Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago at DC United
A quick turnaround after the third Chitown beatdown in a row of an Eastern Conference opponent (the lowly New England Revolution) has the Men in Red traveling over to the nation’s capital to take on Dwayne De Rosario and the Dirty Birds known as DC United.
My condolences to the Fire for having to play in that sh*thouse known as RFK stadium, a facility that should’ve been blasted to smithereens long ago. I mean what the hell? You can see the freakin’ stands bounce up and down while the Screaming Eagles supporters do their thang. I mean, I love my club and all, but you couldn’t pay me to sit in a section like that. Fuggedaboutit. I digress. Anyway, this is a big one folks, as the Fire have a chance to prove to the rest of the league, the journos, and themselves that they are contenders, not pretenders.
While most of us know what happened just a few short days ago, some of you were perhaps busy with other things. With what, I don’t know. I mean, what’s more important than following the Chicago Fire Soccer Club’s every move? But hey, we here at On The Fire accept all comers and realize that some of you out there (unlike us) have more pressing concerns to attend to. So, if you missed it, take a look at the latest edition of “What We Learned” to find out all the juicy details from the Fire’s 2-1 triumph over the New Suckland Devolution.
The Past Three Days
The verdict is out on Daniel Paladini – at least for some. If you look at the published analysis, comments, and tweets, it seems that many would disagree with my post-match thoughts on #11. Yet despite all the positive talk about the Fire’s new replacement holding midfielder – which ranges from obscene, impractical gushing to hopeful praise – I’ve noticed a lot of muted voices since Saturday night. And it’s these voices that share my healthy skepticism. To be fair, if Paladini plays for the full 90 minutes against DC like he did in the latter 45 against New England, the Fire defense should weather the storm. However, let’s get real for a second. The New England Revolution are not DC United. That said, the Dirty Birds seem to be coming apart at the seams after they lost their heads in stoppage time against Philly last Sunday. So, Daniel Paladini has an opportunity on Wednesday evening to prove that he is a starting XI-type player on a playoff-caliber MLS squad. Let’s hope he rises to the challenge. As much as I find the debate stimulating, I want to quit talking about replacement options for Logan Pause and related possible tactical shifts that might compensate for his absence. Go @PaladiniXI!
Rookie defender Austin Berry is making a habit of appearing in the weekly MLS Castrol Top 20. This week, the younger half of the “A-Team” comes in at #7. I wonder if Austin gets a free case of motor oil for his fine play? Perhaps an air filter?
Chris Rolfe made Steve Davis’s NBC Sports Pro Soccer Talk MLS Team of the Week. And once again, Rolfie found himself in the MLS starting XI on MLSsoccer.com. The man is on FIRE! (remember, my nickname’s “Big Pun”).
The Best Soccer Show hosts Jason Davis and Jared Dubois are high on the Men in Red. Davis and Dubois called the Fire “surprising” and remarked that they’ve “come out of nowhere”. Not surprisingly, the east-coasters feel that Chicago generally “tend[s] to fly under the radar”. Both praised the “wise” acquisitions of Fernandez and MacDonald and said that although the Fire’s Designated Players aren’t sexy, they get the job done. Well, I can’t vouch for their tastes, but Sherjill MacDonald is one handsome bloke if you ask me. Ladies?
So while nobody’s jumping on the Firetruck quite yet, soccer journalists (especially those of the coastal variety) are beginning to take their heads out the arses of Seattle, Vancouver, Salt Lake, et al. and pay attention to what’s going down in Chitown. But hey, you know what? Who cares if they do or they don’t. What matters is the standings, and Chicago has an opportunity tonight to lock down a tie for second place in the Eastern Conference. If that happens, just watch all the journos come busting out of the woodwork to heap praise on the Men in Red. Attention poser haters: stay off our jocks.
Week 24 Power Rankings – Aggregate: 5.8 (up from 7.4 last week)
ESPN FC #5 –“The newly constructed forward tandem of Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald appears to be finding some chemistry, as both were on the score sheet in a 2-1 win over New England. Chicago seems a cinch for the postseason.” “Seems”? Bah!
NBC Sports Pro Soccer Talk #5 – “Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald look like quite the central, attacking tandem. (Rolfe plays behind recently acquired striker MacDonald.) In fact, that looks like a major upgrade over the previous, primary tandem of Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro. Rolfe’s five goals in 2012, all coming recently, helps explains Chicago’s recent strong form; including last week’s win over New England, Frank Klopas’ side has won three in a row.” Looks like Steve Davis forgot about Grazzini pretty quickly. Perhaps he didn’t like the beautiful dancing.
MLSsoccer.com #7 – “Sherjill MacDonald has looked like an inspired signing thus far. He’s probably not going to put up huge numbers (though he does have a goal and assist thus far), but he makes it much, much harder to gameplan against the Fire.” These guys want a pound of flesh; or perhaps a road win for the Fire at RFK.
SB Nation #7 – “Quietly making moves up the table to the point that they [are] almost worth considering as darkhorse candidates for the Supporters’ Shield.” Is that supposed to be a compliment? Thanks a lot. Note: the butt-nut who writes this piece (of sh*t) is, of course, a Sounders fan. They’re #4 despite the fact that they have one less point than Chicago. You know what Jeremiah Oshan? We’ll meet you in the MLS Cup final and then we’ll see what’s up. I loathe Seattle and their self-important hipster fans. Go choke on a lime green popsicle.
*Soccer By Ives did not release their rankings in time for this piece.
How They Stand In the East
A Chicago win tonight will further secure the Fire’s hold on at least one playoff home match, bring them level on points (44) and matches played (25) with second place New York Red Bulls, and put the Men in Red seven points ahead of fifth place D.C. United, who have one match in hand on the Fire.
A win will also bring the Fire within two points of first place Sporting KC (46), who take on New York in a battle for first place Sunday night on ESPN 2.
Houston Dynamo, who sit even on points with the Fire after their 2-2 draw at home three days ago vs. Columbus Crew, must travel to El Salvador for a CONCACAF Champions league match vs. Salvadoran side Club Deportivo FAS on Wednesday, and then turn around and come home to host Toronto FC on Saturday. The TFC match will be Houston’s third in seven days. TFC can help out the Fire if they get a result in the “oven” at BBVA Compass Stadium. Come on you Reds!
Sizzling Question #1: Will the Fire defense play tight from the first whistle?
As Hot Time In Old Town writer and OPTA Chalkboard guru Mark O’Rourke pointed out in his latest piece, Chicago’s defense has made a bad habit lately of starting slow and not holding their shape very well in the first 15-20 minutes. When Gonzalo Segares and Jalil Anibaba push up deep into the offensive third, Chicago are left vulnerable to counterattacking long balls on the wing. If centerbacks Friedrich and Berry come out wide to defend, holding midfielders Paladini and Pardo must get back quickly into the middle defensive third to help defend crosses into the penalty area. As the fullbacks get back into position, Chicago’s back line must reconstitute their shape quickly to defend against dangerous attackers like De Rosario and Pontius. New England’s goal last Saturday night is a perfect example of the aforementioned scenario not happening.
Sizzling Question #2: Is DC’s meltdown at home vs. Philadelphia a good or bad thing for the Fire?
This (sort of dumb) question engendered a debate after the Sunday night fights at RFK. On the Fire‘s Stephen Mangat addressed the noise yesterday in his “Know Your Enemy” piece: “Some DC fans are hoping that the Philly game will get the team fired up and motivate them to turn their season around, but getting angry (with the refs and one another) isn’t going to make passes sharper and defenders more focused.” Right. I smell a bit of desperation emanating from the Beltway and beyond. In addition, the Washington Post reported that United engage in locker room fisticuffs “more [often] than you think.” D-Ro claims that DC’s on the pitch behavior is a reflection of how much the players care. Or, perhaps a reflection of how stupid they are. Playing with “emotion” is fine, but winning teams keep their wits about them.
Sizzling Question #3: Will unseasoned referee Ismail El Fath continue to issue copious numbers of red cards and send more players to the spot on Wednesday night?
Chicago/DC will be El Fath’s fifth career MLS match. In his first four, he issued four reds and awarded three PKs. Let’s hope for both teams’ sake that Ismail keeps the disciplinarian in him tucked away in a happy place – along with his cards.
Sizzling Question #4: Will the Fire continue to finish in the final third ?
The pairing (and clicking) of Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald has ignited a once dormant Chicago attack. The Fire have tallied two or more goals in their last three matches, and Saturday’s match vs. New England was only inches away from being 4-1. Tonight, due to injuries (Russell, Woolard) and suspensions (Dudar), the Fire face a makeshift DC back line. United is fighting for a playoff spot. They’re going to go for the win, which will make them vulnerable on the counterattack. You do the math.
- Marco Pappa will get the start for Patrick Nyarko on the wing. Frank Klopas will keep Pat on the bench if the Fire have the lead.
- Still lacking full match fitness, Sherjill MacDonald will once again be spelled by Dominic Oduro around the 70th minute.
- Look for a goal off a free or corner kick from the Fire, as they will take advantage of a United side that has become particularly vulnerable as of late defending set pieces.
- A team on its way up defeats a team on its way down. A confident Chicago Fire squad will defeat DC 3-1 with goals from Pappa, Fernandez, and Oduro. Marco and Flaco will put it in the back of the net because United will commit too many resources to defend Chris Rolfe and Sherjill Macdonald. Dominic Oduro will come off the bench and break his scoring drought (and DC’s back) with the third and final goal.
- Chicago will move even on points (44) with New York Red Bulls and share second place in the East.
- The journos will finally give the Men in Red their due respect after a statement win on the road.
**Chicago Fire at D.C. United: 6:30pm CST, live on Comcast Sports Net Chicago. Do it!**
And leave a comment why don’t ya.