Fire squander two-goal lead in crushing 3-2 loss to Crew

The Fire’s long playoff odds got even longer after Saturday’s defeat.

SHARE Fire squander two-goal lead in crushing 3-2 loss to Crew
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Rafael Czichos and the Fire squandered a 2-0 lead in their 3-2 loss to Columbus.

Courtesy of the Fire

For 45 minutes, the Fire showed the best of their ability. Then they showed why their season is on the verge of effectively ending in July.

Their 3-2 loss Saturday to the Crew was the first match of a three-game homestand that will continue Wednesday against Toronto FC and conclude Saturday against the Sounders. The Fire came into the day eight points out of a playoff spot, with only a 13% chance to reach the postseason, according to FiveThirtyEight.

More concretely, to reach the 48-point total that was good enough to make the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2021, the Fire will need 31 points in their last 15 games.

In the first half, the Fire (4-10-5, 17 points) could have made an argument that kind of run might be somewhat feasible. Then it became all too apparent why it won’t happen and why they’re last in the 28-team league. A 2-0 halftime lead turned into a gut-wrenching defeat in front of a frustrated crowd of 15,157 at Soldier Field.

‘‘We didn’t fight back; we didn’t fight in the second half at all,’’ coach Ezra Hendrickson said. ‘‘We just laid down and let them pass right through us, run by us. When you do that, teams punish you.

‘‘[There’s] absolutely no excuse to lose a game at home like that, up 2-0 at halftime when all you have to do is manage the game, make sure the team doesn’t score and you win the game.’’

The Fire took a 1-0 lead when captain Rafael Czichos headed a sharp cross from Chris Mueller past Crew goalkeeper Eloy Room in the 29th minute. The goal was the first in MLS play for Czichos, who scored twice in the Fire’s U.S. Open Cup loss to Union Omaha.

Striker Jhon Duran then made his presence felt in the 41st minute, when his low cross snuck through the Crew’s defense and found Mueller, who doubled the Fire’s lead. Mueller, a Schaumburg native, scored for the second time since leaving Scottish side Hibernian for the Fire.

Yet instead of killing off the game and sealing three important points, the Fire allowed the Crew to come back. Derrick Etienne scored in the 63rd minute to cut the Fire’s lead in half before tallying again to even things in the 75th. The Crew then took the lead when Cucho Hernandez got behind the Fire’s defense and chipped the ball over goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina in the 83rd.

Mueller also had issues with the Fire’s fight. Or, more accurately, with their lack thereof, which might be worse than a lack of talent.

‘‘Damn near because you can control your fight,’’ Mueller said. ‘‘It definitely sucks that you’re losing games in areas that you can control. A lot of the goals that we’re giving up are so soft, and a lot of them are our own fault. We’re shooting ourselves in the foot too often, and it’s costing us crucial points, obviously.’’

Any chance of a late comeback was short-circuited when Miguel Navarro was handed a straight red card in the 90th minute. Hendrickson also removed Xherdan Shaqiri in the 80th minute after the high-priced designated player asked out because of a thigh issue.

NOTES: Jhon Duran started at striker in place of Kacper Przybylko. Acquired during the offseason from the Union for $1.15 million in allocation money, Przybylko has scored only three goals.

• Before the match, the Fire observed a moment of silence in memory of the victims of the mass shooting Monday in Highland Park.

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