahead score moments later -- with Razvan Cocis getting on the end of Nyarko's delivery and ruled just offside in the process -- Crew SC restored their lead in the 17th minute. Kei Kamara's presence came back to haunt the Fire yet again, as the Sierra Leone international rose head and shoulders above Sean Johnson to power home a header off of Waylon Francis's lofted cross to secure his league-leading 14th tally.
The back-and-forth affair ensued as Nyarko -- earning his second start of the campaign -- caressed an expert cross from Patrick Doody, electing to dribble around Clark despite having a clear sight at goal from close range and squandering a golden opportunity to pull level.
Five minutes into the second half, the match went from bad to worse as Jason Johnson was issued his second yellow card for simulation, presenting Yallop's depleted delegation with an uphill battle to find an equalizer. Half chances from the Men in Red were well-managed by Crew SC, which was rewarded with a third goal seven minutes from time.
Substitutes Chad Barson and Kristinn Steindórsson combined to find Finlay lurking at the back post in the 83rd minute, who provided the insurance goal to leave the Fire without a win on their travels for the 16th time since a 1-0 win over the New England Revolution on July 12, 2014. The Men in Red face another quick turnaround with a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal fixture against Orlando City SC Wednesday at Toyota Park before resuming MLS play at home against the Revolution three days later.
Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs):
(4-4-1-1): Sean Johnson; Matt Polster, Eric Gehrig, Adaílton, Patrick Doody; Patrick Nyarko (Guly do Prado, 70'), Matt Watson, Razvan Cocis (C), David Accam (Kennedy Igboananike, 70'); Harry Shipp (Collin Fernandez, 84'); Jason Johnson.