What Are They All About? DC United
This past weekend the Chicago Fire lost on the road against Atlanta United by a score of 2-1. Tata Martino’s men got off to a flying start as a wave of early attacks resulted in a ninth minute goal for Franco Escobar. Michael DeLeeuw then notched his second tally of the season in the twenty-fourth minute to give the visitors some hope before Johan Kappelhof bumbled the ball across his own goal line just two minutes later. The sequence encapsulated the Fire’s season as a whole as multiple players missed their runners before miscommunication between a still uncertain center back pairing led to the pivotal error. Kappelhof saved himself from any potential embarrassment in the last match of the season by earning a suspension via yellow card cautions. The rest of Paunovic’s charges had no such luck and will be hosting DC United on Sunday (3:30 CT at Toyota Park).
This will be the second meeting between these two sides this season with DC having won the previous encounter. Ben Olsen’s men booked their post season ticket this weekend with an emphatic showing against NYCFC and they will look to continue a run of impressive form when they arrive in the Windy City. There is still a lot on the line for the visitors and possibly more on the line for the hosts, albeit in a much different context. Will the Fire salvage some pride in the final fixture of the season, or will it be business as usual for United? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.
DC Form Guide: W-W-W-W-W
Previous Result: A 3-1 home victory over NYCFC.
Formation: 4-2-3-1; Hamid; Ariola, Brillant, Birnbaum, Mora; Canouse, Moreno; Segura, Acosta, Asad; Rooney
Strengths: Not much has changed in the three weeks since these teams last met. DC United’s strengths from earlier this month—building momentum off a home heavy schedule in their last fifteen fixtures; the Acosta and Rooney partnership; and a solid back six allowing for freedom in creativity from their attacking players—directly led to their clinched playoff spot. Let’s take a quick glance at where else they may succeed on Sunday.
Do You Use Tide?: The solidity at the back that was alluded to above has made a distinct appearance in the three fixtures since these sides last met. DC has given up just one goal in that time—a late goal from David Villa against NYCFC. They were able to keep Dallas and Toronto FC scoreless in the other two matches, not easy tasks by any stretch of the imagination. Dallas’ attack could still put Oscar Pareja and his charges at the top of the Western standings when all is said and done and although the defending champions have been slowly crumbling since their CCL Final loss, keeping the likes of Altidore, Giovinco, and Vazquez off of the score sheet is still impressive.
Robinson, DeLeon, and Arriola have admirably deputized at right back in that time as Olsen juggles injuries and suspensions, left back Mora has reiterated that Ticos are built for MLS success, and Birnbaum and Brillant have continued a solid partnership. Lest their success be boiled down to a heavy attacking approach that leaves little to do at the back, Olsen’s defenders and dual holding mids have averaged sixty successful defensive interventions per match this month.
Excuse Us, Coming Thru: Aside from all of the tangible and tactical strengths that were highlighted prior to these teams meeting on October 7th, the fact of the matter is that MLS is a league where momentum at the tail end of the season can carry you a long way. If you look at the past five years, with the exception of TFC last year, the four previous MLS Cups winners had abysmal starts to the season before trudging through the summer and going on historic runs to get into the playoffs. DC could be another fairytale in the making as Olsen, Rooney, and Acosta have led the visitors on a run of nine matches without a loss. It really is hard to see the Fire muster enough of a threat to stop this oncoming train.
Home Sweet Home: If you did a double take with that heading, let us explain. Yes, the match will be played at Toyota Park. However, if DC manage to win on Sunday, the Eagles will soar their way into a guaranteed home playoff match. With NYCFC and Philadelphia playing one another on Decision Day, DC’s fate is in their own hands. The league is continuing the one-off third vs. sixth and fourth vs. fifth series format this season and given their ludicrous home form—losing just twice at Audi Field in fifteen encounters—the visitors will be desperate to snag all three points on the road.
Weaknesses: Although MLS is always full of surprises, this week in particular could prove to be full of shocks. Nothing would be more surprising than Chicago stopping one of the league’s hottest teams from moving up in the seeding order. Last time out we discussed contracts and options being on the line for the Men in Red and a void in DC’s back line due to Oniel Fisher’s knee ligament damage as potential weaknesses. Let’s see how else the Fire might poke holes in DC’s ambitions.
You Are Our Heart and Soul: We certainly enjoy our tactical analysis, statistical digging, and diving into semi-related historical MLS trends, but at the end of the day, soccer is about the community that springs up around it. Without that community, matches would just be twenty-two humans chasing a round ball on a grass pitch. Ultimately, it is the surrounding community that provides meaning for the sport. It is supporters that make the club a viable entity through their countless hours of dedication and thousands of dollars spent; it is the members of the media that craft the stories that everyone remembers; it is the men and women that toil within ticket sales offices that provides a base for success; it is the grass roots initiatives that make the club visible in an otherwise desolate public vacuum; it is all of those people united that allow the crest to function as a symbol beyond the pitch. After an abysmal season on and off the field, the Men in Red owe it to the fans that are willing to traverse down various highways weeks after their team has been eliminated from playoff contention and years after any sort of vision has been present within the club, to right the ship.
Prediction: Ben Olsen’s tactically conservative approach in his own half and the tendency to have tenacious defensive minded sides has been coupled perfectly with Luciano Acosta and Wayne Rooney’s lethal attacking capabilities. This DC side could make a deep playoff run and Chicago will be just a blip in their rearview mirror on the way to a successful season. DC United 3-1 Chicago Fire. Rooney, Acosta, and Ariola for the visitors, Katai for the hosts.
As yet another difficult season comes to a close, we would like to thank our readers for sticking with us. Whether you tune in every week, read occasionally, or just laugh skeptically from a distance, we appreciate the time you spend with us. Here’s to next year being much better than this past campaign. Till next time, so long!