The elements were not in the Chicago Fire's favor.
They had three suspended starters. They were playing on the road. They were playing down a goal heading into stoppage time. And anything less than a win would have officially spelled the end to Chicago's small, but lingering, playoff hopes.
Fire midfielder Sebastian Grazzini tallied an equalizer and second-half sub Diego Chaves netted the winner three minutes into stoppage time as Chicago posted a miraculous 2-1 come-from-behind victory over D.C. United on Saturday at RFK Stadium.
"It was an incredible five minutes, first for D.C. and then finally for us," Chaves said. "It was really, really intense."
Chaves' goal was his first since April 23, when the Fire played to a 1-1 draw against the Houston Dynamo. Chaves tallied four goals in the Fire's first six games to lead the team at the time, but he got out of his scoring funk at the right time as defender Gonzalo Segares assisted the game-winner.
"He was at the right place at the right time, and I'm glad he was there," Segares said of Chaves. "He's been working hard for a long time and I'm just happy that he got that goal. I'm sure that's going to motivate him."
With the victory, the Fire (8-9-16, 40 points) move to within three points of the New York Red Bulls in their fight for the final wild card spot. New York (9-8-16, 43 points) kept Chicago in the postseason picture when it fell to host Sporting Kansas City, 2-0, earlier on Saturday.
The playoffs still are a hefty task for the Fire as they need more elements to fall into place next week.
The Fire need the Red Bulls to also lose their final game of the season on Thursday when New York faces the Philadelphia Union (7 p.m., ESPN2). Chicago needs to win next Saturday's home finale against the Columbus Crew at Toyota Park. The Fire need the Portland Timbers and D.C. to earn minimal points during their final two games -- preferably a draw when Portland and D.C. face each other next Wednesday. And to top it all off, the Fire need to make up a five-goal differential with the Red Bulls (Chicago is even and New York is plus-five).
During Saturday's game-winning sequence, Segares timed his run perfectly to where he was even with D.C.'s back line when he received Orr Barouch's pass. Segares crossed the ball in from the left side and Chaves converged for the winner.
"I was worried about [being offside]," Segares said. "Orr's pass, I started screaming at him and it took a little bit longer. I took a glimpse and saw the linesman didn't have his flag raised, so I knew I was going to be able to get to the ball. I knew the ball was going to slow down and that I could catch up with it. After that, my only thought was to get the cross in."
D.C. looked like it minimally had a draw wrapped up. And then in the 89th minute, things turned toward United's favor when Santina Quaranta was fouled in the box by Segares. League scoring leader Dwayne De Rosario took the subsequent penalty kick in the 90th minute and gave D.C. a 1-0 lead. De Rosario shot toward the left side of the goal while Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson guess the opposite direction.
However, Grazzini pulled the Fire level one minute into stoppage time. Segares also assisted Grazzini's tally as the shot was struck toward the upper left corner of the goal.
The Fire entered the match with plenty of setbacks. Midfielder Pavel Pardo was serving a red card suspension after he was ejected during Chicago's 2-1 loss to FC Dallas on Wednesday. Right back Dan Gargan and center back Cory Gibbs also missed the D.C. match because of yellow card accumulation.
Michael Videira filled in for Gargan on Saturday, but he had to leave the match in the 19th minute because of a groin injury. Fire center back Josip Mikulic replaced the suspended Gibbs, but he picked up a yellow card and will be suspended for next Saturday's match against Columbus (yellow card accumulation).
Analysis: One thing is for certain -- Chicago is not going to go away as long as this miniscule postseason hope hangs around.
The final minutes of Saturday's match were almost unthinkable, but the Fire pulled off the comeback to make the upcoming week pertinent in their schedule.
People had every right to question when Chicago would make its desperate last-minute push against D.C. While the Fire did create some pretty good scoring opportunities, particularly in the first half, there just was not that swarm-the-goal burst in the final 10 to 15 minutes of regulation.
Segares said that the Fire were exhausted with about 15 minutes left. Chicago found just enough of a burst in stoppage time to force the boo birds to start chirping at RFK.
A postseason still is a long way off for Chicago considering the number of factors involved, but this team showed a tremendous amount of fight at D.C.