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The Penultimate Punishment: DC United 2, Fire 1, recap

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Chicago cannot consistently trouble deep, confident Eastern Conference champs in another poor result; Men in Red guaranteed to win least games in MLS in 2014

Physios and field crew carry Fire winger Patrick Nyarko from the field after his injury just a few minutes into a substitute appearance Saturday night. Nyarko's injury defanged the Fire's comeback attempt.
Physios and field crew carry Fire winger Patrick Nyarko from the field after his injury just a few minutes into a substitute appearance Saturday night. Nyarko's injury defanged the Fire's comeback attempt.
Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

It's hard to know where to start.

The Fire played another soccer match Saturday evening, their 33rd in MLS play this season, and lost it, 2-1, to the homestanding and newly-crowned Eastern Conference champions, DC United. Perhaps that's as good a start as any - it establishes a pecking order, and lays out a simple explanation for the final scoreline. They're at home and they're the best team in our part of the standings, so it's hardly surprising. We played, the outcome wasn't unexpected; here's the final score.

Tactically muddled and incapable of imposing what ideas they did have, Chicago couldn't overcome a crucial Patrick Ianni mistake in the first 10 minutes of the second half and fell, 2-1, to an experienced, tested, seemingly resurrected DC United side tonight in the nation's capitol. This has more feel for the problems of the game - the generally exposed Fire left side, cursed whenever Harry Shipp tried to scheme in a fashion more considered than desperate. But Ianni probably takes too much blame in this version - surely he was poor, as he has been virtually universally this season, but this was a team loss. Lovel Palmer lost Chris Pontius ghosting in from the left wing, and Eddie Johnson was wide open in Gonzalo Segares' living room on the opposite side to slice a devastating cross: The first goal. Then Ianni's terrible moment; Jeff Larentowicz had moved to the left-center to keep him comfy, but he still turned away from pressure with that little bit of panic in his mien; Chris Ritter, flat-footed, was in the way instead of creating space; so Ianni's gulping pass was always going to be underhit, was always going to fall perfectly to EJ. It's to Johnson's credit he didn't blow the opportunity, and DC had a lead they could truly sit and protect.

The Fire's late-season preseason answered a few more questions Saturday evening. In short, Florent Sinama-Pongolle is competent but uninspiring; Harry Shipp inspires, but needs a nurturing environment; and Quincy Amarikwa would be a potent piece off the bench for a better team. This evades the entire 'result' question entirely, which is a handy trick when the team in question is the worst in the history of a once-powerful franchise.

Tonight Chicago lost to DC United 2-1, as Harry Shipp's seventh on the season was not enough to spark a comeback from a two-goal deficit against the top team in the Eastern Conference. The loss was the Fire's tenth on the season to go with 18 draws. If wins are what one celebrates in sporting competition, fans of the Men in Red have had less to celebrate in 2014 than those of any other club in MLS. This has a certain brutal reverse-pyramid simplicity, but fails to flag the team for their insipidity down the stretch of an utterly dismal 2014.

In the end, what can one say? There are only so many ways to say This club is not even close; there are only so many metaphors that encompass nearly yet still communicate not that nearly. The comments, ever ready, exist for those brave and creative souls who wish to attempt a finer slicing of this very thin word-wafer. The Fire played DC United; DC had the better of play for much of it; and the Fire lost, again.

See you next week. Friday, this all ends, and what should be a madhouse offseason begins. Chicago (5-18-10) hosts fellow also-rans Houston in a replay of the Men in Red's last postseason appearance in six days with nothing but pride - if even that - to play for. DC United (17-7-9) plays CONCACAF Champions League on the road against Tauro FC, a team they beat like a drum at home, with their group sewed up.