BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. -- After going eight straight games without a defeat, the Chicago Fire find themselves in a bit of a skid, posting a second straight loss to the Portland Timbers, 1-0, on Saturday in front of 16,419 at Toyota Park.
The expansion Timbers swept the season series against Chicago this year, and Saturday marked Portland's first road victory after going 0-5-2 in its previous seven road matches. Chicago (2-6-12) has lost back-to-back games after falling to the Los Angeles Galaxy the weekend before.
"We knew it was a must-win game for us in terms of just mental preparation," Fire defender Cory Gibbs said. "We're not saying that our season is over. But mentally it was a game that we ... not had to win, but we wanted to win for our fans. It didn't go our way."
The difference was a questionable penalty kick call and ultimate PK goal by the Timbers' Jack Jewsbury in the 25th minute to give Portland (6-9-3) the 1-0 lead.
The Timbers' opportunity stemmed from Fire defender Gonzalo Segares who referee Elias Bazakos called for bringing down Portland's Jorge Perlaza in the box. Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson guessed correctly and dove to his right on Jewsbury's PK, but the ball was out of his reach.
"When I saw the ball coming in I tried to poke it away," Segares said of the foul, which he felt did not include any incidental contact. "I know I felt it. I know I kicked it. The trajectory of the ball, I went inside when Perlaza was trying to come inside. The referee decided to call the PK. I'm very frustrated."
"Am I happy about it? No, but there's nothing I can do about it at that point," Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas said. "You live with that. Obviously I thought we could have done better before the opportunity got there."
The Fire nearly found the equalizer before halftime when a Gibbs header hit the far right post in the 44th minute. Fire midfielder Daniel Paladini took the corner from the left side and found Gibbs on the near side, but Gibbs' header was just off the mark and the Timbers' defense cleared the ball away.
"We set the play and Jalil [Anibaba] did well setting the pick on my man," Gibbs said. "I headed it far post, and I hit the post. Just unlucky."
The Fire had to play down a man for the final 30 minutes as Yamith Cuesta picked up two yellow cards in a span of six minutes and a subsequent red card ejection in the 63rd minute. Despite playing down a man, Chicago tried to push. Second-half sub Orr Barouch even hit the frame in the 68th minute.
But following the match, some boos were heard as Chicago could not pull even with Portland.
"We've not been delivering for them," Fire midfielder Patrick Nyarko said. "We owe everything to them. They have the right to boo us or whatever it is. We know we're putting our all out there, trying to get the result. In this circumstance it's tough with a man down and dubious calls like that."
Analysis: Gibbs' sentiment of it being a must-win moment certainly rings true to where Chicago stands at this stage of the season. The Fire had an expansion club that had not posted a road victory, and the Fire did not deliver at Toyota Park.
The Fire started relatively flat on the offensive side in the first half, and there just was no flow to their attack. Dominic Oduro's decision making was off the mark -- hesitating to shoot in situations where he should pass, and shooting when he had other options close by. Pappa was guilty of the same on a couple of occasions.
One positive for Chicago was Johnson's play in the net. He posted six saves in a dramatic difference from the first time the Fire played the Timbers and lost 4-2.