It was fun while it lasted.
Unfortunately for the Chicago Fire, the New York Red Bulls took all the fun out of Wednesday night's MLS playoff game in a hurry, scoring twice in the first 11 minutes to end the Fire's season 4-0.
"Realistically, we barely put up a fight there in the beginning," said Fire midfielder Dax McCarty, calling the rout "a sad day. It's a sad way to end a great season for us."
The loss ends the Fire's best season in years, a season in which the club went from two straight years as the worst team in MLS to the third best.
This was the first playoff game for the franchise since 2012. The Fire still hasn't won a playoff game since 2009.
"To get out to the early lead I thought was about mentality and approach," said New York coach Jesse Marsch, a former Fire midfielder. "And our guys were fearless. They were aggressive.
"They didn't worry about if plays weren't going to go their way. There was a confidence on the field, and there's a quiet calmness with this group that I think is palpable."
The Red Bulls were everything the Fire was not.
Fire coach Veljko Paunovic took the blame for the loss.
"But not because of a lack of preparation," an upbeat Paunovic said. "We ran like (heck) today. Not because of the lack of talent; we are all proud of our guys. We are so, so happy with the talent that we have, and we are proud and grateful to our guys for the effort they did the whole season."
Bradley Wright-Phillips got the Red Bulls off to a great start with his seventh-minute goal. Sacha Kljestan put the Fire in a big hole when he caught Fire midfielder Juninho ball watching, losing Juninho to receive a Tyler Adams pass and make it 2-0.
"We knew that Chicago was very good when they score first and not very good when they concede first," Marsch said. "We knew that that was going to be vital, and our team was ready."
The Fire clearly was not ready.
"I think the better team won," McCarty said in a somber postgame locker room. "Plain and simple. I thought we got outplayed all over the field. I mean, that's a team that's been battle-tested in the playoffs now for five, six years.
"They've experienced a lot of hard games, a lot of tough games in the playoffs. They've experienced a lot of disappointment in the playoffs, and we aren't quite there yet."
The Fire tried going to a three-man back line, taking out defender Joao Meira in the 70th minute in an effort to get more offense going. New York made the Fire pay almost immediately, with Daniel Royer's goal making it 3-0.
The rout was completed in the 87th minute when substitute Gonzalo Veron scored for a 4-0 New York lead.
In the 65th minute the Fire lost 18-year-old homegrown midfielder Djordje Mihailovic of Lemont to a knee injury. He will have an MRI today.
"It doesn't look good," Paunovic said. "Our medical staff expects a very difficult injury with his right knee."
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