For glimpses of Saturday's encounter between Toronto FC and the Chicago Fire, Brian Bliss' group appeared to show the endeavor necessary to procure the team's first away win from home since July 2014.
For large stretches of the first and second half, however, Greg Vanney's delegation showed why, amid a pressure-filled season, it is in contention to secure its first postseason berth in club history. A first-minute strike from Gilberto and another from the Brazilian on the other side of halftime was canceled out by tallies from Jonathan Osorio, Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore as the Fire (7-18-6, 27 points) fell, 3-2, to Toronto (13-13-4, 43 points) in front of 22,513 at BMO Field.
The defeat - the Fire's 18th of 2015 - leaves them rooted to the foot of the Eastern Conference table and officially eliminates them from playoff contention, while Toronto remains in fifth place, two points back of fourth-placed D.C. United and five points clear of the playoff red line with four games to play.
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Bliss showed three changes from the side that lost to the Montreal Impact midweek, with Mike Magee earning his first MLS start since July 15 in place of Kennedy Igboananike. Daneil Cyrus and Michael Stephens rounded out the alterations, deputizing for Ty Harden and Razvan Cocis, respectively.
The visitors got off to a dream start, with Stephens making an immediate impact and supplying Patrick Nyarko for the Fire's first attacking sequence. Nyarko took a few touches before threading an inch-perfect pass behind the Toronto defense for Gilberto, who, making his first appearance against his old team, powered home a left-footed effort past goalkeeper Chris Konopka for an early 1-0 lead.
In the ensuing 44 minutes, the hosts heaped on the pressure, outshooting the Men in Red by a 10-1 margin and maintaining 67 percent of possession. Sebastian Giovinco was the crux of several of Toronto's attacking moves before finally breaking through a compact Fire back line a minute shy of the half-hour mark.
After muscling Cyrus off the ball to earn a corner kick, the Italian delivered a moment of magic, curling a cross with the outside of his boot for Osorio to meet at the back post, which was headed in from close range to send both sides into the halftime break level at 1-1.
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Seven minutes into the second stanza, Gilberto came back to haunt Toronto once more. After Bradley overcommitted in the hosts' defensive half, Nyarko was allowed to turn and connect with Magee, who, with one touch, sprung the Brazilian down the middle. Gilberto made no mistake, burying a well-placed, right-footed shot off the inside of the post and in to help restore the Fire's lead in the 52nd minute.
Seven minutes later, following a chested clearance off the line from Marco Delgado and another goal-bound effort from Gilberto that creeped by Konopka's left post, Toronto pulled level at the other end. Bradley waltzed into the area and evaded challenges from multiple Fire defenders en route to dispatching a deflected shot past Busch.
Ten minutes from time, Toronto sealed all three points with a near post flick-on from Altidore.
With three matches in seven days in the books, the Fire will have a full week to gear up for their third and final meeting against the New England Revolution on Oct. 3.
Chicago Fire Starting XI (subs)
(4-4-1-1) - Jon Busch; Lovel Palmer, Jeff Larentowicz (C), Daneil Cyrus, Patrick Doody; Patrick Nyarko (Joevin Jones, 55'), Matt Polster (Razvan Cocis, 67'), Michael Stephens, David Accam; Mike Magee (Jason Johnson, 74'); Gilberto.