Here's a look at tonight's opponent from Martin Tomszak.
What Are They All About? DC United
Finally! Chicago Fire Designated Player Kennedy Igboananike had a great weight lifted off of his shoulders as he put his first MLS goal past Montreal goalkeeper Evan Bush to seal a 3-0 home victory against the Impact on Saturday. He and the team will hope to keep this momentum going as they continue a three match week against conference leading DC United on Wednesday. DC will welcome Chicago to RFK Stadium as they look to continue a home unbeaten streak. Both teams are in the midst of an intra-conference merry-go-round.
D.C. Form Guide (Last 5 Matches): W-L-D-L-W
Previous match: A 2-1 home win against Philadelphia
Formation in the last match: 4-4-2: Hamid; Franklin, Boswell, Birnbaum, Kemp; Deleon, Arnaud, Kitchen, Pontius; Doyle, Rolfe
Strengths: After fourteen matches played, DC United find themselves sitting comfortably atop the Eastern conference standings and just one point behind Supporters Shield leaders Seattle Sounders. Needless to say, strengths abound in this DC squad. When trying to single out those strengths it quickly becomes apparent that the best thing about DC is the difficulty to find a standout character in the team. So perhaps it can be said that their greatest strength lies in their ability to play as a unified force. Ben Olsen has the team believing not only in themselves, but also in the squad as a whole and that has proven to be dangerous for opposition. This belief has turned RFK into a fortress this season, with DC United remaining unbeaten in front of their home fans so far, a streak that extends 19 matches including last season.
Statistically speaking, this team unity is exemplified by the variety of goal scorers and assist creators on the team. The Fire will be familiar with DC’s leading goal scorer, Chris Rolfe, after his two separate stints and 209 appearances for the Fire (2005-2009 and 2013-2014). Rolfe has notched four goals and three assists this season to join eight other goal scorers for DC Jairo Arrieta is right behind Rolfe with three goals on the season, while Taylor Kemp is slightly ahead of Rolfe’s assist tally, leading the team with four.
This variety is clearly a byproduct of the team’s formation, tactics, and the versatility of the front six. While many teams in the East have experimented with formations, Olsen has consistently implemented a flat 4-4-2. Many modern football teams have abandoned this “boring” formation but it appears to be working for DC who have not veered from it even when plagued by injuries. The plan is simple, control the midfield by winning possession quickly and retaining it, then get it out wide before swinging it in to the front two. The execution has been superb, so despite the opposition knowing what to expect, DC has been difficult to thwart. If you want a lesson in clinically executed route one football, just watch the last five DC matches. Time and time again they show that whether it is from a set piece or live play they can pick out the perfect aerial ball into the final third for knock back or a first time finish. Rolfe, Fabian Espindola, Arrieta, Nick Deleon, Kofi Opare and Sean Franklin have all shown that they can lose their marks easily and are ruthless when they do.
If Chicago is to get anything from this match they’ll be running man marking drills in practice all week, perhaps even investing in some Elmer’s Super Glue. The small mental lapses, incomplete performances, and bad away form that have plagued the Fire this season will need to be thrown aside on Wednesday.
The Curse of the Fire: Whether it is because of red cards for the opposition in matches or injury plagued squads, the Fire continue to cash in on some MLS voodoo magic. When Chicago and DC meet on Wednesday, the Fire will once again be facing a depleted squad. DC has had eight regular starters on the injury list at one point or another over the last month and on Wednesday this list will still include Espindola, Luis Silva, and Michael Farfan. While Steve Birnbaum and Deleon are back in the lineup they’re still looking to regain match fitness. Rolfe has been suspended for this game by the MLS Disciplinary Committee after a kicking incident against Philadelphia’s Vincent Nogueira. When you add the fact that DC will be playing its sixth matches in twenty two days on Wednesday, fatigue also may also be a factor.
Irony: DC has often been given a dose of its own medicine when giving up goals. Every goal that they have conceded in their last five matches has come in similar fashion with the opposition finishing from close range, often within 12 yards of goal. Whether the ball is delivered from a set piece or live play, DC’s center backs have struggled to clear the ball away from danger and Bill Hamid’s communication with them also seems to be spotty. While they have only conceded five goals in the last five, if you calculate goals called off for offside, shots that have hit the post, and near misses, DC have an evident problem with defending scrambles in the box. It would be wise of Frank Yallop to stress the necessity of pressuring the center backs with a variety of diagonal balls, quick play on the ground, utilizing the open spaces, and perhaps a bit of good ol’ fashioned “hoof it forward and see what happens”.
If the Fire continue to press in the way that they did against Montreal and in the second half against Columbus, while DC defends the way that it has, Wednesday’s match should be enticing. Look for Harry Shipp to take over set piece duties while Shaun Maloney is away on international duty. Perhaps the young man will find that special something for the second game running. Toss in David Accam’s form and the possibility of Igboananike having burst the flood gates and the Fire may just leave the capital with a result.
Prediction: The Fire hasn’t lost to a conference opponent yet and that will remain the case after Wednesday. They also don’t like to win on the road and it’s hard to see that changing at RFK. Chicago Fire 2-2 D.C. United. Jeff Larentowicz converts the PK after Accam is brought down in the box, and why not, Igboananike in the dying minutes.