Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago vs. D.C. United #3

Dilly Duka's .23 goals per 90 minutes is second to Mike Magee among players with more than 1,500 minutes

Dilly Duka’s 0.23 goals per 90 minutes is second to Mike Magee among Fire players with more than 1,500 minutes
(photo: chicago-fire.com)

OTF’s Jon Denham wants a fast-paced game for the national television audience on Friday night, and Luis Perez basks in the shiny reflection of an unexpected trophy…

The night of August 7, 2013 was a tough one in Fire Nation. The U.S. Open Cup elimination at the hands of lowly D.C. United stung on many levels – from the pitch to the parking lot, the locker room to the front office.

Now, United is back home at RFK Stadium, just 72 hours removed from lifting the Open Cup trophy in Utah. Regardless, they are, whether they like it or not, back home in the MLS cellar.

The Fire are once again picking up the proverbial pieces on their way to our nation’s capital after failing to hold another lead, this time against Montreal. Mike Magee failed to convert a penalty kick and another late goal by a visitor to Toyota Park cost the team valuable points. Tonight, Chicago must go on the road against a team with nothing left to play for.

All time, this series is even through 45 meetings at 17-17-11, thanks to the Fire’s two wins in Chicago earlier this (regular) season. Ben Olsen’s side is one that Frank Klopas has suddenly had success with. He is now 3-1-2 in six matches against D.C.

In more than half of D.C.’s home games this season, they’ve conceded multiple goals. Additionally, Mike Magee has scored in both games in this matchup, including his first with the Fire on June 2. Magee represents the only player on the field Friday night with more than four goals. Dwayne De Rosario and Luis Silva lead the hosts with three goals each.

Three.

Each.

The mix of a confident United riding high after an astounding win and Chicago needing all three points could lead to a very entertaining first 20 minutes in front of the national audience. I wouldn’t walk away from the TV for the ensuing 70 minutes either. Although, since DC has nothing left to play for, we won’t know until game time whether Ben Olson will go with his choice XI, a bunch of reserves, or a mix of both.

How They Stand in the East

Crazy eighth (image: chicago-fire.com)

Crazy eighth
(image: chicago-fire.com)

Eighth place, somehow, isn’t as bad as it sounds heading into tonight’s clash with DC United. Chicago Fire reached the 40-point plateau last week and remains below the red line this week. Sixth and seventh place are held by Columbus Crew and New England Revolution, who are each clinging to 41 points. Philadelphia Union holds the fifth and final playoff spot now with 42 points.

New York (52 points), Kansas City (48 points), and Montreal (46 points) all seem to have a hold on playoff spots. Houston Dynamo can’t feel as comfortable with their 44 points. Any time one of the four teams fighting for that final spot earns three points over the next few weeks, it will no doubt feel like three hundred points. 

Columbus has Kansas City this weekend and a home-and-home with New England remaining. The Revolution is in New York on Saturday and then goes to Montreal before the aforementioned series with Columbus. The Union host Toronto Saturday before road games against D.C. United and Montreal. They’ll host Kansas City to close the 2013 regular season. Houston welcomes Montreal to BBVA Compass Stadium on Friday night.

That brings us to our beloved Men in Red.

FC Dallas is the next trip. Then the home contest against Toronto closes the Toyota Park portion of the slate ahead of the finale in New York on October 27.

Tactics, Lineup, & Injuries

Jeff Larentowicz was Frank Klopas’s first choice to replace the suspended Bakary Soumare at center back against Montreal. I’ll presume Soumare starts, because, well, Frank Klopas. I fully expect Soumare to jeopardize the team’s chance at three points either through poor tackling, a short temper, or general kicking of the ball in the wrong direction. My preferred starting XI below includes Larentowicz.

I'm all for leaving Larentowicz at center back

I’m all for leaving Larentowicz at center back!

With all the minutes they’ve logged, Gonzalo Segares (2510), Austin Berry (2700), and Jalil Anibaba (2700) have to be exhausted at this point in the season. San Jose’s Sam Cronin (2701) is the only field player in MLS who’s spent more time on the pitch than Berry and Anibaba. 

Fortunately, no one in the league scores goals less often than D.C. United. A Sean Johnson road shutout would be a welcome surprise for this goalkeeper coach. August 23 – the last shutout – was a long time ago.

In the midfield, it pains me to point out that among attacking players with over 1,500 minutes this season, Dilly Duka is second behind Mike Magee in goals per 90 minutes. He is ahead of both Patrick Nyarko and Chris Rolfe. The latter two must step up their games and score goals this month. Precedent shows the Fire can’t rely on its defense to win games. Luckily, there seems to be an urgency in Juan Luis Anangonó’s game lately and Mike Magee continues to do Mike Magee things.

So, it’s full speed ahead against the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup champions, Mr. Klopas. The red line waits for no one.

My bench: Tornaghi; Soumare, Pause; Paladini, Lindpere; Rolfe, Amarikwa

OTF’s Jon Denham grew up about seven miles north of The Harlem End. He now lives in Dubuque, Iowa, and may be its only resident with the MLS Direct Kick package. Jon’s the Sports Information Director and goalkeepers’ coach at Loras College, and writes some other stuff at Inclusive Beechwood Aging.

The View on DCU by Luis A. Perez, Jr.

WE WON! WE WON! Ok, now that I have that out of my system I can talk about this final match with the Fire this season. As we all know, D.C. United is the worst team in league play and has no shot of making the playoffs. Chicago, however, is still fighting for that final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Three points are a must for the Fire tonight, but the revitalized United players feel like winning again.

Back in July, I spoke with Perry Kitchen in the locker room and he expressed how the most disappointing thing for the team this season is not winning for the fans. But, the boys won the Open Cup for us and definitely want to bring it home in style. In order to do this though, they’ll need more than just emotion.

DC must stop Mike Magee at all costs! Ben Olson will task his players with keeping Chicago’s magic man out of the box. United will hope to continue to shut Magee down at RFK, a place where he’s only scored twice in his career.

No need to blink or rub your eyes. This actually happened. (photo: washingtonpost.com)

No need to blink or rub your eyes. This actually happened. (photo: washingtonpost.com)

With the entire squad healthy, DC has many options for a starting XI. However, with most of the regulars dealing with a Cup hangover, I expect many youngsters and reservists to start tonight. With the Cup secured and four games remaining in 2013, United now has a great opportunity to focus its attention on the future – especially with CONCACAF Champions League play looming next summer.

With the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup on display, tonight’s game at RFK will be a welcome relief from the horrors of this season and the fans will certainly be in a celebratory mood. Will bitterness fuel the Fire? After all, it could’ve (should’ve?) been them…

Vamos United!

Luis A. Perez, Jr., a.k.a. Harlem Knite, is one of the real fans behind the DCU 4 Life podcast. Follow him @HarlemKnite

Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United
Friday, October 4 at 7:00pm cst at RFK Stadium
Television: NBC Sports Network
La radio en Español: La Ley 107.9 FM en Chicago

#cf97 Nation

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