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Fire Fall From Cup, Shrug

Goals on each side of halftime, Nyarko injury simply a bridge too far for tired Chicago squad

Fortunately, our tifo showed no signs of fatigue or existential malaise. You win some, you lose some.
Fortunately, our tifo showed no signs of fatigue or existential malaise. You win some, you lose some.
Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

Them's the breaks.

That's manager Frank Klopas' message to disappointed Chicago supporters after losing, 2-0, to DC United to crash out of the US Open Cup Wednesday evening.

"Sometimes it's just, you know, those little things don't go our way," Klopas told reporters after the game.

"I just think those little things went our way before [in the previous matchup vs. DC United], and tonight, y'know, they did not." -Fire mgr Frank Klopas

The Fire entered the match with some reason for optimism. After all, they had dispatched this very DC squad on the same field 10 days earlier, 4-1, in a game that may not have been that close. But Klopas seemed unimpressed by the earlier win, too.

"[In the earlier game] that early goal helped us, for sure, a lot," Klopas said.

"I just think those little things went our way before [in the previous matchup vs. DC United], and tonight, y'know, they did not."

Little was changed in the lineups or tactics for either team from the kickoff. Again, the teams presented themselves in fluid but cautious 4-4-2s, as each probed for the early goal that would (apparently) crack open the game like a piñata.

Chicago had the better of the very early exchanges, primarily in the form of Patrick Nyarko's typical slashing runs past DC left back James Riley, but couldn't fashion a clear-cut chance. The best look of the early period was a glancing header by Alex off a cross from Nyarko that was straight at Joe Willis in the United goal.

The first of "those little things" which didn't go the Fire's way happened around the half-hour mark - Nyarko, the only man who'd shown the ability to get between the lines of the DC defense, took a blow to the head and had to be replaced. His replacement, Joel Lindpere, while both responsible off the ball and capable with it, could not generate the kind of something-out-of-nothing the moribund Fire needed on the evening.

"Patrick's a dangerous player," Chicago captain Jeff Larentowicz said. "Joel's a dangerous player, too, but different."

With their X-factor consigned to the bench, a second mischance fell to the Fire. A deflected shot ballooned into the air above the Chicago penalty area, obviously spinning furiously. DC's Luis Silva took up a position beneath the ball, and when Fire keeper Sean Johnson leapt over him to snatch it, he instead saw it bounce off Silva's head and out of his hands. The ball squibbed to the left side of the box, where it fell to the one guy no Chicago fan wanted to see there: Dwayne DeRosario.

DeRo made no mistake, finishing through a thicket of panicked Fire defenders trying to cover the open goal-mouth. 1-0, DC United, just before halftime.

"I think [Silva] just got in good position where he could challenge for it," Johnson said later. "I probably should've punched through it, but I thought that I could collect it. I thought I could collect it, and I thought I got a good jump, but when the contact came it was me and the ball at the same time.

"I should've just punched it away. I should've done better."

The second half started as the first ended - with the Fire giving up a goal. Riley celebrated the lack of any pressure on him defensively by finding Nick DeLeon with a cross, and DeLeon's deflected near-post finish left a stunned crowd of more than 11,000 quiet as the grave. 2-nil to the visitors.

"It's tough," Klopas said. "Second goal on a deflection. We had one or two they clear off the line. Somedays those go in, but today wasn't that day for us."

Down 2-0 in a cup game is peering into the abyss. Klopas threw on new boy Juan Luis Anangonó in the 57th and Quincy Amarikwa in the 74th to little avail. The final substitution shifted the team to an unfamiliar 3-1-4-2 for the final quarter-hour, and the players' movement and touches suggested the tactical shift was uncomfortable.

In all, the game ended without the Fire mounting much in the way of a credible assault on the DC goal. Austin Berry's ninja-kick pounce on a loose ball in the box was the closest call, but Perry Kitchen (who was omnipresent on the evening) was able to run down the slow dribbler before it found the corner of the net.

Chicago is left with the difficult task of shaking off this performance and re-focusing on the hunt for the playoffs. Saturday will find the Fire back home again, this time to Montreal in another Eastern Conference six-pointer.

"It's gonna hurt us tonight, and tomorrow we gotta focus on the league," Klopas said. "Because, y'know, we're right there, and some big games are coming up to put ourselves in a spot in the playoffs."

But on an evening in which the Kings of the Cup had no clothes, neither did they leave with answers.

"I just think those little things went our way before, and tonight they did not," said Klopas. "[DC United] put their whole season into this.

"But I think our guys were ready. They competed ... But in the end it just didn't go our way."

Maybe such a stance is necessary, given the extremely emotional nature of sports and the proximity of the next game. Perhaps every event in a football match is unconnected from every other event, and its only our consciousness and desire for narrative that strings incidents together like pearls on a strand. Perhaps the only difference from winning 4-1 and losing 0-2 are a couple of breaks, completely uncontrollable.

It certainly makes losing easier to think that. It also makes watching the barest, most pallid form of simple observation: See it? Now this? Now this? And commenting, it goes without saying, would be a fool's game.

The Fire return to MLS play Saturday at home against Montreal. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. Central, although who knows what the concept of time even means at this point.

(Additional reporting on this story by Ruben Tisch. Follow him on Twitter at @rubentisch.)