BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. - If there was ever a team for the Union to get their first win against, it was a Chicago Fire squad rooted firmly to last place in Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference.
But for the second straight week, a goalkeeping gaffe by Rais Mbolhi and a lack of attacking sharpness consigned the Union to their third scoreless outing in four games this season. This time, it was a 1-0 loss in front of an announced crowd of 12,815 Sunday at windswept Toyota Park.
"That final ball - whether it's a cross, whether it's a decision to beat a guy one-on-one and take a shot for yourself, or make a play for someone else - that final ball has to get a little bit better for us," Union midfielder and captain Maurice Edu said.
Whether he meant it or not, Edu's reference to being more selfish applied directly to the Union's best chance of the day.
In the 31st minute, Andrew Wenger capitalized on a collision between two Chicago defenders and had a good look at the goal, but he decided to lay off a pass instead of shoot. That decision would have paid off if his nearest teammate, Fernando Aristeguieta, wasn't two yards behind him when the ball went rolling by.
"Yeah, I should have just shot it," Wenger admitted after the game.
Six minutes after Wenger's lost gamble, the Fire made the Union pay. And just like the last time these two teams met, a blunder by Mbolhi was a key factor. Harrison Shipp swung in a free kick from the left wing and the ball glanced off Chicago defender Adailton's head. Mbolhi completely missed it.
It couldn't have been easy viewing for Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz, who helped bring in Mbolhi to star at the position he once played. Or for Rene Meulensteen, the high-profile Dutch consultant to the Union's front office who traveled to Chicago's southern suburbs for the game.
As has been the case all year, Mbolhi did not speak with the media after the game. Union manager Jim Curtin said Mbolhi has stayed level-headed throughout his struggles.
"He keeps to himself and goes about his business," Curtin said. "I don't think he's feeling any pressure at the moment."
In the 67th minute, Curtin replaced Vincent Nogueira's two-way running in midfield with Fred's pass-oriented playmaking. But Fred's time on the field didn't last long. Barely five minutes after entering, the veteran Brazilian was ejected for swinging a hand into Shipp's head.
It was eerily reminiscent of Zach Pfeffer's ejection a week ago at PPL Park - both the foul itself and Fred's protest that it was unintentional. As with Pfeffer's dismissal, though, the Union were left without much of a case to argue.