Surely there are worse ways to finish a game: Bombings, zombie attacks, waves of demonic possession, gravity suddenly not working, Sol going supernova - all much worse than giving up two goals in the final eight minutes to lose, at home, in front of a packed and pulsating crowd, to an expansion team.
Alright, maybe not much worse.
Against Orlando City Saturday night, the Fire entertained and delighted a crowd of over 20,000 for much of the game, playing aggressive, enterprising football to stake themselves to a 2-1 lead, then squandered both the lead and the goodwill with another astonishing late-game meltdown to lose, 3-2. The loss leaves the Men in Red 18th in the league, ahead of only Colorado and Montreal in the overall table.
Chicago's nightmare finish stood in sharp contrast to the first 60 minutes or so, in which the Fire created chance after chance and scored a pair of nice goals.
The first goal game in the ninth minute. Razvan Cocis ran down a half-cleared Fire corner, and found David Accam with a immediate through ball which found the visitors still trying to step out to clear the area. Accam used his first touch to skip a cross across the goal-mouth, finding Kennedy Igboananike making a far-post run for the tap-in: 1-0 Fire.
For all Chicago's incision, Orlando were still playing their game, keeping the ball circulating and holding off the Fire's direct attacks. In the 39th, Lions midfielder Darwin Ceren hit a screamer that drew a difficult, laid-out save from Jon Busch. On the ensuing corner, Busch didn't come for a ball in the box, and could only parry Sean St. Ledger's header onto Adailton's thigh and into the goal to level the match.
The second half was a little more than 10 minutes old before the Fire regained the lead. This time it was Igboananike finding Accam; the Ghanaian, drawing a crowd, left the ball for Harry Shipp, who simply waited a beat for the markers to spread out a bit before zipping the ball back to Accam, now in a pocket of space about 15 yards out. The finish was very quick and inch-perfect, and Chicago once again led, 2-1.
The large crowd seemed to take the home team's lead as a sign to party, but the Fire surely did not, instead playing steadily more conservatively as the game wore on. Predictably as the sunrise, their passivity cost them; less predictably, fate seemed to select a single human sacrifice to its whims - the own-goal man himself, Adailton. Starting with about 10 minutes left, it all came down on the Brazilian's head.
It started in the 82nd, when Adailton stepped into a pass intended for Orlando City striker Cyle Larin, won the ball, and began to surge upfield. Larin - the top pick in this winter's SuperDraft - somehow rolled toward Adailton's feet and pulled the ball free, then sprang to his feet, took one touch and hammered a slicing shot into the side-netting from 25 yards out. One second, he's supine; the next, the ball's in the back of the net: 2-2. The crowd, so carefree in the minutes after the Accam goal, grew quieter, anxious. Even the introduction of Mike Magee for the first time didn't dispel the cloud of doubt.
Not that it should have. Orlando continued to press their case, and Chicago had a difficult time shifting out of ‘cling desperately' mode. It didn't help that, in the 86th, captain Jeff Larentowicz tried to jump a passing lane after a midfield turnover, only to see OC sub Carlos Rivas simply steam past him toward the goal. In covering position behind Larentowicz was fortune's fool, Adailton.
Here's the cruel thing: He didn't really do much wrong. Rivas kept feinting, Adailton kept marking him, as Joevin Jones sprinted back to mark Larin. Finally Rivas tries a slip pass toward Larin, but Adailton got a foot on it ... only to see it trickle ... ever so slowly ... toward the goal line ... again. The Brazilian's second own-goal of a very bad night set an MLS record.
There are worse ways to lose games, but not a lot worse; late-game collapses are like getting a ruler across the knuckles for feeling hopeful. When Adailton's goal-bound header was cleared off the line in stoppage time, all chance for redemption simply faded away, and the game trickled to a close.
Chicago (4-7-2) travel to New England next Saturday. Orlando City (4-5-5) host DC United the following day.