Fire crumble to Ruiz, first-place Union

Philadelphia Union forward Carlos Ruiz simply had one of those goals where you just tip your cap and try to move on.

Ruiz's long-distance strike in the 75th minute was the difference in a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday at PPL Park in Chester, Pa.

Ruiz's game-winner came shortly after his free-kick chip was cleared out of the box by Fire second-half sub Logan Pause. From about 30 yards out, Ruiz took a left-footed shot that went over Fire goalkeeper Jon Conway, skimmed off the bottom of the crossbar and went into the goal for a 2-1 lead.

The winning tally stretched Chicago's winless streak to eight games, after the Fire (1-4-5) had previously earned a draw in four consecutive matches heading into Saturday.

"He just hit it as hard as he could," Conway said of Ruiz's strike. "I'm not sure if he was even trying to get it on frame. I felt I was in a good spot, but it just dropped into the goal."

Michael Farfan had a 64th-minute goal for Philadelphia (5-3-2), which moved into first place in the Eastern Conference after the previously first-place New York Red Bulls played to a 2-2 draw against the Houston Dynamo. Farfan's goal took a slight deflection off of a Fire defender, and Conway could not react to the late change in trajectory.

Dominic Oduro scored the Fire's lone goal in the 67th minute to tie the score at 1-1. Oduro got past Farfan and slotted the ball just inside the near right post past Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon.

Ruiz's game-winning goal came only a few minutes after Gaston Puerari nearly tallied a go-ahead goal for Chicago. Puerari, who came off the bench as Baggio Husidic was given the start, stayed even with the Union's back line in the 72nd minute and found an opening as he drove toward Mondragon. Puerari's shot got past Mondragon, but Union defender Sheanon Williams bailed out his goalkeeper with a huge goal-line stop to keep the match level.

The Fire's struggles have certainly taken a toll on the team this year. Conway noted that the Fire's tendency is to play better when their backs are against the wall -- not the type of habit or situation Chicago would prefer to face.

"To be honest with you, I think we're better off playing anxiously," Conway said. "There are times when we've taken goals and been slapped in the face, and then we come back out with vigor and we're moving the ball crisper to get back into the game."

This time around, however, Ruiz's tally proved to be the final word.

Analysis: Things just can't get much worse for the Fire, who have only two points to show for their efforts in May -- a month that in retrospect should have been one of the easiest stretches in Chicago's schedule.

The Union's defense has been steady for most of the season, but its offense was lacking heavily entering Saturday's match. Now the Fire are responsible for surrendering the Union's only multi-goal game of the season.

The Union was the front-runner in high-percentage scoring opportunities. Ruiz had some strong scoring moments in the 36th and 37th minutes, and Carlos Valdes just missed the frame in the 25th as the Fire somehow escaped the first half unscathed.

Among the Fire's few accomplishments, Chicago had a patient and composed start to the match for about 15 minutes, but the Fire did not sustain that composure. Oduro's goal was a nice piece of individual work, and Puerari probably deserved a goal to his name.

A big personnel question has to be directed toward head coach Carlos de los Cobos making two substitutions in the 60th minute, when the match was still level. Pause entered for midfielder Corben Bone, and Puerari subbed for Husidic. Puerari probably should have been the starter in the first place, but the move to bring in Pause was questionable considering what De los Cobos was saying about his midfield entering the match.

De los Cobos elected to go with a defense-focused substitution with a half hour left on the clock. Was he focused on bunkering at that stage? The Pause substitution would have been more appropriate with a Fire lead or a draw with less than 10 minutes left on the clock, not 30.

De los Cobos did not stick with his attack-focused central midfield, and there were no immediate signs that called for that switch in the 60th minute.