Some fresh legs did nothing to stop the Crew’s slide Friday night.
Even with several changes for a team that was playing for the fourth time in 10 days and just 72 hours after a heartbreaking loss to Seattle in the US Open Cup final, the Crew could not get untracked and lost 2-0 to the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park.
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“We’ve been playing well, but [on Friday night] we didn’t play our best,” midfielder Kevin Burns said. “Everyone was a touch heavy.”
The Crew (13-8-7) remained one point behind Eastern Conference leader New York with two matches left. The Red Bulls host Real Salt Lake on Saturday.
“We all knew it was a very important game,” Crew goalkeeper William Hesmer said about their loss to Chicago. “We wanted to put pressure on New York and get first place in the East. Nobody took this team lightly.”
With the defeat at the hands of Chicago, Columbus are 0-3-2 in the past five MLS games and winless in seven, including CONCACAF Champions League and Open Cup defeats.
Columbus head coach Robert Warzycha had said earlier in the week that a shakeup might be needed to jumpstart a dormant offense, and he did just that, inserting four players into the starting lineup, including left midfielder Robbie Rogers.
Despite having played in the Crew's two previous games -- against San Jose and Seattle -- the match against the Fire marked Rogers' first start after returning from a knee surgery that had kept him out since July 24.
After getting two starting nods in CONCACAF League action, forward Andres Mendoza got his first-ever MLS start since signing with the Crew on Sept. 3.
In defense, center back Eric Brunner was picked over usual starter Andy Iro and Argentine Gino Padula got his first nod at left back since injuring his left ankle in a Sept. 4 match at D.C. United.
However, not one of them could make a difference as the Crew were blanked for the fourth time in seven games while allowing at least two goals in four of the past five matches.
“We have bad results in the last couple of weeks, but right now we have to wake up,” Padula said. “The playoffs are around the corner. We have to start winning games to get the momentum back.”
Maybe it wasn’t meant to be for Columbus on the 13th anniversary of the introduction of the Chicago Fire franchise to MLS. The date coincided with the start of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and it was the Crew who were engulfed early.
WATCH: Warzycha reacts to the loss
Peter Lowry put the Fire (8-11-8) ahead in the 30th and Brian McBride, in his last game against his former club before retiring, added the insurance score in the 53rd with a redirect at the near post between two defenders.
It was at that point that the Crew decided they didn’t want be embarrassed like they were in 4-0 and 3-1 September losses to Seattle and Los Angeles, respectively.
But at the end of the day, it was the same old Crew lamenting more missed chances. Burns -- a halftime sub for Adam Moffat -- had two good looks on goal, including a shot cleared off the line by defender Bratislav Ristic in the 90th minute.
“The left back did really well to track back,” Burns said. “He kept following it and framed the goal well.”
Crew right back Frankie Hejduk also got involved in the attack but couldn’t put one past goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra.
The epitome of frustration was Guillermo Barros Schelotto missing an unmarked six-yarder in the 74th minute.
Fortunately for the Crew, their next game isn’t until Oct. 16 at Toronto FC, giving them a much-needed rest and some time to regroup.
“We’re going to bounce out of [this slump],” Burns said. “We’re still a really solid team. There are no excuses right now. We’re going to get stronger and we’re going to peak at the right time.”