Red Bulls end the Chicago Fire’s season in the MLS Knockout Round

BRIDGEVIEW, IL - OCTOBER 25: New York Red Bulls midfielder Daniel Royer (77) kicks the ball to score a goal during the MLS Cup Playoff match between the New York Red Bulls and the Chicago Fire on October 25, 2017 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – For such a strong comeback season for the franchise, the end certainly left a lot to be desired.

One of their best players, injured over the past month, was forced to come off the bench. Another was seriously injured during the course of play while one of the team’s best players wasn’t out there all together after a serious injury late in the season.

Couple that with a slow start against a playoff-tested team, and the Chicago Fire’s first visit to the MLS Playoffs in five years was a quick one.

The New York Red Bulls scored twice in the first 11 minutes of the game and never looked back as the cruised to a 4-0 win at a chilly Toyota Park on Wednesday evening in the Knockout Round of the postseason.

“It was a very difficult game for us to start the first fifteen minutes down 2-0. It’s tough in playoffs, it’s tough to match up and get back,” said head coach Veljko Paunovic of Wednesday’s game. “We ran like hell today, not because of lack of talent, we are so proud of our guys. We are so happy with the talent we have and I’m proud and grateful to all the guys for their effort they gave the entire season.

“It’s my fault obviously it’s my fault. If there was anyone to blame it’s me. We all can do better.”

It brings an end to a very successful season for Paunovic’s team, who went improved 24 points from the 2016 season and went from last in the MLS to third in the Eastern Conference. But they were not match for the visitors, who got an early goal and assist from Bradley Wright-Phillips on the two quick goals to steal the momentum from the hosts.

Bastian Schweinsteiger, whose has had calf and quad injuries hamper him over the last month, eventually came into the game in the 65 minute, replacing the injured Djordje Mihailovic. It didn’t make a difference, as the Red Bulls added scores from Daniel Royer  and Gonzalo Veron in the final 20 minutes to finish off the Fire.

“I think that even though tonight is really frustrating, we can be proud of the season that we did have, the regular season, but they don’t hand out trophies for doing really well in the regular season and making the playoffs,” said midfielder Dax McCarty. “I think another year together will be good for us, hopefully we bring back a good core of this group because there’s a lot of talent here, there’s a lot of good players.

“We just need to, maybe we need to go through a little bit of failure so we can come back stronger next year.”

At least 2017 was a good start, even if the finish left something to be desired.