It looked like the Fire were going to stand toe to toe with the New York Red Bulls after an entertaining and open first half that ended level at one goal apiece. After DC United failed to get anything from Houston at home and the Crew fell to New England for the second consecutive week, the Fire needed at least a draw to qualify for postseason. A fiftieth minute goal that was credited to Ibrahim Sekagya gave New York the lead and started a chain reaction of collapse that resulted in Chicago missing the playoffs for the third time in the last four seasons.
While the loss is excruciatingly disappointing for Fire supporter's after a solid run since June 1, the team really has no one to blame but themselves for being in this position on the last day of the season. The slow start to the season combined with several lost golden opportunities to move up in the standings in the second half of the season eventually killed this team. While a 12-6-5 record since June 1 was the best in the league, it's apparent that there is a lot of work to be done before this club is a championship contender. Who will be in charge of coordinating those changes is the question.
In the meantime, the Fire are left to stew in the mire of missed opportunity. Montreal, a team stumbling it's way down the stretch has played terribly for months but has qualified for the fifth spot in the East. Not because Columbus couldn't beat New England or DC was bad enough to botch a draw against Houston but because the Fire couldn't put them away in September.
Remember Maxim Tissot?
GK Sean Johnson (5) - Any time five goals are scored you can't be ecstatic with the goalkeeping but Johnson shouldn't be blamed for the free-for-all that was the second half. With the Fire pressing for an equalizer and apparently panicked after going down 2-1, the Red Bulls converted a barrage of free looks into five scores. Johnson probably deserved better.
D Gonzalo Segares (4) - Like much of the entire team, Segares had a good first half blemished by a disastrous second. Failed to close down Sam on a counter attack and the New York midfielder sent Chicago into an all out panic with the Red Bulls third goal. Game over.
D Austin Berry (4) - Henry's goal was highlight reel worthy but Berry and Soumare failed to close him down allowing the veteran forward ample space to find the corner of the goal and tie the score.
D Bakary Soumare (4) - See above. Started strong early but as always there were shaky moments. In a game of this magnitude, allowing five goals is simply unacceptable.
D Jalil Anibaba (4) - Came up with one of the Fire's few chances in the second half when his shot was saved by Robles in the 57th. Passing at close to 50% efficiency is not good however. How does Dax McCarty get a free header leading to a goal from a free kick? Set piece defending, an issue all season was a problem here again.
M Egidio Arevalo Rios (5) - With the season on the line one would expect Chicago's Designated Players to make an impact. Rios wasn't bad but he failed to make a significant contribution in the biggest game of the year. New York killed the Fire on counters in the second half and there was nothing done to stop it.
M Alex (5) - Like just about everyone else, there were some highlights in the first half with little to look at in the second. A few dangerous crosses and a handful of near misses on through balls were decent contributions.
M Patrick Nyarko (5) - He was effective leading attacks from the right side in the first forty-five but the Fire didn't get the ball to him nearly enough, especially considering Carney picked up a yellow card in the 37th. For some reason he was subbed out in the 61st effectively killing the Fire's best chance to attack New York from their weakest positions on the outside.
M Dilly Duka (6) - His long distance shot in the 6th minute was saved by Robles but the rebound fell to Magee who gave the Fire an early lead. He continued to generate chances with a 42nd minute shot that came inches from giving Chicago the lead again but Robles got enough of it to deflect it out for a corner kick. Inexplicably removed from the match in the 68th effectively killing any chance at a comeback.
F Mike Magee (6) - Converted on the rebound to score his 21st goal of the season thereby providing a glimpse of hope and justifying his status as the league's MVP. Questionable substitutions removing the Fire's playmakers from the match forced Magee deeper away from goal and allowed New York to focus on him. To rub salt in the wound for Magee and the Fire, Vancouver's Camilo scored a hat trick to win the Golden Boot race. The Fire's second half collapse shouldn't detract from the fact that he should be the MVP but it unfortunately probably will.
F Juan Luis Anangono (4) - With New York's DP's in big game mode, the Fire needed a strong performance from their Designated Player. They got just the opposite. Terrible touches, unforced give aways, holding onto the ball, and sub par passing squandered at least two good chances to give the Fire a second goal and a possible two goal lead. His botching of a clear 2v2 chance in the 24th minute led directly to Henry's goal on the counter. Anangono showed some promise in the last few weeks but this outing shows why you can't skimp on DP selections.
F Quincy Amarikwa (6) - Entered the game for Nyarko in the 61st when the correct move should have been for Anangono. Provided some spark, as he almost always does and even scored a consolation goal in stoppage time.
M Chris Rolfe (5) - Subbed in for Duka in the 68th and got two shots off but by then the horse was out of the barn.
M Joel Lindpere (5) - Replaced Segares in the 76th. Lost the ball in a 1v4 situation in the 77th in a play that ended with Alexander walking in alone on goal and scoring New York's fourth goal. Picked up a team leading 8th assist on Amarikwa's header from a corner kick.
With the season over it's time to start looking at 2014. With that in mind, some of the long discussed front office changes should take effect soon. We're hearing that replacing President of Soccer Operations Javier Leon could be the first move.
Stay tuned to Fire Confidential....
Fire Confidential Podcast
Catch the postmortem on the latest episode of the Fire Confidential Podcast.