What Are They All About? DC United
Some people say that one mark of a good team is that they can win even when they aren’t playing well. We’re not sure what it says about Chicago, but this past weekend they found a way to lose a match that they looked sharp in. Toronto left Toyota Park with all three points on Saturday and they may have taken the last bit of Chicago’s playoff hope with them as well. The Fire can’t seem to find any consistency as performances and results vary from week to week in an almost Jekyll and Hyde fashion.
With just seven matches remaining in the MLS regular season, Chicago won’t make Nelson Rodriguez and Veljko Paunovic’s point total goal even if they win all of their remaining matches. The players and front office staff will have a lot to answer for when their season ends on October 23rd and all of them will hope that the next six weeks bear enough fruit for them to keep their jobs. It starts with DC United on Friday.
This is the same DC side that trounced Chicago 6-2 in their last meeting and this encounter will largely be about revenge. No matter what is said on the surface, the feeling will be clear that this match is a chance at redemption. Seeing a positive reaction to a humbling defeat could go a long way in terms of contract options, but can the Fire get it done?
DC United Form Guide (Last 5 matches): D-L-W-D-D
Previous Match: A 2-2 draw away to New York Red Bull.
Formation: 4-1-4-1: Hamid; Kemp, Boswell, Birnbaum, Franklin; Sarvas; Nyarko, Vincent, DeLeon, Sam; Mullins
Strengths: Given that these two sides met just three short weeks ago, not much has changed. You may revisit that preview if you’d like but the gist of the strengths section revolved around an in form Bill Hamid, tactical flexibility in midfield, and the ability to overload the flanks in transition. Let’s take a look at how those positives were reflected over the last two matches.
By the Sweat of Your Brow: Their most recent match against New York Red Bull featured a shaky start which we will discuss below but a valiant second half effort earned them a point. Right from the restart it was evident that Ben Olsen lit a fire under his players as a high press won the ball back for United and their quick transition almost paid dividends. Patrick Nyarko’s long ball to Lloyd Sam (inverted wingers) saw the former Red Bull go 1 v. 1 with Luis Robles who made a great save. Both keepers were active in this one as Hamid often kept DC in the match. Two crucial saves in the second half kept the contest within touching distance for United. Luis Solignac’s accuracy will need to improve against one of the league’s best shot stoppers.
Their continuous resilience finally resulted in a goal as Steve Birnbaum found himself pushing up the field in the 89th minute to finish off a loose ball in the box. The goal wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t need to be. It was a hallmark of Ben Olsen’s side: a scrappy goal won off of a knock down, a misplaced shot, and the determination needed to follow up. Chicago’s mental lapses will not go unpunished against this mentally tough DC side.
Ben Olsen’s charges would complete their comeback with the last kick of the match at Red Bull Arena as Lamar Neagle bobbled the ball over the line on a 95th minute corner. Once again, the final touch came after a pinball like sequence in the box. While we would never say that a team in MLS lacks talent, DC United is a prime example that grit can sometimes outweigh skill. 13 shots, 64 duels won, and 15 successful tackles provide the stats to reflect that mentality. A win on Friday would put them in the final playoff spot for at least 24 hours. That kind of motivation could be the tipping point in this one.
Tiki Ghana: The match against NYCFC will feature heavily below but there were a few positive take aways as well. The chemistry between Nyarko and Sam was on full display at Yankee stadium as they combined for an early goal. A diagonal daisy cutter from Nyarko saw Sam run into space and calmly slot it into the net. They tried that same connection throughout the match as Sam was through on two more occasions. Nyarko also provided some crisp balls into Patrick Mullins who couldn’t seem to finish. The Ghanaian has really reflected the vision and coolness on the ball that was on display in his time with Chicago.
The other strength to come from the NYCFC loss was the ability to dominate set pieces through force. Whether it was the danger that came from long throw ins, the ability of the center backs to get forward and dominate NYCFC’s box on free kicks, or the Neagle goal from a corner, DC showed that they aren’t afraid to utilize route one tactics from time to time. Paunovic will need to run some marking drills in practice this week.
Continued Midfield Strength: The biggest worry for Chicago will be the fact that D.C has really forged a great dynamic in the midfield. Chicago will know this first hand after their 6-2 loss but DC has reiterated it over the last two weeks as well. The five starting midfielders have combined for a 70% passing completion rate in those two matches and their ability to expand and contract their triangles is not only fun to watch but is dangerous.
Luciano Acosta has proven to be quite the signing as he’s been the engine for United this season. The Boca youth product may only have three goals, but his 8 assists and creativity on the ball are irreplaceable. His ability to work in small space means that opposing midfields really have to stay compact and close down when he is on the ball; this is partially responsible for Nyarko and Sam’s ability to stretch their legs down the touch line. The marshaling ability of Marcelo Sarvas was highlighted last time around as well and could prove to be a stumbling block.
Weaknesses: Not much has changed in this department either. In the three short weeks since these teams last met DC’s propensity for building from the back at all costs, their slow center backs, and their poor road form have all continued against everyone but the Fire. Let’s take a look at their last two matches to highlight some of their short comings.
On the Road Again: We’ll start with an easy one. DC has still only won one match on their travels this season (we realize the irony in saying that). They may have drawn eight on their travels – a league high – but they can’t seem to push completely over the line. Chicago’s home form saw them on a twelve match unbeaten run until TFC came into town and the narrow margins in that one might suggest that DC is in for a tough match. Given the revenge dynamic, we don’t see DC getting their second road victory of the season here.
We’re Out of Clever Quips that Introduce Atrocious Defending: Heading into this fixture a few weeks ago we were stunned at the level of DC’s defending, especially in their own box. The last few weeks haven’t gotten any better. The Red Bulls went ahead with a goal from Gonzalo Veron. Despite his price tag, he hasn’t been prolific in front of goal so the fact that four defenders were ball watching/hauling down Felipe in the box as Veron strolled in with a late run should be even more worrisome.
The second Red Bull goal was reminiscent of a pickup game more than an MLS fixture as they sprinted down the field to create a 5 v. 3 overload against DC. Bradley Wright-Phillips ended up with the ball at his feet and a rare mistake from Hamid, cheating off his line and an early guess, saw the ball nestle into the roof of the net. That play was particularly characteristic of the DC midfielders and advanced outside backs not helping out in defense. Accam’s return could be the difference in this one, but Solignac’s ability to stretch defenses by pressing off of the shoulder should also be utilized.
Against NYCFC the defenses lapses were even clearer. DC had a 1-0 lead heading into the 80th minute when Luke Mishu played a sloppy back pass into the path of David Villa who didn’t need a second invitation to slot it past Hamid. Mishu became an instant YouTube sensation as DC went on to crumble in that match. A quick interchange sequence between Chanot and Shelton saw NYCFC steam down the touch line before Nick DeLeon was outmuscled for the cross to Villa. Jalen Robinson was treated as if he wasn’t there and Frank Lampard finished the dished-off pass. Shelton was at it again minutes later as he put in a through ball for Lampard who finished again as the DC defenders stood around waiting for his autograph. Twelve minutes cost DC three points and asked serious questions of their defensive capabilities. Whether or not Chicago takes advantage is another matter entirely.
Prediction: They may not make the post season but Chicago will show some character in this one. Chicago Fire 3-2 D.C United. Meira, Labrocca, and Harrington score for Chicago, Igboananike and Nyarko for D.C.