The Fire came close to staging a late rally in the second half, but were unable to complete the comeback in a narrow, 2-1 defeat to the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park on Sunday.
Two first-half strikes from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan, despite Gilberto's second-half tally, were enough for the Red Bulls (18-10-6, 60 points) to clinch an away victory and raise the MLS Supporters' Shield trophy in front of an announced crowd of 19,850.
Interim head coach Brian Bliss made his statement clear regarding the Men in Red’s poor mentality during last week’s 4-0 defeat to D.C. United, and implemented a handful of personnel changes, with goalkeeper Alec Kann deputizing for Jon Busch. Matt Polster replaced Lovel Palmer at right back, Chris Ritter - who came off in the 21st minute with an apparent head injury - stood in for Daneil Cyrus at center back and Patrick Doody returned to left back in place of Joevin Jones, who occupied a wide midfield role in place of David Accam. Matt Watson also relieved Michael Stephens in central midfield.
In his first MLS start, Kann's nerves were put to the test early on with a flurry of sloppy clearances in the opening minutes. The 25-year-old was kept in check by the Red Bulls, and was forced into his first save on Wright-Phillips' effort in the seventh minute.
Ninety seconds later, a familiar scenario came back to haunt the hosts. Kljestan drove in a corner-kick delivery to Damien Perrinelle, whose flick-on header was sent to the back post to an unmarked Wright-Phillips, who tapped in for an early Red Bulls lead.
Ten minutes before the halftime break, the visitors doubled their advantage. Fire veteran Patrick Nyarko was adjudged to have unlawfully pushed down Mike Grella in a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge in the box and conceded a penalty kick in the process, which Kljestan coolly slotted past Kann for his third tally from the spot in three meetings between the two teams this season.
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After maintaining 59 percent of possession in the opening 45, the Fire emerged from the halftime interval with their backs still against the wall. Gilberto showed more conviction in front of goal, sending a bending effort toward Robles in the 56th minute before collecting a long ball from Doody at the edge of the area in the 68th, chesting down and volleying a shot toward Robles, who did well to parry aside.
Second-half substitute Accam ringed a side-footed shot off the post in the 73rd minute before Gilberto's persistence was rewarded five minutes later. Doody streaked down the left flank and sent a looping ball toward the back post. Nyarko headed down for the Brazilian to acrobatically finish past Robles from close range to cut the Red Bulls' lead in half.
Despite throwing numbers forward in the latter stages, Bliss' group was unable to pull level. At the sound of the final whistle, some players stood in agony, others strolled around the field applauding the fan base. By the end of the night, the Fire (8-20-6, 30 points) were left disheartened, but perhaps lifted by the notion of what may lie ahead under new leadership.
Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)
Alec Kann; Matt Polster, Jeff Larentowicz, Chris Ritter (Daneil Cyrus, 21'), Patrick Doody; Patrick Nyarko, Matt Watson (Kennedy Igboananike, 84'), Razvan Cocis, Joevin Jones (David Accam, 58'); Harry Shipp; Gilberto