In a thrilling match full of injuries, controversy and goals, the Fire came out losers Sunday night, falling to the MLS leading Houston Dynamo 3-2 at Robertson Stadium.
The Fire - who saw their five game MLS unbeaten streak come to a close - couldn't catch a break all night long and fell victim to injuries and some questionable refereeing throughout the match.
The Fire's unlucky streak started in the 5th minute of play, when starting defender Gonzalo Segares went down with a leg injury and had to be replaced by Daniel Woolard.
The loss of Segares hampered an already beat up Fire back line - center back Wilman Conde wasn't able to play due to a hamstring injury - and Houston was able to take advantage, completely controlling the opening 10 minutes of the match before opening the scoring in the 21st minute of play.
Houston took the lead through forward Kei Kamara who - after finding himself completely unmarked just to the right of the six yard box - received a throw in, turned and blasted the ball past Fire goalie Jon Busch from a difficult angle.
Getting the first goal only seemed to add fuel to Houston's attack and the Dynamo doubled their advantage in the 37th minute when midfielder Ricardo Clark lofted a Brian Ching chip over the head of a charging Jon Busch from 12 yards out and into the back of the net.
The Fire wasn't able to respond before halftime and things looked very bleak for the team heading into the break. However, Head Coach Denis Hamlett's halftime speech seemed to motivate the squad and they came out a completely different side in the second half.
Chris Rolfe got the Fire back into the match soon after the break when - in the 46th minute - his right footed blast from 25 yards out slid to the right of diving Houston keeper Pat Onstad.
The Fire kept the pressure on after scoring their opener and they equalized in the 48th after midfielder Cuauhtemoc Blanco stripped Houston defender Julius James of the ball near the end line, then hit a lofted left footed cross to a sliding Peter Lowry, who thundered his volley home. The goal was the first of Lowry's career and - in my opinion - the best of the night.
Things slowed down for a few minutes after Lowry's goal but the Fire was hurt by bad luck again when Daniel Woolard - who had come on for an injured Gonzalo Segares - was lost to injury in the 60th minute.
With Woolard gone, Houston again picked up their attack and Brian Ching came excruciatingly close in the 69th minute, blowing a 1 v. 1 with Busch before hitting the ball over an open net. Finally it seemed like the Fire had caught a break but their luck ran out in the 83rd when defender Brandon Prideaux was whistled for a (soft) foul in the area, giving the Dynamo a penalty kick.
Midfielder Stuart Holden made no mistake with the spot kick, as he powered his effort to the right of Jon Busch and gave Houston the 3-2 lead.
The Fire wasn't done attacking though and in the 85th minute it looked like they had equalized again but Blanco's chip from the left side of the box hit the inside of the far post and (somehow) refused to go in.
Blanco's shot was the last real chance for the Fire but the game wouldn't end without another piece of controversy and Julius James' perceived tackling of an airborne Patrick Nyarko (who was attempting to head a Blanco cross) inside the box drew a PK shout from the Fire but the referee wasn't having any of it and the match soon ended.
Before I sign off for the night I wanted to pose a couple questions to you guys though...
**1 - What did you think of the Fire defense?**
After three consecutive MLS shutouts, the Fire defense was pathetic (at least in the first half) on Sunday night. The marking in the lead up to Houston's first goal was very poor and I know Denis Hamlett will not be happy with the way his backline performed. Sure, the Fire lost Gonzalo early on but that doesn't change the fact that there isn't any excuse for not marking your man...
**2 - What about the PK?**
For those of you who didn't see it, Houston's penalty was pretty soft. Granted, Brandon Prideaux's slide tackle did take Corey Ashe to the ground but it looked like Prideaux got the ball too and there really wasn't a whole lot in the challenge. Personally, I thought that referee Terry Vaughn could've let the challenge go but he isn't shy when it comes to PK's (see Fire at Chivas USA...)