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Revolution 2, Fire 2

Cristian Penilla’s goal rescues tie for Revolution

The Revolution’s Teal Bunbury chest traps the ball with pressure from the Fire’s Bastian Schweinsteiger.
The Revolution’s Teal Bunbury chest traps the ball with pressure from the Fire’s Bastian Schweinsteiger.(matthew j. lee/globe staff)

FOXBOROUGH — An improved defensive unit revitalized the New England Revolution following a horrid nine-game winless stretch that had eked its way into September. The insertion of Brandon Bye at left back and the acquisition of defender Michael Mancienne in August injected life into New England’s dwindling playoff hopes.

Bye and Mancienne made crucial errors against the equally directionless Chicago Fire as 24,388 bore witness to a 2-2 stalemate at Gillette Stadium.

Chicago (7-15-7) assumed the role of spoiler, jumping ahead early on a goal by forward Aleksandar Katai.

New England (8-10-11) received scores from Scott Caldwell and Cristian Penilla, but couldn’t muster a victory that would’ve been crucial in its push toward the postseason. The Revolution entered Saturday in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, 5 points shy of Montreal in the final slot.

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“We have ourselves to blame,” said Revolution coach Brad Friedel. “Those were two poor goals we conceded in a game [where] a team didn’t really come out to attack. That’s where we lost the game. We could’ve or should’ve won. We’re going to keep fighting and I still hold the belief that we will make the playoffs.”

New England ceded possession on a careless touch by Bye outside the top of the box in the 19th minute. Katai took over, slicing in from the right side and fooling Mancienne with a mean crossover. His left foot now doing the work, Katai curled a dart inside the far post, past the flailing arms of keeper Brad Knighton.

Bye and Mancienne each stood hunched over with their hands on their knees, tagged with a smattering of boos from displeased segments of the Gillette Stadium crowd.

“We need to keep a shutout in that game,” said Revolution Scott Caldwell.

“We knew they were sitting back and we let in two goals and really created a lot more chances. We played well enough to win and we didn’t win. We keep saying that and it’s not good enough.”

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Chicago is undefeated this year when scoring first at 7-0-4. New England is a meager 1-9-6 when it allows the opening goal.

Bye was yanked at halftime, along with midfielder Diego Fagundez. The pair was replaced by Juan Agudelo and Guillermo Hauche, the latter making his MLS debut.

New England’s best chance during an otherwise uninspired first half came in the waning minutes off a set play. Fagundez sent a free kick off the head of forward Teal Bunbury, but Bunbury’s attempt strayed wide.

Things appeared to turn in the 62nd minute as New England’s attack awoke. Bunbury sent a cross-field pass to defender Andrew Farrell in the top right corner of the box.

Farrell’s shot deflected off defender Brandon Vincent, then the right hand of keeper Richard Sanchez. The ball settled in front of the goal, Caldwell tapping it in with his left foot to knot the game at 1-all.

But the Revolution defenders couldn’t stay out of their own way.

New England suffered an own goal in the 67th minute. Mancienne flubbed an opportunity to clear after Chicago’s Raheem Edwards dashed down the left flank and sent a shot toward the net. Mancienne kicked the ball with his right foot but it ricocheted off his left knee and in.

Penilla tied the game at 2 in the 70th minute, outhustling Fire defender Johan Kappelhof, receiving a pass from Agudelo, then maneuvering cleverly through traffic and directing a searing ball through Kappelhof’s legs to the back of the net.

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Penilla is second on the team with 10 goals, trailing Bunbury (11).