For a team hoping to get a look at its offensive options heading into the 2011 Major League Soccer season, the continual red cards are not helping the Chicago Fire's cause.
Uruguayan forward Diego Chaves was ejected in the 37th minute and the Fire fell to D.C. United, 1-0, on Wednesday at the Carolina Challenge Cup at Blackbaud Stadium in Charleston, S.C.
D.C., which defeated the host Charleston Battery last week, is in good shape to repeat as Carolina Challenge Cup champion with two wins and six points in the bag. Chicago has three points from last Saturday's 1-0 win against Toronto FC and faces Charleston and potentially former Fire goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra, who just joined the Battery squad, this Saturday to wrap up the tournament.
On Wednesday, Chaves' red was Chicago's second straight in the tournament (third straight in preseason action) as defensive midfielder Logan Pause was issued a red during last Saturday's win over Toronto. Pause returned Wednesday as the tournament does not issue a one-game suspension.
"It makes for a difficult game of soccer to be played. That's the reality," Pause said of the team's recent shorthanded situations. "You take positives and negatives out of it. The positive is a situation like this helps build character and requires a team to roll up its sleeves and hope to get a result. We have another match this weekend and we've done a lot of training in our system, so we feel we're in good shape."
The red card against D.C. came after United had already taken the lead over the Fire. United's Blake Brettschneider tallied a 10th-minute goal off of Santino Quaranta's free kick from the left side. Quaranta's kick eluded the Chicago defense and Brettschneider headed the ball into the right side of the goal past Fire goalkeeper Jon Conway, who got the start for Chicago instead of No. 1 goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
Chaves was issued his red for a reckless challenge against D.C.'s Fred. Having to deal with a 10-player lineup again, Fire head coach Carlos de los Cobos immediately adjusted his lineup, bringing in Gonzalo Segares for rookie Jalil Anibaba, and Gabriel Ferrari in for Gaston Puerari. Bratislav Ristic dropped back from the midfield into Anibaba's spot, and Segares moved to left back in a four-man defensive back line.
Needless to say, the Fire's offensive opportunities were few and far between. Chicago's best chance actually came in second-half stoppage time as Ferrari was taken down just outside of the box. Orr Barouch took the free kick and drove it past the United wall, but right to second-half D.C. goalkeeper Joe Willis for the save.
A surprising Fire personnel move over the tournament has been De los Cobos' use of midfielder Patrick Nyarko. Last year's Fire assists leader has come off the bench for both Carolina Challenge Cup games.
Despite the back-to-back red cards in the tournament, Chicago has not surrendered a goal while playing with 10 men.
The Fire close out their preseason with a 6:15 p.m. CT match against Charleston on Saturday. Chicago opens the 2011 MLS regular season on March 19 at FC Dallas.
Charleston defeated Toronto, 2-1, in the Carolina Challenge Cup's nightcap match on Wednesday.