Same 0, same 0 for Fire in loss to NYCFC

NEW YORK — The Fire’s lackluster season trudged on Sunday with a 1-0 loss to New York City FC. Their MLS winless streak climbed to nine games, their longest in nearly four years. The run has left the Fire last in the standings with only two wins from 13 games.

“I didn’t think this was one of our better performances,” coach Ezra Hendrickson said. “Even in our previous losses, I thought we were in the game. Tonight, we turned the ball over a lot and were forced to defend a lot.”

The Fire were not able to replicate their positive result from midweek, when they rallied from an early deficit to earn a 3-3 draw against the New York Red Bulls. This game against the 2021 MLS Cup champion began in nearly identical fashion, with the Fire falling behind after conceding an early penalty.

After replay review showed the ball hitting defender Miguel Navarro’s hand in the box, New York City forward Heber coolly converted from the spot to put the Fire behind 1-0 in the 23rd minute.

“[The penalty call] was a difficult one,” Hendrickson said. “[Navarro] got pushed in the back. I don’t think he was trying to put his hand up to stop the ball.”

The Fire couldn’t find a way past former teammate Sean Johnson in New York City’s net. They thought they had equalized in the 65th minute, but forward Chris Mueller was offside in the buildup. It was the seventh time the Fire have been shut out in MLS play.

“Today was not a good game,” forward Kacper Przybylko said. “We need to move the ball more. We need more movement without the ball.”

The Fire might be too reliant on star midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri (three goals, four assists in 2022) for offense. The Swiss international was named to MLS’ Team of the Week after he scored a goal and had an assist Wednesday. Only four of the Fire’s 11 goals have come without his involvement.

Goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina, who made three saves, proved to be the lone bright spot for the Fire, and he was not at fault for the penalty. It was a steadier performance after some blunders in the last two games led directly to goals.

“[Slonina] responded well,” Hendrickson said. “He made some good saves. We expected that from him, that he would rebound this way.”

Slonina, 18, announced Friday that he had chosen to represent the United States internationally, turning down overtures from Poland, the birth country of his parents.

The Fire always have struggled against New York City FC. In nine road games, the Fire have yet to win, losing the last seven matchups on the East Coast.

Still in search of their first victory since March 19, the Fire will conclude their three-game trip Saturday against Toronto FC.

“We need to stay positive,” Przybylko said. “We’re better than that; I know that for sure.”

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