On Fire: Breaking down heartbreaker in Seattle

Chicago fall further in playoff race with disappointing late loss

Saturday night’s painful 2-1 loss at Seattle dropped the Chicago Fire further down the postseason pecking order, pushing them to 10th place, five points behind San Jose for the eighth and final playoff spot.

The loss was a heartbreaker, as the Fire played decently but conceded in second-half stoppage time to drop all three points.

WATCH HIGHLIGHTS: Seattle 2, Chicago 1

Three observations from Saturday’s match:

1) Off the mark -- It didn’t take much to ruin the Fire’s Saturday night. In fact, it only took two plays, both of which were Fredy Montero goals, both of which came down to poor marking.

The first play came in the 36th minute. The Fire back four was caught off guard by an early cross from Seattle left back Tyson Wahl. The back line reacted slowly to the ball, allowing the alert Montero to slip behind them and control it near the top of the box. The Seattle forward made no mistake from there, finishing nicely from 10 yards out.

The second play came in the 91st minute. Sounders midfielder Nathan Sturgis took advantage of a generous amount of space on the right wing, hitting an early ball to the back post. The Fire had plenty of players back to defend the cross but didn’t put a body on Montero, who buried his free header from the left edge of the six-yard box.

Chicago’s Steven Kinney and Baggio Husidic were close enough to mark Montero, but – shockingly – both chose to mark Steve Zakuani, who was stationed in the middle of the six.

“We were sloppy on a couple plays,” Fire midfielder John Thorrington told MLSsoccer.com after the match. “And we got punished for it.”

Of course, this isn’t the first time this season the Fire have been punished late in a game. Time and time again, Chicago have lost focus in the dying minutes, losing marks in crucial areas to concede late and drop points. If they do it again, they might just spend November watching the playoffs from the couch.

2) No rest for the weary -- Saturday’s affair was as up-and-down as they come. The first 75 minutes of the match saw both teams push forward often. Then Chicago started to tire.

Unable to go forward or keep possession, the Fire lost control of the match. Seattle – who, to be fair, were undoubtedly buoyed by the sellout crowd at Qwest Field – hit Chicago with wave after wave of attack, eventually scoring the winner in stoppage time.

Chicago made just one substitution, bringing on Calen Carr for Patrick Nyarko in the 86th minute. No other – or earlier – changes were made to help the Fire keep possession, which would have slowed Seattle’s offensive onslaught. Head coach Carlos de los Cobos may want to reconsider that strategy in future matches.

3) Suspended -- The loss wasn’t the only bad news for the Fire. Dynamic DP Freddie Ljungberg was hit with a yellow card in the 83rd minute, meaning that he’ll be suspended for Saturday’s match against LA.

The Chicago attack will have a different feel without Ljungberg, who has played a role in nearly every Fire goal since he made his first start for the club on Aug. 8.

Sam Stejskal covers the Chicago Fire for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at sam.h.stejskal@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @samstejskal.