After a rough start to the season last week, the Chicago Fire returned home to face a team widely considered to be one of the lesser teams in the Eastern Conference. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to get back on the right track.
For some reason, things didn't turn out quite that way.
The Fire fell 1-0 to the New England Revolution on Saturday night in front of 13,242 fans at Toyota Park in the club's home opener. The loss was the first time the club has fallen in their first two games to start the season since 2000. Jerry Bengston scored the eventual game-winner midway through the second half as the Men in Red continue their search for their first goal of the season.
The Fire had some decent opportunities in the first half, but came out sluggish in the second half. This allowed the Revs to gain some momentum early. And that eventually led to the breakthrough goal.
After a poor clearance in the Fire area in the 62nd minute, the ball eventually fell to substitute midfielder Kelyn Rowe, who played in a beautiful cross for the striker Bengston. The Honduran international was unmarked and easily headed the ball past Sean Johnson to give the Revs the 1-0 advantage. Fire defender Austin Berry appeared to be caught ball watching and Bengston was able to slip past him and score the only goal of the match.
"We cleared the first ball, but we just didn't stick to marks on the second ball in," said Berry after the game. "It's a shame because we had defended well for the majority of the game to get scored on a fluke play like that."
In the midfield, the Fire looked slightly better than last week, but still appeared to be figuring out each player's respective roles.
"We're still learning from each other," said Patrick Nyarko, the only holdover in the starting midfield. He said that newly acquired veterans Joel Lindpere, Jeff Larentowicz and Dilly Duka will all get on the same page quickly. "Those guys have great soccer IQ's, so it makes it easier to blend in," said Nyarko.
While both sides had a couple of chances in the first half, neither was able to find the back of the net.
After a very slow start for both clubs, the Fire had perhaps their best opportunity of the half in the 27th minute when Nyarko was able to steal an errant pass in the Revolution area. He then picked out striker Sherjill MacDonald right in front of the net unmarked, but the Dutchman didn't get enough on the shot, which was easily scooped up by Revs goalie Matt Reis. MacDonald was eventually substituted at halftime.
"I think I had more time than I thought I had, so I tried to shoot very fast, but these are the decisions you make sometimes," said MacDonald after the match. "After the game, you can see if it was a good decision or a bad decision."
Duka also nearly provided some magic in the 31st minute. His 30-yard scorcher was tipped onto the bar by Reis.
Overall, head coach Frank Klopas said the club performed better than the previous week, but it wasn't enough.
"I think the effort was there from the group and we just have to keep working," said Klopas in his post-match press conference. "There were some good things; I think the team came out with a lot of energy being at home. We were excited in front of our fans and we're disappointed."
You'd have to imagine a good number of Fire supporters are disappointed as well.
Both Klopas and a couple of players surprisingly blamed playing against the wind in the second half as a reason for the club's drop in form as the game went on.
Rolfe left the game with a quad injury midway through the second half. He didn't appear to be limping in the locker room afterwards, and said it was nothing more than cramping.
Klopas made one change to the Starting XI that lost 4-0 to the LA Galaxy last week. Sherjill MacDonald joined Chris Rolfe in the attack, replacing Maicon Santos. Santos ended up replacing MacDonald at halftime after the Dutchman missed a couple of good opportunities in the first half.
They also made a slight change in defense, moving Jalil Anibaba into the center and moving Steven Kinney out to right back. They switched again later in the second half to order to give Anibaba more attacking flexibility on the wing.
The Men in Red were again without the services of defender Arne Friedrich and defender/midfielder Logan Pause. Earlier this week, the club confirmed Friedrich is dealing with a nagging hamstring injury and Pause is out with a quad injury. The injuries are expected to keep both players out about 3-4 weeks.
The two clubs met three times last year, with New England winning their two home games at Gillette Stadium and the Fire winning the only encounter at Toyota Park. The Revolution had not won at Toyota Park since 2006 before tonight.
The Fire won their home opener last year, dispatching the Philadelphia Union 1-0 with the only scoring coming from now-former striker Dominic Oduro. They hadn't lost a home opener since 2010, but have now starting out the season with two straight losses for the first time since 2000.
The Fire will be searching for their first points of the season next Saturday when they hit the road to face "rivals" Sporting Kansas City. That matchup will be broadcast on the NBC Sports Network starting at 2:00 PM CST.
After finishing with the second-worst record in MLS last year, the Revs are on the road again next week when they travel to PPL Park to take on the Union.
Starting XI: GK Sean Johnson; RB Steven Kinney, CB Jalil Anibaba, CB Austin Berry, LB Gonzalo Segares; RM Patrick Nyarko, CM Jeff Larentowicz (C) (Y: '55), CM Joel Lindpere, RM Dilly Duka (Sub: '56 for Atouba); FWD Chris Rolfe (Sub: '65 for Alex), FWD Sherjill MacDonald (Sub: '46 for Santos)
New England Revolution
Starting XI: GK Matt Reis, DEF Andrew Farrell, DEF A.J. Soares, DEF Jose Julio Gonclaves, DEF Kevin Alston, MID Juan Toja (Sub: '79 for Fagundez), MID Kalifa Cisse, MID Clyde Simms (C), MID Donnie Smith (Sub: '53 for Rowe), FWD Jerry Bengston (G: '62, Sub: '90 for Barrett), FWD Lee Nyugen
Substitutes: GK Bobby Shuttleworth, DEF Darrius Barnes, MID Scott Caldwell, MID Andy Dorman, MID Kelyn Rowe (Sub: '53 for Smith, A: '62), FWD Chad Barrett (Sub: '90 for Bengston), FWD Diego Fagundez (Sub: '79 for Toja, Y: ‘86)
Referee: Hilario Grajeda