Sunday’s 2-2 draw against the New York Red Bulls felt like a loss to Chicago Fire coach Veljko Paunovic.
Actually, Paunovic said it felt worse than a loss.
“Losing these two points for me is tougher than any other defeat we had this year,” Paunovic said. “It’s very difficult for us after a great response from the team.”
Paunovic’s postgame demeanor naturally mimics the team’s result, but this was as dejected as he’s been after a home game all season.
The Fire blew a chance for a come-from-behind home victory by allowing the Red Bulls to score in the 90th minute. The Fire took a 2-1 lead into halftime even after giving the Red Bulls an early lead through an own goal. The team’s positive response to the early setback was why Paunovic felt so disheartened that his team could not come away with the win.
“When we tied the game and took the lead in the game, [that] was a great response,” Paunovic said. “This is what we learned, but we have to get better. It’s still the same issue with conceding goals in the last minutes of the game where I think the maturity and mentality comes in play. I think we did most of the things very well, but I think we have to learn how to win games.”
The Fire lost at New England on an 85th minute goal last Saturday, costing them a chance to earn a point on the road. That makes two games in a row the Fire have dropped points in the final minutes of a game.
Paunovic lamented his team’s inability to find a third goal to put the match away in the second half.
“We have to learn now either to score the third goal, which was something that we were looking for in the second half, especially with a good start of the second half,” Paunovic said. “That was our goal. Then if you don’t see that then you have to go and keep the score, especially in the last five, 10 minutes. We had to keep the score and that’s something we have to learn and improve.”
The Fire’s playoff hopes were already slim at this point in the season. The Fire sit eight points below the playoff line in the Eastern Conference, but a win could have at least moved the team out of the cellar and provided a confidence boost.
Instead, Paunovic seemed to be hit by the reality of a frustrating and disappointing season.
“I think it’s obviously disappointing,” midfielder Matt Polster said. “Going down a goal, giving up an own goal by myself is unfortunate, but I thought we did well to battle back and go up 2-1 and then to give up a late goal is not ideal. To have three points right in front of you and to lose [the lead] is disappointing.”
Goalkeeper Sean Johnson offered the positive side that the team’s performance was good. Even though the Red Bulls dominated possession, they only managed two shots on target. Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch even said his team was lucky not go to down 3-1.
“I think it was a valiant effort today, obviously disappointing to lose [the lead] late on, but we’ve shown some good things today and we can’t hang our heads too low after this,” Johnson said.