By Mike Shalin, The Sports Xchange
FOXBOROUGH, Ma. - The Chicago Fire entered Gillette Stadium Saturday night still alive in the race for the top spot in the MLS Eastern Division standings.
They left not only eliminated from first place, but fell to third with one game left in the regular season.
The New England Revolution, playing younger players as they finish a non-playoff season in their home finale, employed a stifling and physical defensive system and held the Fire without a real scoring chance throughout New England's 1-0 victory.
Coupled with Sporting KC's 0-0 tie against New York and D.C. United's late win over Columbus, the Fire, who came in three points behind KC but also owning the tie-breaker, were eliminated from finishing first; but it also could get worse than that.
The Fire, who have made the playoffs for the first time since 2009, came in two points ahead of D.C. and three ahead of New York, which moved to within two points of Chicago with its tie.
Meanwhile, D.C. United, which visits Chicago for the regular season finale, pulled out its late win to move into second place.
Keeper Bobby Shuttleworth, playing in his career-high fourth straight game, recorded the rocking chair shutout (one late save) and Diego Fagundez scored in the 17th minute in a game virtually devoid of offense.
Fagundez's second goal of the season was a nifty 25-yard shot to the far side of keeper Sean Johnson, delighting the crowd of 25,534.
After scoring the goal, the celebrating Fagundez lifted his shirt to reveal "Happy Birthday Mom" on his T-shirt.
After taking the lead, the Revolution, whose 17 losses are the most for the team since 1999, had a chance to make it 2-0 later in the half, when Kevin Alston and Jerry Bengston worked a give and go before Alston, with a clear chance, shot over the net.
In the 44th minute of a physical half that saw the home team frustrate the visitors, keeping the Fire from any real offense, Bengston received a yellow card for grabbing a shirt. Chicago's Sherjill MacDonald got a yellow in the 67th minute.
NOTES: The Revs won the season series, 2-1, with a pair of home shutouts. ... With the playoff spot already wrapped up, Fire defender Arne Friedrich, who says he has never played a game on an artificial surface, was held out of the game. ... Chicago's Guillermo Franco served the second game of a two-game suspension, while New England's Benny Feilhaber served a one-game suspension. ... Chicago's Pavel Pardo missed his sixth straight game with calf tightness. The hope is he will return for the regular-season finale. ... The Revolution wrap up their season at Montreal next Saturday. ... Busy weekend at Gillette Stadium: UMass football played (and lost) earlier Saturday, the soccer game was at night and the Patriots host the Jets late Sunday afternoon. The football lines and yard markers were more than just a small distraction. ... Fan Appreciation night drew the Revs' fourth-largest stand-along crowd ever at the stadium and included Revs awards: Lee Nguyen (out with shoulder surgery)was named MVP (by fan voting), Steve McCarthy (out with concussion symptoms) won the top defender (media choice) award and Matt Reis the top humanitarian (team staff's selection).