Fire deliver knockout blow
BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. - With much fanfare, the Chicago Fire brought in Mexican superstar Cuauhtemoc Blanco in 2007 to be the final piece of a championship puzzle. The Revolution paid the price for that last night, and it cost them their season.
Blanco scored the decisive goal in Chicago’s 2-0 triumph over the Revolution in their Eastern Conference semifinal matchup. The two-goal margin was necessary for Chicago to eliminate New England in the aggregate-goal format after New England’s 2-1 win last Sunday in Foxborough. Chicago advances to the Eastern Conference final Saturday, when it will host Real Salt Lake.
The loss continued a string of playoff futility for the Revolution in Chicago. They are now 0-7 in the playoffs in the Windy City and have been outscored, 17-2, in those games. It marked the second consecutive year the Revolution were ousted by Chicago, after the Fire eliminated New England three straight years from 2005-2007.
Blanco, who had a strong night throughout creating chances for Chicago, got the winner in the 84th minute after his teammate Patrick Nyarko outworked defender Emmanuel Osei for the ball outside the right post. Nyarko got the ball back to Blanco, who moved away from defender Jay Heaps in the back half of the penalty box and drove home the point-blank shot past keeper Matt Reis (10 saves).
“It was a microcosm of the whole season,’’ Reis said. “More times than not if you look back on our losses we have beaten ourselves. We made a mistake and it cost us.’’
Blanco went into the crowd, slapped the hands of some fans and the up-and-down Revolution season soon came to an end before a sold-out
A few minutes after Blanco’s goal, the Revolution had a chance to send the game into overtime, but midfielder Pat Phelan’s header just missed the right post. He said the crossing pass from forward Kheli Dube hit a Chicago defender, throwing him off for a split second.
“You make your own luck and we didn’t do that tonight. We put ourselves in too big of a hole to come back in the last four minutes,’’ Phelan said.
The night got off to a promising start as the Revolution came out stronger on offense despite Chicago needing a goal to get the total score back to even.
Their best chance to score occurred in the 22d minute when defender Edgaras Jankauskas took a cross from midfielder Sainey Nyassi and headed it straight into the crossbar. Heaps had an open net but he couldn’t corral the rebound.
But soon the momentum began shifting to Chicago and the Fire capitalized in the 35th minute when defender Brandon Prideaux got hold of a loose ball just outside the penalty box. He drove up the right side and passed to midfielder Marco Pappa, who found midfielder John Thorrington trailing. Thorrington, seeing his first action since Aug. 29, drove a shot past Reis just inside the left post.
“We gave up sloppy goals,’’ said the Revolution’s Shalrie Joseph. “Those are the kind of mistakes that have been killing us all year. They came back to kill us.’’
However, New England’s lack of offense, evident coming down the stretch by the fact the Revolution only scored more than one goal in two of their last nine games, was apparent all night. The Revolution wound up with only four shots on goal against Jon Busch as opposed to Chicago’s 12 against Reis.
“We didn’t create a whole lot for ourselves,’’ said coach Steve Nicol.
Not surprisingly in a game between two familiar rivals, the action got chippy at times. The Revolution were assessed 16 fouls as opposed to Chicago’s eight, and got three yellow-card violations.
And so a season in which the Revolution qualified for the playoffs on the last game of the regular season ended in on a warm November evening just outside of Chicago.
“It’s another disappointing season for us,’’ Joseph said. “We played hard and worked hard, but at the end of the day we didn’t win anything.’’