Fire 4, United 3
D.C. United hadn't scored on the road in almost three months, and with several regulars absent because of injuries and national team commitments, there was no reason to believe Wednesday night's match with the Chicago Fire would be any different from its five previous scoreless misadventures away from RFK Stadium.
So, naturally, United went out and scored three times, including the first goal of Ghanaian prospect Nana Kuffour's MLS career.
It should've been enough to extend the club's longest stretch of prosperity this season, but instead United yielded a pair of penalty kicks and committed too many defensive mistakes in falling to the Fire, 4-3, in a rescheduled game before just 8,202 at Soldier Field.
"We gave away the first half, which decided the whole game," Coach Peter Nowak said. "I was really upset because I thought we came here with a chance to win. . . . If you want to win these games, you have to be ready from the first minute. We didn't do a good job with it."
Kuffour, Christian Gomez and Jaime Moreno struck for United (5-5-4), which had last scored on the road April 2 in the season opener against Chivas USA. But a pair of goals by the Fire (9-6-2) late in the first half turned the momentum and helped end United's unbeaten streak at four.
The defensive problems came in many forms: Nate Jaqua was left unmarked for Chicago's first goal; Chris Rolfe was dropped in the box, setting up the second; a poor clearing attempt led to the third goal; and an uninhibited counterattack brought about the final one.
"We've got to get better defensively," midfielder Dema Kovalenko said. "I'm not talking about the three guys in the back. I'm talking about starting at the top and finishing at the back -- all of us."
Rookie central defender Bobby Boswell took responsibility for the breakdowns, saying: "I think I could've done things to prevent every goal. I'll take the blame. I'm supposed to be the leader in the back and give us the opportunity to win, and tonight I didn't do that."
Chicago needed just 11 minutes to go ahead, when Jaqua finished Justin Mapp's cross for his seventh goal of the season. United responded right away, though, as defender John Wilson penetrated on the left and crossed to Gomez, who sent a 10-yarder off the far post for his sixth goal of the year and the team's first on the road in 478 minutes.
United dictated play for most of the remainder of the half but failed to break the tie -- a costly letdown because, in the final five minutes, Chicago took advantage of D.C.'s weak defending.
In the 40th minute, Rolfe went down in the box, allowing Jesse Marsch to convert a penalty kick. Barely a minute later, United's Brandon Prideaux, contained near the corner, tried to clear the ball into the middle of the field instead of taking the safe route by sending it down the line. His errant effort was collected by the alert Thiago, who crisply volleyed it into the upper left side.
Nowak made two changes at the half, replacing Prideaux with David Stokes at right back and inserting Freddy Adu for Brian Carroll. Two minutes after the break, United's attacking posture paid off -- and once again Wilson made it happen. From deep in the corner, he whipped a cross into the six-yard box, where the tumbling Kuffour, making his second career start, nodded it in.
United maintained pressure, but like in the first half, its inability to score cost the club dearly. On a counterattack in the 61st minute, Jaqua appeared to get held from behind by Boswell as Rolfe's cross arrived, resulting in another penalty kick. Ivan Guerrero buried it to restore the two-goal difference.
But three minutes later the clever Adu drew a penalty for United, getting clipped by goalkeeper Zach Thornton. Moreno put it away for his team-leading seventh goal, and suddenly it was a competitive game again. But Kovalenko's deflected bid streaked fractionally wide in the 75th minute and reserve Jamil Walker's attempt hit the side-netting in the 88th.
"When you score three goals," Boswell said, "you should win games." . . .
Jose Burciaga Jr. scored in the 76th minute to lift Kansas City (5-3-7) to a 1-1 tie with visiting Columbus. . . .
Dwayne De Rosario scored in the 88th minute as host San Jose defeated Colorado, 1-0.
Brazil Wins Cup
Adriano scored two goals as Brazil defeated Argentina, 4-1, in the final of the Confederations Cup in Germany.
Brazil adds the Confederations Cup to the World Cup and the Copa America trophies it also currently holds.