Wednesday night was a lesson in playoff soccer for the Chicago Fire.
In its first playoff appearance since 2009, the Fire was knocked out after just one game, losing 2-1 to the Houston Dynamo at Toyota Park. And after going 1-3-1 in its final five regular-season games, the Fire couldn't regain any momentum.
Will Bruin took advantage of a slip by second-year Fire defender Jalil Anibaba and got the Dynamo on the scoreboard in the 12th minute with a 7-yard header inside the near post off a Brad Davis corner kick.
"We gave up a goal, things happen," Fire coach Frank Klopas said. "It's a situation where one of our players slips. It was unfortunate. And then they scored.
"I just felt that in these last games we really haven't gotten the break. When we've gotten in good positions and good spots, it seems that things just didn't go our way, where we could get one of those bounces to go our way or someone slipping like that."
The breaks might not have gone the Fire's way, but the team didn't play well either. It looked jittery at times; it sometimes struggled to trap the ball; its passes didn't connect, especially in the attacking third of the field.
The effort was there, but something was lacking.
Then came a heartbreaking start to the second half.
The Fire gave up a goal before many fans had returned to their seats from the concession stands. Houston forced a turnover near midfield and a quick Calen Carr pass sent Bruin into the penalty area, where he struck from 15 yards out.
"We start the second half in the worst way. We give up a goal in 30 seconds where they pressure and it's a 50-50 ball that bounces their way and we give up a second goal," Klopas said.
The Fire's lone highlight came in the 83rd minute, when Patrick Nyarko fed second-half substitute Alex on the run at the top of the penalty area, and Alex's left-footed shot a couple of touches later sent off the far post and in.
The Fire was in no mood to celebrate the goal, rushing it back to the center spot for Houston's kickoff so it could begin the search for the game-tying goal.
Despite a frantic effort the tying goal never came, making the Fire's return to the playoffs a short one.
"Listen, when it comes down to a game of inches," captain Logan Pause added, "whether it's for you or against you. It's tough fighting down 2 goals. We made a push at the end. Of course we get one back. You've got to give the guys a lot of credit for fighting out there."
"I felt that the guys pushed it and they gave everything that they had," Klopas added.
On this night it wasn't enough to save their season.
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