Martin Tomszak is back with another match preview. This time it's another look at DC.
What Are They All About? D.C. United
After needing 120 minutes to defeat USL side Louisville City FC in the U.S. Open Cup last Tuesday, the Fire had the weekend off to rest. Tonight they welcome Supporter’s Shield leaders and longtime rivals D.C. United to Toyota Park. It’s been a tough couple of matches for the Fire and the schedule isn’t getting any easier. Wednesday is the first of many games which could be considered must-win matches coming up for Chicago.
D.C. Form Guide (Last 5 Matches): W-L-L-W-W
Previous match: A 2-1 home win against New England.
Formation in the last match: 4-4-2: Hamid; Korb, Boswell, Birnbaum, Kemp; Deleon, Arnaud, Kitchen, Doyle; Espindola, Rolfe
Strengths: If this preview seems familiar, that’s because the Fire faced DC just three weeks ago in the nation’s capital, losing 3-1 to United. Since then, DC has had a mixed run of results but they continue to stay near the top of the conference. The strength of their squad deserves reiteration and perhaps a refresher of the last preview is in order. The gist of the strengths section last time revolved around squad unity, belief in their teammates, goal and assist contributions from many individual players, and an understanding of tactics and implementing Ben Olsen’s 4-4-2 system. DC utilizes the flanks well and continually scores from crosses both in the run of play and from set pieces. It was highlighted that Chicago needed a good defensive performance to get something from the match and that did not happen. Without being overly redundant it must be said that all of these strengths remain and Chicago will look to have learned from their mistakes.
If DC’s strengths seemed extensive last time around, it only gets worse for the Fire this week because DC will have something that they did not have on June 3rd. Chris Rolfe will likely make his very first appearance in front of Fire supporters as an opposing player. Rolfe had two separate stints with Chicago (2005-2009, 2012-2014) culminating in 209 appearances across all competitions, tallying 55 goals and 25 assists in those matches. He was a fan favorite in Chicago, not just because of his good looks and charming personality but because of his willingness to fight for the badge. He has taken that same mentality to DC and has been rewarded with six goals and three assists in MLS this season, taking his total to twelve goals and nine assists since joining DC early last season.
Rolfe is the complete package when it comes to a quality MLS striker. His goals highlights this include a perfectly executed volley, a header from a corner kick , a rocket from outside of the box, a move to beat defenders before slotting home, and a well struck pk.
Rolfe’s partnership with Fabian Espindola is a joy to watch. They have a budding chemistry that could take them far into the post season with Rolfe knowing exactly when to drift into the space created by his often doubly marked strike partner. He also knows when to draw defenders wide to give Espindola an open shooting lane. A flat midfield and two out-and-out strikers may seem simple and outdated, but Rolfe and Espindola have been key to DC’s success. Jairo Arrieta has also contributed when called upon.
Why try to restructure something that’s already been said? Ironically, a quote from three weeks ago is still relevant today, if the Fire want a result on Wednesday “the small mental lapses, incomplete performances, and bad [home] form that have plagued the Fire this season will need to be thrown aside on Wednesday.”
If DC’s strengths have remained consistent this month, their weaknesses have done so to a greater extent. Going into the previous meeting between these two teams it was highlighted that DC’s back four was having trouble dealing with balls being played across the face of goal and was allowing the opposition too much time on the ball in their box. The central defenders, Bobby Boswell and Steve Birnbaum, continuously lost their marks or delayed in their clearances resulting in goals allowed from close range. Statistically, all the goals conceded by DC in the five matches leading up to the first meeting between these two sides came in this fashion. Luckily for the Fire, this poor form continues.
Fire fans will remember that one of the only bright spots of this reverse fixture was David Accam’s brilliant finish from 12 yards out after receiving a pass from Quincy Amarikwa. Including that goal, four of the five goals that DC has conceded this month have come from inside the box (the only exception being a world class thirty yard strike from TFC’s Sebastian Giovinco). For whatever reason, DC has not addressed their lapses in defense. It would be wise of Frank Yallop to unleash Joevin Jones down the left flank in David Accam’s absence and opt for an Igboananike/Amarikwa pairing up top.
Chicago will rue the fact that Matt Polster is out due to yellow card accumulation, however. If other individuals adopt his defensive mentality DC may quickly find themselves frustrated at Toyota Park. It is difficult to advocate a physical, foul intensive style of play but DC cannot be allowed to carry out their game plan if Chicago hopes to leave this match with a result. DC’s last two losses to Orlando and Toronto have both come on the back of the opposition tallying a high foul count and forcing DC’s passing lanes to come inside rather than out wide. It’s easy on paper and difficult in real life, but if the Fire dig deep and stifle service to the front two they might salvage a draw against the league leaders.
Prediction: Chicago struggled to beat a USL side less than a week ago, they have players missing due to injury, and they haven’t visibly improved their play on either side of the pitch. The downward spiral continues. Chicago 0-3 DC.