It’s hard to predict where the Fire’s season is headed now, but one thing is certain. Wednesday’s 2-0 loss to D.C. United in the semifinals of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup doesn’t bode well for the what’s ahead the next two months.
The Fire had everything in its favor going into this one. The game meant a lot. The Fire has always made the summer-long Open Cup a high priority, perhaps higher than any other Major League Soccer club, and has won it four times and gone to the final on two other occasions.
The supportive home crowd of 11,036 was easily the Fire’s best turnout for an Open Cup match this season. The weather was ideal, and the Fire roster was a completely healthy one.
[Follow Len Ziehm on Twitter.]
Then, too, the opponent couldn’t have been more ideal. D.C. United has endured a trying MLS season, owning just a 3-15-4 record that included two losses to the Fire at Toyota Park. The last of those was a 4-1 drubbing on July 20.
It’s hard to imagine the Fire giving a punchless performance in that kind of setting, but that’s exactly what happened. It’ll be D.C. United going to the Open Cup final on Oct. 1 against Real Salt Lake, a 2-1 winner over the Portland Timbers in the other semifinal on Wednesday.
The Fire had a few chances early but couldn’t convert. When Patrick Nyarko left with a head injury in the 36th minute the club’s play suffered a dropoff, and that’s no knock on replacement Joel Lindpere.
Still, Dwayne DeRosario’s goal in the 44th minute was all United needed to advance. It came after a bobble by goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who made his 100th competitive appearance across all competitions for the Fire. Nick DeLeon’s insurance goal, which came on a deflection in the 48th minute, provided ample insurance.
[RELATED: Rolfe named MLS Player of the Week]
Fire coach Frank Klopas had a difficult time explaining what happened.
"Obviously a great opportunity at home…the fan support was fantastic,’’ he said. "Sometimes it’s one of those games where those little things don’t go our way…..We had some chances, but what are you going to do?"
Nyarko’s departure was no doubt a factor.
"Patrick was creating a lot of danger, and having him come off was one of the keys for them – even for us,’’ said defender Gonzalo Segares. "Losing a guy like Patrick is definitely a tough situation and made a difference, that’s for sure.’’
"The difference between this game and the last time we played them is that we scored early (in the previous meeting),’’ said midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. "This is a different game, it’s a Cup game, so it’s probably going to be tighter. It was even in the first half. They scored on a mistake. Then in the second half I don’t know how we don’t score.’’
Klopas gave newly-signed Ecuadoran striker Juan Luis Anangono his first playing time in the 57th minute, and he threatened to score once, but the Fire’s chances were few and far between playing from behind.
A couple other noteworthy things didn’t happen. Had the Fire won, the club would have tied the Open Cup record for most appearances in the final – seven. Had captain Logan Pause played, he would have tied C.J. Brown for the most appearances by the Fire in Open Cup matches (25).
In addition to Anangono and Lindpere, Klopas brought Quincy Amarikwa off the bench in hopes of a late-game spark that didn’t materialize.
The Fire has the home field edge again on Saturday, when the Montreal Impact (10-6-5) visits Bridgeview for an MLS match. The Impact also played at home on Wednesday and had more success than the Fire did. Montreal defeated the San Jose Earthquakes 1-0 in the first match of group play in the CONCACAF Champions League. Hernan Bernadello, the Impact’s newly-signed Designated Player, assisted on the goal, which was scored by Hassoun Camara.
Nyarko’s status for the Montreal match is uncertain. The Fire visited the Impact on April 27 and lost 2-0.
Every game will be huge for the Fire the rest of the way as far as playoff implications are concerned. The Fire (8-9-4) wouldn’t make postseason play if the season ended today. With 28 points in 21 matches the Fire is in seventh place in the Eastern Conference. Five teams qualify for the playoffs, and the Fire is five points behind the fifth place Houston Dynamo, which has played one more match. The Fire has 13 regular season matches left, the Dynamo 12 and they meet at Toyota Park on Sept. 1.
"We have to turn around, lift up our heads and get ready for Montreal,’’ said Segares. "We are still in the hunt for the playoffs, and we have a key game on Saturday on short rest. We have to be mentally ready.’’
"It’s a new day, and we have to move on,’’ said Klopas. That won’t be easy, but Saturday’s match will have a look like no other off the pitch that could be refreshing. The Fire will stage its first-ever Dog Days of Soccer promotion. Fans can bring their favorite canines to the match.