The fans came to see Cuauhtemoc Blanco. They ended up having to settle for Terry Vaughn.
In yet another Major League Soccer match in which the game officials succeeded in grabbing the limelight, Chivas USA on Thursday night suffered a devastating 3-2 loss to the unbeaten Chicago Fire.
Chicago's tying and winning goals were scored in the 89th and 90th minutes, respectively, the latter on Blanco's second successful penalty kick of the night, this one six minutes into stoppage time.
It was a fast-paced and incident-packed game spoiled to a large extent by refereeing that left Chivas Coach Preki angrily pointing his finger at Vaughn in a postgame confrontation.
Vaughn handed out 11 yellow cards, seven to Chivas USA, and one red card. It was a spirited match, but not especially mean-spirited, and there are surely better ways to keep players in line.
Paulo Nagamura gave Chivas (7-2-3) the lead in the 16th minute, catching Chicago goalkeeper Jon Busch by surprise when he unleashed a swerving shot from more than 30 yards.
Busch was slow to move to his left and Nagamura had his fourth goal of the season, tying him with Eduardo Lillingston for the team lead.
Nine minutes later, the Fire (5-0-6) was back on level terms.
Chivas USA defender Shavar Thomas grabbed a handful of Wilman Conde's jersey and dragged the Chicago player to the ground in the penalty area. There was no argument about it being a penalty kick, although Nagamura did protest loudly and received a yellow card for his trouble.
Blanco stepped up and blasted the kick past Zach Thornton in the Chivas USA net and tied it up at 1-1.
There was an unsavory and unnecessary incident later in the half that added to the frayed tempers on the field. Chivas midfielder Sacha Kljestan wrapped his arm around Conde's neck and pulled him down in a move more reminiscent of rugby than soccer.
Vaughn was late in making the call and, strangely, did not see fit to give Kljestan what would have been a deserved yellow card. That had Chicago Coach Denis Hamlett up off the bench and screaming, only to have the game's fourth official, Baldomero Toledo, get in his face and order him to sit down.
More drama followed.
First, Conde was given a yellow card for throwing an elbow that knocked Lillingston to the grass long after the ball had gone. Then, Chivas USA's Cuban striker Maykel Galindo made a run into the Fire penalty area and was brought down by Bakary Soumare. Vaughn again pointed to the penalty spot and Galindo scored on the resulting kick to put Chivas back in front, 2-1, near the end of the first half.
Before the kick was taken, Vaughn managed to issue yellow cards to the Fire's Gonzalo Segares and Galindo for alleged "unsporting behavior."
The second half had no sooner started than Vaughn was at it again, this time giving Blanco a yellow card for "dissent."
The Mexican international was again involved in the 63rd minute when he was crudely chopped down by Chivas captain Jesse Marsch, who was ejected after receiving his second yellow card and thus a red card.
That left Chivas to play a man short for the final 27 minutes plus stoppage time while trying to hold on to its one-goal lead.
Patrick Nyarko's tying goal at 88:29 put paid to that idea, and when Chivas defender Mariano Trujillo shoved Brian McBride down in the penalty area, Blanco settled matters.