CHICAGO – The Chicago Fire let two points slip away Wednesday night at Toyota Park thanks to Colorado Rapids forward Conor Casey, who scored on a header in second-half stoppage time as the Rapids tied the Fire, 2-2.
The two teams go into the World Cup break with vastly different emotions despite seeing the same result.
“We never gave up," said Casey, whose team ran off the field cheering and celebrating. "In the end, we were able to put one back late, so that’s a good point on the road for us as we head into our vacation.”
Heading into the break, Colorado is riding a four-game unbeaten streak in MLS play, with three of those games being clean-sheet victories. The Fire also go into the break with a four-game unbeaten streak in MLS, but three of those games are ties. Wednesday was the third time in those four games the Fire gave up a stoppage-time goal.
"We just flat-out didn't mark up," Fire goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra said. "That's just a mental lapse, that's just mental toughness. You've got to stick it out in the last couple minutes of the game. Bottom line. There's no excuse and no reason for it."
Colorado started the game controlling play, holding the ball almost exclusively for the first few minutes of the game. Patrick Nyarko had a shot off the crossbar against the run of play in the ninth minute, but Omar Cummings opened the scoring in the 21st minute off of a cross from Casey.
The play was the result of a Wilman Conde slip and giveaway in the Fire's own half.
The game took an almost immediate turn after the first goal, though, and Marco Pappa, playing on the right for the second straight game, was able to capitalize on a free kick from just outside the box.
The Fire had the momentum for the rest of the half, compiling four shots to the Rapids' one, and took the lead in the 45th minute with another goal from Pappa, who has played well for two games after being replaced for one game by Mike Banner.
"We all know Marco has a lot of talent," Fire head coach Carlos de Los Cobos said through a translator. "But I had talked to Marco about putting that intensity onto the field and to respect the different zones in the field and to be more involved during the game. I think he has understood what my expectations about him were and I think he is meeting them."
The Fire, though, didn't come out of the break with the same pressure and speed that had gotten them the lead. Just like in Saturday's game against Philadelphia, they seemed content to sit back and work to get chances on counter attacks.
Colorado, on the other hand, pressed throughout the second half, leading to several chances, including a shot off the inside of the post by Cummings. The pressure, along with Fire giveaways, eventually resulted in the stoppage time goal by Casey, which came off of a cross from Jamie Smith.
"We looked like we had a different edge to us (in the second half)," Rapids coach Gary Smith said. "There was more energy, more sparkle about our play, we moved the ball sharper, and most importantly we were more competitive. In the first period I thought Chicago did exactly what they wanted by controlling the proceedings."
While the last minute goal will make the break that much sweeter for the Rapids, the Fire will surely be thinking about those two lost points throughout their 17-day vacation.
"We are upset because we lost two very important points. They are not learning the lessons of soccer that we need to learn," de Los Cobos said. "If you lose concentration, this is the situation that we are living again. In some matches, we are losing points at the last second, the last minute … The last minutes are the most important minutes of the game and we aren't learning this lesson."
FIRE NEWS AND NOTES
Midfielders Nyarko and Baggio Husidic both noticed a big drop-off in the Fire's push for a third goal in the second half, but both said it wasn't anything tactical from de Los Cobos.
"He basically told us to keep doing what we were doing," Nyarko said. "We were basically controlling the game. For whatever reason, we decided to see out the game and defend. We dropped off and tried to catch them in counter and that's a huge mistake that we made. Coach didn't tell us to drop off. We just did it as a team and that wasn't a smart idea."
Conde's giveaway on the third goal was uncontested and was his third giveaway leading to a goal in the last six games.
Collins John came on in the 66th minute after recovering from sickness. The forward didn't see much of the ball as the Fire defended for most of the second half.