Fire's late-season struggles persist in playoff loss to Houston

929865.png

Fire's late-season struggles persist in playoff loss to Houston

The Fire were a good home team until Wednesday night.

And, the Houston Dynamo was a bad road team until Wednesday night.

That trending went out the window in the first match of the Major League Soccer playoffs. The Fire, 11-3-3 in its regular season home games at Toyota Park, tumbled 2-1 to a Houston club that was 3-9-5 on the road (and an even more revealing 1-9-5 in the last 15).

The Fire have been in MLS postseason play 12 times in its 15 seasons, and Wednesdays knockout round loss was the clubs first home regulation defeat in a playoff match. The Fire are 16-2-3 in home playoff matches over 15 seasons and 4-1-1 at Toyota Park, but that run of form didnt continue against Houston.

So, the Dynamo -- a 1-0 loser to the Los Angeles Galaxy in last years MLS Cup final -- moved on to a two-game, home-and-home Eastern Conference semifinal series against top-seeded Sporting Kansas City that begins in Houston on Sunday while the Fire try to figure out what happened in a final few training sessions that will be conducted without games to be played.

"Everyone has to keep their heads up," said veteran defender Arne Friedrich. "We have played throughout the season with very young players, and they did very good."

But clearly not good enough. At a point in the season where the Fire should have been playing at its best, it played its worst. The Fire, 17-11-6 in a largely uplifting regular season, was 1-3-1 to conclude the MLS campaign before coming up empty against the Dynamo a club that wass a 3-1 loser at Toyota Park on Sept. 2 and settled for two draws with the Fire before that.

The Fire fell behind in the 13th minute when Will Bruin headed down Brad Davis corner kick, then found himself with an open shot after Fire defender Jalil Anibaba stumbled. With ex-Fire forward Calen Carr providing a distraction in front of the net goalkeeper Sean Johnson was slow in reacting.

"After that first goal we had a feeling this was our game," said Bruin, who had 12 goals in the regular season and scored both for his team on Wednesday. "We felt we were playing well under pressure. We got that goal as a reward for our good play."

The Fire were unable to answer the rest of the first half so Fire coach Frank Klopas pulled his captain, defensive-minded Logan Pause, for Brazilian attacking midfielder Alex at the start of the second half. Houston foiled that move immediately, when Carr slipped a pass between Fire defenders Friedrich and Austin Berry to set up Bruin for his second goal just 18 seconds after play resumed.

"We started the second half in the worst way," said Klopas. "It just wasnt meant to be this year."

The Fire didnt do much offensively until Alex caromed a 10-yard shot into the net off the right post in the 83rd minute. That created some suspense for the time that remained and brought the crowd of 10,923 to life, but the Fire couldnt get the equalizer even with ex-Dynamo Dominic Oduro creating some opportunities off the bench.

"If you give them chances like we did its going to be hard to beat them," said forward Chris Rolfe, the Fires MVP and golden boot winner this season.

"I have a lot of respect for the Chicago Fire organization," said Carr, who was traded to Houston for Oduro one game into the 2011 season in a deal that helped both clubs. "Theyve had a good season and should be proud of what theyve accomplished. But, at the same time, the stakes are high and weve got our goals here with the Houston Dynamo."

Carr was riddled with injuries in five seasons with the Fire before the trade and arrived in Houston battling the effects of a concussion. He revived his career and was in the first 11 for the Dynamo on Wednesday while wearing a helmet.

"Ive had a tough string of luck, for sure," said Carr, "but Im feeling good and stayed healthy the end of last season and this season. Ive put together a good run of form and want to help this team any way I can. Coming to Houston was great for me. I enjoyed my time in Chicago. I look back on it fondly, but the best time of my career is now. I feel lucky to be a part of this group."

Fast Break Morning Update: Cubs visit White House; Blackhawks, Bulls in action tonight

Fast Break Morning Update: Cubs visit White House; Blackhawks, Bulls in action tonight

Here are some of the top Chicago sports stories from Monday:

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks collide with Avalanche tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Bulls host Mavericks in search of third straight win

Cubs meet President Obama in unforgettable, symbolic White House visit: ‘They said this day would never come’

Blackhawks' rough weekend 'a little bit of a wake-up call'

The state of the Bulls after the first half of the season

Reports: Dolphins assistant Jeremiah Washburn to be Bears' new O-line coach

Does Cubs president Theo Epstein have a future in politics?

President Obama, with Cubs at White House: 'Among Sox fans, I'm the Cubs' No. 1 fan'

At Cubs' White House visit, President Obama touts Michelle Obama's Cubs fandom, shouts out Jose Cardenal

Fire trade for midfielder Dax McCarty

The state of the Bulls after the first half of the season

The state of the Bulls after the first half of the season

Who are the Bulls? The team that beat Cleveland and Toronto or lost to Dallas, Minnesota and Milwaukee?

That's the question Bulls fans are currently asking and the one Bulls Insider Vincent Goodwill posed in the video above.

The Bulls have had impressive wins and shocking losses, but neither of those should be surprising at this point. The Bulls are, as Goodwill put it, consistently inconsistent.

The first half of the season has proven that Dwyane Wade still has some memorable moments left to give and Jimmy Butler continues to approach superstardom. On the downside, the drama surrounding Rajon Rondo has meant the 'three alphas' that were hyped up in the preseason haven't been the dynamic trio some Bulls fans had hoped.

Coach Fred Hoiberg doesn't have the shooters his system needs, but can he still rally the troops and get something out of Rondo?

Watch the video to see Goodwill's look back on the Bulls' first half and what could be ahead.