A huge Eastern Conference battle is on the slate for the Fire this weekend, as they will take on long time rivals D.C. United at Toyota Park on Saturday (7:30 on FSC). The Fire and D.C. have already met twice in 2009, and the Fire hasn't fared as well as they would've hoped, drawing once and losing once to the 5th place United side. "Obviously it's a big game," said midfielder John Thorrington. "Just with where were both placed in the standings and we haven't beat them yet this year. But - without getting myself in trouble - I think we were on the receiving end of some questionable calls which they scored from and we were certainly in [the second game.]"
United - who lost 3-1 to Mexican side Toluca on Wednesday - has been struggling recently (they haven't won in MLS since July 18th) but the Fire is still expecting a hard fought match.
"They haven't had the results lately but I still think they're a team that's playing well," said Head Coach Denis Hamlett. "We've watched their games and it's a group that we know is going to come in here and be very competitive. It's a big game for them to try and get back in the running in our league play."
One key for the Fire in the match will be shutting down the high-flying D.C. attack - a unit that has scored a league leading 34 goals on the season. The Fire's defensive effort could get a boost from the possible return of center back Wilman Conde, who has missed four of five matches while dealing with a recurring hamstring injury. A Conde return would mean big things for the banged-up Fire who would have to play either Austin Washington or Brandon Prideaux at center back should Wilman not be able to go.
Despite being a solid attacking squad, D.C. has been vulnerable in defense all season, giving up 34 goals in 22 games. Expect the Fire to come out of the gates hard in search of the opening goal and look for them to find some success getting around D.C.'s three man back line.
"They've conceded a lot of goals in the run of play," said Hamlett. "But at the end of the day you can kind of throw all that out because its D.C.-Chicago and it doesn't matter."
So, I've touched on some of my keys for the match, leaving me with only one thing left to do...
**The Prediction -**
I'll say the Fire pull this one out 2-0. The team is due for a win against D.C. and what better time to get one than now, when the Fire could seriously damage United's playoff chances? I'll say that Marco Pappa and Cuauhtemoc Blanco get the goals for the Fire and they pull this one off with relative ease - despite all of the injuries.
Congrats to commenter dj for being the person who came closest to the Fire - Rapids score while getting the result right. We'll see if anyone can knock him off his perch this week...