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Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Fire's playoff odds nearly erased

By Charlie Corr

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- The Chicago Fire missed out on the Brimstone Cup yet again. But even worse, their postseason hopes virtually have been eliminated.

Sebastian Grazzini's late goal for the Fire was all Chicago could muster as FC Dallas gained a two-goal lead and held on for a 2-1 victory on Wednesday in front of 10,362 at Toyota Park. Dallas' Jackson and Daniel Cruz netted goals as the team retained the Brimstone Cup, which has been in its possession since 2002.

The Fire (7-9-16, 37 points) still are mathematically in the playoff picture, but they would need to win out, a couple of teams would need to lose out and Chicago would have to make a jump in goal differential.

Dallas (14-11-7, 49 points) was in control for the entire match, creating its share of scoring chances, while minimizing the Fire's attack. Chicago did not register a shot on goal during the first half, while Dallas lingered around the goal for many stretches, especially in the first 45 minutes.

"We were flat from the beginning," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "We weren't sharp. We were just a step behind everything. Give credit to Dallas. They came out and made it difficult for us."

The Fire eventually registered three shots on goal, but their offensive impact was minimal. Dallas contained forward Dominic Oduro and the rest of the Fire by dropping back so they would not get burned by Oduro's quickness.

"It was really hard for me to get behind the defense," Oduro said. "I think they just dropped back the whole time, so we had to change tactics and play on the right. I was able to get a few balls on that side. But technically they did well by just sitting back."

"I think we were just too naive," Fire defender Gonzalo Segares said. "We've got to be smarter. I think they definitely knew what our strength was and that's our speed and getting behind defenses, and from the beginning they went back and dropped and made us play. That's when we tried to force balls and lost them in tough places. That's how they got so many chances in the beginning. We'd lose the ball easily and they'd counter with really fast guys, and it gave us a lot of trouble."

The Fire's lone offensive contribution came from Grazzini, who netted a goal in the 86th minute off of an Orr Barouch assist.

It took Dallas some time to get on the board, and Jackson finally provided the offense in the 41st minute with a shot aimed toward the right side of the frame past Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson for a 1-0 lead.

While Johnson should have done better on defending against Jackson's goal, he did come up with three saves in the first half, including a clutch stop in the 24th minute against Jackson. During that play, Jackson had a step on Fire defender Jalil Anibaba and looked like he had a sure goal, aiming to the left of the frame. But Johnson reached to his right and was able to corral the shot.

Dallas padded its lead in the 53rd minute with Cruz's volley for a 2-0 advantage. Ricardo Villar took the corner kick from the right side, and Dallas' Zach Loyd headed the ball to Cruz, who shot with his back turned to the goal.

The Fire will try to move forward in their final two matches, beginning at D.C. United on Saturday. But they will be without three of their starters. Defenders Dan Gargan and Cory Gibbs will be out because of yellow card accumulation. And midfielder Pavel Pardo was shown a straight red card on Wednesday in the 79th minute for harshly fouling Villar.

"It was a play where I was a little bit late," Pardo said. "I know it was a foul. But this is the referee's decision. There's no excuse. I got a red card and I apologize because of course when you are with 10 players it's difficult to play to try to win."

Analysis: After posting a four-game home winning streak and working their way back into the postseason picture a bit, the Fire played their worst match since falling to the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps.

Whether or not they just did not fully recover from the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup loss to Seattle Sounders FC, Chicago was completely out-played by Dallas in every area on the pitch.

Klopas did not use the absence of Marco Pappa as an excuse. The Fire did not use their schedule as an excuse. Dallas was the team with far more energy and movement and better decision making than Chicago.

Two games remain, and while the Fire claim they will try to field the best team available, it really is time to start taking a look at the rest of their roster in gearing up for next year. Having three starters out for D.C. will assist that process to some degree.