The Chicago Fire were eliminated from postseason contention on Thursday when the New York Red Bulls defeated the Philadelphia Union, 1-0, at Red Bull Arena.
Though the official ruling was an own goal by Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon in the eighth minute, it was the Red Bulls' Dane Richards who put his header on frame to lead to the game's only goal. The 5-foot-7 Richards was unmarked by the Union defense in the box, and his header bounced off the post, hit Mondragon in the back when he was sprawled out on the pitch, and the ball crossed the goal line for an early 1-0 Red Bulls lead.
New York (10-8-16, 46 points) clinches the final postseason spot, eliminating both the Fire (8-9-16, 40 points) and the expansion Portland Timbers (11-14-8, 41 points). Chicago will wrap up its 2011 season on Saturday when it hosts the Columbus Crew at Toyota Park.
For the second straight season and for the third time in the Fire's 14-season history, Chicago is out of the playoffs.
The Fire looked like their 2011 season was practically over when they fell to the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps, 4-2, on Aug. 7. Chicago held a dismal 2-7-13 record and showed few signs that it could turn the season around. In fact, at the time Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas' record through 11 games (1-3-7, 10 points) was only a shade better than Carlos de los Cobos' mark in the first 11 (1-4-6, nine points) before he was fired.
But Chicago posted an impressive 5-1-2 record in the games to follow, including a huge 3-0 win at Real Salt Lake on Sept. 28.
That momentum, however, was lost when the Fire played to a 1-1 draw at the Houston Dynamo on Oct. 1, followed by a 2-1 home loss to FC Dallas that pretty much penciled in the Fire's playoff-less fate.
The Fire kept things interesting, though, when Sebastian Grazzini netted an equalizer and Diego Chaves the game-winner in stoppage time to come from behind to beat D.C. United, 2-1, on Saturday at RFK Stadium to keep Chicago mathematically in the hunt heading into this week. The Portland Timbers' 1-1 draw against D.C. on Wednesday also helped keep the Fire in the picture.