CF Montreal eases past fading Fire 2-0

In three losses to the East’s best teams, the Fire were outscored 8-1 and faded further from the playoff race. They also lost Xherdan Shaqiri and Rafael Czichos to injuries.

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Xherdan Shaqiri left with an apparent injury, and the Fire lost to CF Montreal.

Courtesy of the Fire

In case anybody forgot what the Fire are, they reminded people during their 2-0 loss Saturday to CF Montreal.

After losing 4-1 to East-leading Philadelphia and 2-0 to reigning MLS champion New York City FC, the Fire laid another egg against the second-place team in the conference, even though Montreal played a man down for the entire second half. In 270 minutes against the East’s best, the Fire were outscored 8-1 and showed they’re nowhere near the league’s upper echelon.

“The biggest learn is that we’ve improved a lot, and we showed it the previous 5-6 games before these last three, but there’s still a lot more improvement that needs to be there,” coach Ezra Hendrickson said. “A lot more maturity.”

The Fire will need to mature quickly to make something of this season, which continued to crash in front of an announced crowd of 13,907. With seven games left, the Fire are six points from a playoff spot and have to go on the road twice in the next week.

“Mathematically, it’s still possible [to make the playoffs], but we have to come together,” midfielder Fabian Herbers said. “How we played today, if we play like this, we have no chance. We don’t even have to talk about [the] playoffs. It’s not possible. We have to come together as a team and play way better.

“Obviously, it’s still possible mathematically, but the chances slim down, and we dig ourselves a bigger hole every time.”

Whether they’ll have Xherdan Shaqiri and captain Rafael Czichos for those games at New England and Columbus is unclear. Shaqiri left in the 30th minute with a quad issue, and Czichos landed awkwardly in the 88th minute and immediately grabbed his left knee.

More time without Shaqiri and Czichos is the last thing the already-thin Fire need, and Hendrickson hoped neither would miss significant time.

Due to the season-ending hamstring injury suffered by Gaston Gimenez and Mauricio Pineda missing the match with a left foot problem, the Fire (8-13-6, 30 points) moved Jairo Torres into a deeper role in central midfield. A young designated player, Torres had made little impact as a winger since joining in May from Mexican club Atlas.

With Torres filling in for Gimenez, the Fire restored winger Brian Gutierrez to the starting lineup. Jhon Duran also replaced Kacper Przybylko at striker.

Those changes — not to mention a recently resodded playing surface — did little to help the Fire, who are looking for ways to stop their slide.

“We don’t know,” Torres said. “The truth is, if we knew why we aren’t winning, I think we would have already reversed that, but I think sometimes there are phases that we have to face and get over, so that we can go into what matters for us, which is the playoffs.”

After controlling play early, CF Montreal took a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute, when Ismaël Koné was given time outside the 18-yard box and sent a right-footed shot past Fire goalie Gabriel Slonina. Montreal cashed in again five minutes later when Romell Quioto’s free kick beat Slonina after a handball was called on the Fire’s Carlos Teran.

An already-difficult night got worse when Shaqiri was replaced by Herbers. The Fire did get a lifeline three minutes into first-half stoppage time when Koné was sent off after picking up his second yellow card, but they were unable to avoid their second straight shutout.

Hendrickson was bothered by the Fire not converting, and also why they failed to score.

“We moved the ball too slow,” Hendrickson said. “We got away from moving the ball quickly, and we talked at halftime that if we move the ball quickly, because we have an extra man, there will always be an open guy. But still, we were getting the ball and taking three, five seconds on the ball instead of moving the ball. That killed us.”

NOTES: In what is likely his last game in Chicago, Montreal’s Djordje Mihailovic was subbed off in the 67th minute. A former Fire homegrown player who was traded to Montreal before the 2021 season, Mihailovic has blossomed since leaving Chicago and will be heading to Dutch club AZ Alkmaar in January.

* Defender Miguel Navarro was suspended for an accumulation of yellow cards and was replaced in the starting lineup by Jonathan Bornstein.

* First-round pick Kendall Burks replaced Czichos and made his MLS debut.

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