The New England Revolution knew going into the final month of the season that they could still play their way to the top of the Eastern Conference. Back-to-back wins against Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls in a short span proved that at their best the Revs can play with anyone in the East.
But three games later with only one point to show for their efforts, the Revolution have now fallen to 3rd place in the standings and still have failed to clinch a playoff berth with two games to go after a 3-1 loss to the last place Chicago Fire.
Juan Agudelo opened the scoring in the first half but the potent counter attack of the Fire roared back in the second half with goals from David Accam, Harry Shipp and Gilberto as Chicago notched their first win since August 26th and ended a five-game losing streak.
It wasn't a bad start to the match for the Revolution as Jermaine Jones fired a hard shot from outside of the area that forced keeper Jon Busch into a diving save. The Fire answered at the other end as Gilberto found the crossbar and then forced Revs keeper Bobby Shuttleworth into an equally fine save. That sequence for the Fire came off a good spell of pressure with the ball constantly in the Revs third.
Strange how soccer works because right after the Fire arguable deserved an opening goal, New England decided to break out in the 31st minute. Chris Tierney was left open to send in a dangerous cross right in front of the six yard box that Agudelo headed home from close range between defenders. It was a reward for Agudelo's place in the starting lineup and good form of late with regular striker Charlie Davies listed as a substitute for the game.
Right before the half Kelyn Rowe would launch a shot from the right side that grazed the top of the bar and the Revolution appeared in control of the game.
But that could not have been further from the truth, as the Fire quickly leveled the match after the halftime whistle. In the 51st minute, a loose New England pass was quickly turned into a counter attack by the Fire. David Accam drove into the penalty area past Jose Goncalves and fired a shot past Shuttleworth at the near post. The Revs keeper was possibly wrong-footed by a deflection as he dove to his right, helplessly watching the ball go past him.
For all his heroics in the game, Shuttleworth was again caught out as Andrew Farrell slipped deep in his own half and Harry Shipp was there to pounce on the loose ball. Shuttleworth came off his line only to have Shipp, the very talented youngster who was invisible most of the match, go five-hole for the go-ahead goal that would prove the match winner.
At the other end, Jon Busch was equal to the task, as the Revs poured on the pressure but had a golden chance in the 66th minute. After a very unselfish sequence of play between Agudelo, Rowe and Lee Nguyen, it seemed Agudelo was wide open from about 8 yards out for the equalizer. The Revs striker opted for placement over power and perhaps gave Busch enough time to get into position to make the save and keep the Fire in front though Busch deserves all the credit for robbing Agudelo of a goal.
Kelyn Rowe would nod down a header a minute later following the ensuing corner kick that Busch was able to hold on two. In the 69th minute, Gilberto would find the post again as the Revs defense continued to struggle at the back. New England players had a difficult time finding their footing in this game, not just on the slip from Farrell at the back. Jermaine Jones among others seemed to be constantly slipping on the field as they tried to change direction or challenge for the ball.
The icing on the cake would come in the 86th minute, with the Revs using a three man back line of Goncalves, Farrell and Kevin Alston (Tierney was substituted for Charlie Davies), Fire sub Matt Watson dribbled down his left flank towards goal. He was eventually challenged by Jermaine Jones near the endline where the ball popped up and out to Gilberto who hit an odd yet effective wrap around shot past Alston and Shuttleworth into the side netting.
It was a deserved win for a struggling Chicago team that has fared better in recent games. All five games of their recent losing streak were by one goal, mostly to teams that will feature in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The signing of Gilberto has given the Fire's offense a significant boost though their defense has continued to struggle. The Revolution were able to generate good chances but were too often sloppy in their possession giving the Fire too many chances on the counter attack.
For the Revs, the loss drops them to a poor 4-10-2 on the road this season and they fall to 3rd place in the standings, still tied with the Columbus Crew who lost to the Red Bulls earlier today. DC United with their win over NYCFC yesterday now sits in second place one point ahead of both the Revs and Crew. Toronto FC is one point behind with a game in hand and the Revs no long control their own destiny with regards to a top two finish and a first round bye in the East.
The good news is that DC and Columbus end the regular season playing against each other and the Red Bulls have to play against Toronto, so New England still has a chance to reclaim the second seed. But now they face a must win at home against Montreal and then an improved NYC side on the road to end the season.
These last two games in particular should not sit well with the Revolution, as they have only gotten one point against the worst two teams in the East with a chance to wrap up a playoff spot and hold on to an all important bye. Now with a week off will give the team a chance to regroup before facing Montreal at home on October 17th.