Bastian Schweinsteiger has a step or two on Red Bulls’ Florian Valot. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)
HARRISON, N.J. — You can chalk it up to one of those days.
No matter what the Red Bulls did or accomplished at Red Bull Arena, they weren’t going to overcome the Chicago Fire Saturday.
Desperately needing a win and three points, the Fire vanquished the favored Red Bulls, 2-1, to end a number of streaks.
It was the first time the Red Bulls (3-3-0, 9 points) had lost at home this year in Major League Soccer action (they were 4-0) or in the CONCACAF Champions League (2-0-1). The Fire (2-3-1, 7) started the day 10th out of 11 teams in the Eastern Conference.
The loss also snapped an 11-match unbeaten streak (7-0-4) at Red Bull Arena in league play.
“Chicago should take playing against us personally, right and I get that,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said, referring ot the Red Bulls’ elimination of the Fire in last year’s wildcard playoff game. “Like when you get knocked out, when you’ve had challenges against certain teams, then it builds more competitive fire. So they came out and they won a lot of duels in the first half, aerial duels, tackles. They fought, they battled, and then they caused trouble on our back line.
“We weren’t up for it. We weren’t up for it. We thought that the game was going to be about passing and football, and it was more about like a team that’s desperate; that needs points; that has a point to prove, and they showed it. So, you know, good for them.”
Bradley Wright-Phillips found the scoresheet for the Red Bulls during a scramble off a corner kick in the 81st minute for his 91st MLS career goal and fifth of the season. It turned out to be too little and too late.
Not surprisingly, the Red Bulls endured a frustrating opening half.
Not only did an opposing team score at RBA for the first time this season, the Red Bulls were denied several times by goalkeeper Richard Sanchez.
On the half hour, Red Bulls center back Aaron Long headed a corner kick out of the box for the ball to go to Aleksandar Katai, who was standing about a yards outside of the area. He let a hard shot rip with his left foot past keeper Luis Robles for a 1-0 lead.
Sanchez, meanwhile, did his best have the hosts scratch their heads entering the locker room at halftime.
His best moments came six minutes after the goal as he denied an onrushing Daniel Royer with a spectacular kick save. The rebound came to Kaku, who fired away, but Sanchez made another stop to keep the Red Bulls off the scoreboard.
“We did not take our chances,” Wright-Phillips said. “I think last week was not great in the first half, but we managed to win. I thought that was a stepping stone for us to grind out results when we are not playing too good but obviously not.”
The Red Bulls continued their frustration in the second half.
Within seconds in the 62nd minute, midfielders Daniel Royer hit the right post and Tyler Adams had his shot denied by Sanchez on a diving stop.
It went from bad to worse in the 69th minute when Nemanja Nikolic converted a penalty kick to boost the Windy City side to a two-goal advantage. Katai got past Long and raced into the area, only to be tripped by Robles for a penalty kick. Robles was awarded a yellow card.
“We saw him cutting through,” Robles said. “I think Aaron realized that he was cutting through the middle and he wanted to get on that right side of him, but unfortunately, he put a great ball, and he made a great run. I saw him hesitate, and as he made a touch, I was hoping the touch was a little closer, and it was wrong unfortunately. Instead of getting the ball, he got him.
“Very fortunate that they changed the rule from last year, as long as the goalkeeper is playing the ball, it is not necessarily a double whammy, it’s just a penalty kick or a yellow card.”
On the ensuing spot kick, Nemanja Nikolic fired a right-footed attempt past Robles for his fifth goal of the season.
The Red Bulls finally found the net in the 71st minute off some nifty passing as Royer slotted home a Derrick Etienne, Jr. pass into the far right side, but Etienne was called for being offside.
BWP made it interesting in the waning minues. Nikolic tried to keep the ball out of the net at the left post, but the English striker stabbed home the goal.
“We’ve been thrown into an early-season grind, and in some ways, I think we just need to keep working,” Marsch said. “It’s still early in the year and we need to just keep working and keep developing better understanding and keep integrating Kaku and keep getting this team so that it’s really all on the same page.
“So it’s normal for it not to be perfect right now — but we’ve got to have urgency in the workday and the work week and especially now our schedule gets tough. So dropping this puts a little bit more pressure on the table and the points and that kind of stuff. But we’ll manage it and we’ll find ways to get better.”
CHI – Aleksander Katai 2 (unassisted) 30′
CHI – Nemanja Nikolic (PK) 69′
NY – Bradley Wright-Phillips 5 (unassisted) 81′
NY – Luis Robles (caution, unsporting behavior)68′
CHI – Mohammed Adams (caution, unsporting behavior) 90+2′
New York Red Bulls: Luis Robles ©; Kemar Lawrence, Tim Parker, Aaron Long, Michael Amir Murillo, Tyler Adams, Marc Rzatkowski (Sean Davis, 57′), Daniel Royer, Alejandro Romero Gamarra (Vincent Bezecourt, 77′), Florian Valot, Bradley Wright-Phillips
TOTAL SHOTS: 22; SHOTS ON GOAL: 11; FOULS: 5; OFFSIDE: 2; CORNER KICKS: 7; SAVES: 1
Chicago Fire: Richard Sanchez; Grant Lillard, Brandon Vincent, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Kevin Ellis, Johan Kappelhof, Aleksandar Katai (Diego Campos, 83′), Mohammed Adams, Dax McCarty ©, Nemanja Nikolic (Jonathan Campbell, 89′), Elliot Carter (Alan Gordon, 74′)
TOTAL SHOTS: 4; SHOTS ON GOAL: 3; FOULS: 11; OFFSIDE: 5; CORNER KICKS: 4; SAVES: 9
Referee: Robert Sibiga
Assistant Referees: Corey Parker, TJ Zablocki
4th Official: Jose Carlos Rivero
VAR: Jorge Gonzalez