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Chicago Fire’s season hits new low point in surprise home loss to FC Cincinnati

The Chicago Fire fell to 10th place in the Eastern Conference following a stunning last-minute loss to FC Cincinnati

BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. — The Chicago Fire’s season has not gone smoothly, but Saturday’s loss to FC Cincinnati might be a new low point.

The visitors scored in the first minute and regained the lead in the 83rd for a 2-1 win in SeatGeek Stadium. Losing at home to the last-place team in MLS when the Fire were looking to gain ground in the playoff race is the last thing the team could afford.

The loss further puts Veljko Paunović’s job status as Fire coach into question. 

“Everyday I’m concerned about my job security,” Paunović said. “I think it’s a profession where you always have to be ready for any kind of setbacks. You have to know that this is a top-flight job and everyone is fighting for it. I’m not concerned I would say, I’m aware of what we are and how this profession is. I’m absolutely confident that we are going to lift this up. We are going to fix it. I believe in our guys. Tomorrow I’ll be here working with them, giving them support and preparing them for the next match.”

The game got off to an inauspicious start with Cincinnati (5-13-2, 17 points) scoring in less than a minute. Leonardo Bertone put in a cross from the right targeted for striker Rashawn Dally, who couldn’t reach it. But Fire midfielder Fabian Herbers deflected it right into the path of Allan Cruz, who finished easily in front of goal.

The Fire (5-9-7, 22 points) showed urgency in trying to level the match and had a golden opportunity 22 minutes in. A foul on C.J. Sapong was initially ruled outside the box, but was changed to a penalty kick following Video Review.

Nicolás Gaitán then hit the penalty off the post. Seconds later play was suspended due to weather with 25 minutes played.

When play resumed 59 minutes later, the Fire still had most of the run of play, but Cincinnati had the best chance of the rest of the first half. Cruz almost got his second when he hit a shot around goalkeeper Kenneth Kronholm, but defender Francisco Calvo blocked it off the line.

Just before halftime, the Fire got another penalty kick. This time a Przemysław Frankowski cross was blocked with a hand.

Gaitán again stepped up to the spot. This time he was saved by Richey, but Gaitán was able to stuff in the rebound to tie the match.

In the second half, the Fire dominated the run of play, but couldn’t score. Then, Kekutah Manneh sprung Fanendo Adi on a counter. Adi took Cincinnati’s only chance of the second half to shock the home crowd.

“We were controlling the game and they did their game,” Calvo said. “We didn’t score our chances and they have, I don’t know, two, three chances and they score two.”

Adi served a suspension earlier this season after operating a vehicle under the influence of alcohol in late March. For him to score a big goal for the team was not lost on coach Yoann Damet.

Jul 13, 2019; Chicago, IL, USA; FC Cincinnati goalkeeper Spencer Richey (18) walks to the field prior to the game against the Chicago Fire at SeatGeek Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

“I’m very happy for Adi,” Damet said. “He’s been working really hard. He’s been through a tough moment. Getting that goal tonight, but also getting the result because of that goal is also huge for him from an individual standpoint.”

Paunović said the locker room was silent after the loss, adding his team lacked courage compared to Cincinnati.

“I’m not giving up and nobody is going to give up in that locker room while I’m here,” Paunović said. “We are going to work with the guys, prepare them. We have to show the respect for what we are doing, the respect for everyone that this club matters. We have to show self pride.”

The Fire played the match without Bastian Schweinsteiger, who was serving a yellow card suspension.

The Fire sit in 10th place in the Eastern Conference and lost ground on the three teams immediately above them in the standings. Toronto and Orlando picked up wins while New England got a draw at D.C. United.

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