In the long history between these two teams (winners of the first five MLS Cups), there has never been an ending quite like this.  The Chicago Fired dealt DC United’s playoff chances a major blow while keeping themselves alive for a late playoff run by scoring two second half stoppage time goals to stun DCU 2-1.

Most of the action in this match took place late in the second half.  For most of the game DC aggressively probed the Fire defense for a goal, knowing they needed to win to take advantage of the New York and Portland losses. Despite creating a few good chances, DC had no shots on goal in the first half. Chicago, meantime, was content to sit back and hit DC on the counter, a strategy which almost paid off late in the first half. A Marco Pappa strike was bobbled by DC’s Bill Hamid but he recovered to prevent the follow-up shot.  The second half saw both teams have periods of dominance, but as it dragged towards the finish line the sense in the stadium was that one mistake could be the difference.

On a normal night, one mistake would have.  Santino Quaranta was taken down in the box in the 90th minute and Dwayne De Rosario converted the penalty to break the scoreless tie.  DC players had gone down in the box all night, so to them the penalty seemed like poetic justice.  However, almost immediately after the goal, things fell apart.  The DCU defense, which had overall played pretty well, gave Sebastian Grazzini some space and allowed him to score on a rocket in the 92nd minute.  Less then two minutes later, it was deja vu all over again as Gonzalo Segares, who had committed the penalty on Quaranta, beat an offside trap and used his yards of free space to send in a perfect cross from the left, finding Diego Chaves at the back post.  The replay above shows that Perry Kitchen kept Segares onside while the rest of the defense settled in hoping for an offsides flag.

“You kind feel bad, a little bit for [DC United], but that’s how the game is,” said Chicago manager Frank Klopas after the game in a boisterous lockerroom.  “For us, it was a great comeback and a great feeling… for our guys.”

The win keeps Chicago’s small playoff chances on life support.  They need to win their final game and hope New York loses theirs by a lot.  Regardless, this is the kind of win that can give a team and fans some positive vibes heading into the offseason.  It’s hard not to see a sense of excitement about a team that was a finalist for the U.S. Open Cup and made a late playoff run after firing its manager midseason.

On the other side of the pitch is DC United, a team that had its playoff destiny in its own hands.  It had a favorable schedule and games in hand.  Now, with two games this upcoming week, they join Chicago on playoff life support.  They need to beat Portland on Wednesday and Sporting Kansas City Saturday, then hope that New York, Chicago, and Portland lose out (note: the great DC scribe Martin Shatzer breaks down DC’s playoff chances better than I do).  Not impossible, but the play of the team of late doesn’t suggest this team is making a run.  The team has lost its last four games, including to lowly Vancouver, and would need to win back-to-back games for the first time since 2009 to even think about the playoffs.  It’ll be an interesting last week, and this game made it even more interesting.