Fire's playoff chances fading after loss to Seattle

Fire's playoff chances fading after loss to Seattle
September 8, 2013, 11:30 am
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Len Ziehm

The Fire blew another great chance to climb into the Eastern Conference playoff picture in Major League Soccer on Saturday night.

An own goal in the 89th minute led to a 2-1 road loss to the Seattle Sounders, and it came on the heels of a 1-1 home draw with the Houston Dynamo – a match in which the visitors tied the score in the 89th minute.

Somewhat amazingly, though, the Fire (10-11-5) still has postseason hopes with three home matches and five road battles left in the regular season. The next is at Toronto FC on Wednesday.

Five teams from the Eastern Conference make it to postseason play, and the fifth-place New England Revolution and No. 6 Houston have 37 points to the seventh-place Fire’s 35. All have played 26 matches (the Dynamo’s 27th is at home against New York on Sunday). Plenty of soccer remains in the next six weeks, but the Fire can’t continue to let good opportunities slip away.

[RELATED: Dynamo score in 90th minute to tie Fire]

As was the case in the Houston match the Fire was in position to post a big win at Seattle. The Fire is the only MLS team that has never beaten the Sounders, going 0-5-3 in their lifetime meetings and 0-3-1 in Seattle. The Fire is also enduring a 12-game losing streak on artificial turf (0-10-2) since their last such win at New England on June 27, 2010.

Those dry spells seemed about to end when Mike Magee scored his MLS-leading 15th goal off a pass from Dilly Duka in the 26th minute. It was the first goal allowed by Seattle in 311 minutes – the fourth longest scoreless streak in MLS this season. The Fire was 27-0-6 when scoring first since Frank Klopas took over the coaching reins, but now that unbeaten streak is over, too.

Nine-year MLS veteran Gonzalo Segares, one of the best left backs in the league, was the victim on the own goal. A Zach Scott crossing pass through the box from the left side caromed off Segares’ foot and into the net.

"Those things happen," said a philosophical Klopas. "You’re running behind sometimes, the ball comes...It's a little disappointing not to walk away with points, but that’s how it is. We have to regroup and get ready for the next game.’’

Seattle’s CenturyLink Field is always a tough place for visiting teams, partly because of its artificial surface and partly because of the great crowd support the Sounders have received since coming into MLS in 2009. Their average attendance is double that of ever other MLS club and Saturday’s 38,503 wasn’t one of their best turnouts. Seattle is 9-0-3 in its last 12 home matches.

The Sounders remain MLS’ hottest team, owning four straight wins and seven in their last eight matches. On Saturday they were without Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey, both strikers on the U.S. national team that was beaten 3-1 at Costa Rica on Friday night in World Cup qualifying. The Fire was without midfielders Arevalo Rios and Joel Lindpere. They were on national team duty as well and had better luck than Johnson and Dempsey had.

Rios played all 90 minutes for Uruguay in a 2-1 win at Peru and Lindpere went 85 minutes and delivered an assist for Estonia in a 2-2 draw with the Netherlands. Both will miss the trip to Toronto as well. Uruguay hosts Colombia in another World Cup qualifier on Tuesday while Estonia visits Hungary.

Their absences led to Klopas returning captain Logan Pause to the lineup in Rios’ defensive role. Alex got the call over Patrick Nyarko in the outside spot sometimes manned by Lindpere.

[MORE: Fire choose jersey design finalists]

When Magee reported groin problems at halftime Klopas brought in Juan Luis Anangano. He also pulled the other starting striker, Chris Rolfe, in the 84th minute with Daniel Paladini coming in. Nyarko spelled Duka in the 67th.

Before leaving Magee moved into a tie with Montreal’s Marco DiVaio at the top of the Golden Boot standings. The 1-0 lead looked even better when goalkeeper Sean Johnson made the save on Osvaldo Alonso’s penalty kick in the 30th minute. Ten minutes later, however, the Sounders tied the match on a goal by Lamar Neagle and that set the stage for the own goal that decided in the match with the clock winding down.

The Fire figures to get back on the win trail against Toronto FC (4-13-10), which is in ninth place in the 10-team East and in the throes of a front-office transition. Kevin Payne, successful as general manager at D.C. United in the early days of MLS, resigned last week as Toronto’s president and general manager after less than a year on the job. He’s staying on through the end of the month, but his successor is already reported to be Garth Lagerwey, presently the GM at Real Salt Lake.

Before the Fire-Toronto kickoff the U.S. national team faces an important match against Mexico as part of the CONCACAF Hexagonal. Costa Rica (4-1-2, 14 points) moved ahead of the U.S. (4-2-1, 13) and into first place with its win on Friday. Honduras (3-3-1, 10) took over third place in the six-team competition by handing Mexico only its second home loss, 2-1.

Fourth-place Mexico (1-1-5, 8) could miss the World Cup finals if its play doesn’t improve, starting with Tuesday’s match in Columbus, Ohio. Mexico will face a weakened U.S. team. Michael Bradley is out with a sprained left ankle suffered in pre-game warmups in Costa Rica.  Jozy Altidore, Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron also won’t be available to coach Jurgen Klinsmann because of yellow card accumulations.

Klinsmann revamped his roster after the Costa Rica result, calling up four players – Brad Davis, Joe Corona, Clarence Goodson and Jose Torres.

Tuesday’s other Hexagonal matchups have Costa Rica visiting Jamaica (0-4-3, 3 points) and Honduras hosting Panama (1-2-4, 7).