Behind a stalwart performance from Sean Johnson in goal, the Chicago Fire slipped to their 10th defeat of the season Wednesday night, falling to Columbus Crew SC, 1-0, in front of an announced crowd of 14,092 at Toyota Park.
A 41st-minute goal from Kei Kamara was all that was needed, as head coach Frank Yallop's unit, meanwhile, remained at the foot of the standings and had little to draw on despite entering the match following an encouraging win over Western Conference-leading Seattle Sounders FC just four days prior.
"Probably the worst we’ve played, the first half," Yallop said after the match. "Not happy from the endeavor and the fight of the team, which I felt we had in the last five games but tonight it wasn’t, especially in the first half. The second half we had a bit of a go. We were totally out-played tonight.”
After plying his trade in the center of the midfield and forging a partnership with Razvan Cocis of late, rookie Matt Polster retreated to center back in place of Adaílton, who'd been suspended because of yellow card accumulation. Thus, Chris Ritter earned a starting place in Yallop's midfield. With just over an hour under his belt over the weekend, Patrick Nyarko was restored to the bench to allow Michael Stephens to acquire his first MLS start since the Fire's 3-1 defeat to D.C. United on June 3.
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Crew SC applied significant pressure to the Fire defense early, spending the majority of the opening 45 minutes in the Men in Red's defensive third. The Fire continued to absorb pressure as the half wore on, relying far too much on Johnson to keep the visitors out.
Federico Higuaín and Kamara combined twice in the opening 10 minutes, a trend that continued throughout the evening, as the Sierra Leone international got in behind the Fire back line on multiple occasions and forced numerous saves from an alert Johnson.
Kamara's diligent work ethic eventually produced the breakthrough with four minutes remaining in the first half, getting on the end of an Ethan Finlay cross to head past a helpless Johnson to notch his third goal in two games against the Fire, and league-leading 13th on the year, while Finlay notched his 11th assist of 2015 on the play.
Following the halftime interval, Yallop brought on Jason Johnson, David Accam and Patrick Nyarko to inflict some damage on Crew SC. A Harry Shipp free kick in the 76th minute and Accam's right-footed strike nine minutes from time were the lone chances for the Fire in the second half before Ted Unkel's full-time whistle left the Men in Red frustrated with yet another home defeat.
The two sides assemble again in four days, as the Fire travel to the Arch City in the third and final meeting of the season on Sunday.
"Every game’s different," Yallop added. "If we score early then the game can change and be different. They’ve come in here and played quite well away from home. We’ve played well away from home to at least get a couple of wins, but it wasn’t to be. Talk is cheap. Whether we’re depleted or not we got to find a way to do it.”
Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)
(4-4-2): Sean Johnson; Lovel Palmer, Eric Gehrig, Matt Polster, Patrick Doody; Michael Stephens (Patrick Nyarko, 58'), Chris Ritter (David Accam, 72'), Razvan Cocis, Harry Shipp; Mike Magee (C), Kennedy Igboananike (Jason Johnson, 58').