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Awkward Party Crashers: New York City FC 2, Chicago Fire 0, MLS Game Recap

The Fire are officially out of playoff contention with tonight’s loss in the Bronx

MLS: Chicago Fire at New York City FC Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

New York City FC 2 Ring 47’, Villa 51’

Chicago Fire 0

None of this really matters anymore.

The Fire were still in playoff contention heading into tonight’s game. Mathematically. But nothing about this team passes the sniff test. Any suggestion that this squad had any real chance of making the postseason would’ve gotten you laughed out of the building.

But it still stings a little to see it all made official. There’s numbers and everything. Whole-ass integers. All painting a clear picture of how terrible things are right now.

Pauno made three changes from the team that drew 2-2 in Foxboro over the weekend, the biggest one being Stefan Cleveland in goal. I’m glad we’re at least giving some fringe players a look while the stakes or so low, but I still feel like this team was still far too dependent on the big names.

The first half started about as well as you’d expect. NYC swarming their visitors, grabbing space, making our backline sweat early. The Fire started to compose themselves after ten minutes or so, figuring how how to rotate themselves to befuddle New York’s attackers for a time. David Villa got a promising look at goal around the 15th minute but sent the ball into the Harlem River. Cleveland got off to an encouraging start— which is to say, he didn’t make any major mistakes. (That’s, uh, basically our minimum threshold at this point.) The Fire’s best chance came around the half-hour mark, when Raheem Edwards hit a bicycle kick from outside the box and almost managed to get it past Sean Johnson.

The striking thing about the first half was that NYC seemed to have been expecting an easier time. They played like they had planned for their guests to roll over for them (as, admittedly, this Fire team had done throughout the season). But Chicago seemed to be up for this, as much as their legs and emotional stamina would allow. New York really didn’t seem to expect that.

NYC had some chances late in the half but the Fire managed to hang on. 0-0 heading into the break.

The Fire made two changes for the second half, sending on Djordje Mihailovic and Michael de Leeuw in place of Drew Conner and Brandt Bronico. You have to think Pauno smelled the chance to steal a goal and maybe, just maybe get out of the Bronx with a win.

Those dreams died a swift death. NYC pounced on a slopped turnover by the fire and Alexander Ring hit from outside the box to put the hosts ahead barely three minutes into the half. Yet another bad turnover allowed Maxi Moralez enough space in the box to lay off to David Villa, who easily made it 2-0.

We’ve seen a lot of bad soccer from this team in 2018, but the speed with which everything went to hell was simply astonishing.

The Fire tried to make a game of it but they knew— we all knew— they were licked. Nemanja Nikolic nearly pulled one back in the 65th minute but his (admittedly fluky) goal was ruled offside. That was about all the Fire could manage. With Chicago effectively locked out of the proceedings, the game got very boring very quickly. The last half hour of soccer trudged on, inexorably, excruciatingly, finally reaching the end we all knew was coming anyway. NYCFC clinched their postseason berth while the Fire were mathematically eliminated from the playoff race.

If there’s one that can be said for the end of a season where there’s nothing to play for, it’s that these losses don’t seem to hurt quite as much. The worst of it is already over. Now we’re just counting weeks off. Waiting for release.

The Chicago Fire (7W 7D 16L, 28pts, 10th in the Eastern Conference) are back at home Saturday afternoon when they take on LAFC.