Know Your Enemy: DC United
OTF’s Stephen Mangat knows no fear as he takes a look into the pit of despair also known as DC United…
There’s an old story that tells of two friends on a camping trip who wake up in the middle of the night to see a blood-thirsty bear ransacking their campground. Both friends are absolutely terrified, and one of the men starts to frantically put on his shoes. Incredulous, the other friend says, “Are you crazy? You can’t outrun a bear!” Having laced-up his sneakers, the shoe-wearing man looks back at his friend as he opens the tent to say, “I know, but I only need to outrun you,” and then he takes off.
While the grizzly that is MLS has just about torn Chicago apart in 2013, the Fire need to focus this weekend not on beating back the bear, but on out doing the other poor sap in their tent – DC United. With one win and two draws in 12 games (and one point in their last nine), United are hopeless – like players questioning the coach and the coach calling out players hopeless. So let’s take a look at this bear fodder from the nation’s capital and see what the Fire will face this weekend.
PLAY OUR MUSIC!!!
Seeing as how pretty much nothing has worked in the past two months for Coach Ben Olsen, it’s hard to predict how United will set up. They’ve tried 4-4-2, 4-4-1-1, and 4-2-3-1 to no avail. Seeing as the game is in Chicago and DC are pretty hopeless, Olsen will probably look to keep it tight and hope for a few flashes of brilliance from his top attacking players, Dwayne DeRosario and Chris Pontius. So expect two banks of four with two forwards.
The forwards will play next to one another, or it’ll be Pontius or DeRosario sitting behind a striker. Olsen’s predilection for two banks of four is a pretty straightforward way of playing that lends itself to mano-y-mano matchups around the field. The problem is that United don’t have the manos to win the battles and, ergo, they lose games.
Highly touted prospect and Sean Johnson’s future competitor for the USMNT main spot, United goalie Bill Hamid has very much the same set of strengths and weaknesses that Johnson does: athletic shot-stopper capable of making spectacular saves, combined with head-scratching, youthful mistakes.
It’s Chris Korb, Brandon McDonald, and either Dejan Jakovic, James Riley, or Ethan White (who’s listed as questionable for Sunday’s match). It’s not a terrible group, and Perry Kitchen offers good coverage from the midfield, but with significant problems further up field, the defense has to be airtight in order for United to win. Unfortunately, they’re not that good, so they’re losers.
Kitchen will do his defensive midfielder thing, and though he’s a good defender and ball-winner, he’s quite limited offensively and his presence inherently hampers DC’s midfield creativity and offensive threat. Think of Kitchen as a younger Logan Pause.
Chris Pontius is having a tough year and no one seems to have an answer as to why he is playing so poorly. Last season he offered dynamism and goals, driving from a wide midfield position through the heart of opponents’ defenses. This year he looks lost.
With outside midfielder/defender Andy Najar gone to Belgium, opponents now focus on defending Nick DeLeon, for whom the extra attention is making his sophomore season a bit more difficult. In addition, Olsen recently moved DeLeon inside in an effort to jump-start United (note: it hasn’t worked).
Some Canadian named Kyle Porter looks to have locked down the outside right position, though he was on the left last week.
Finally, whether through injury or loss of form, Olsen has rarely played the above four together, and in the past half-dozen games Marcos Sanchez, Taylor Kemp, and Raphael Agusto have all received a start. Bench players starting and top players not playing well is the story of the DC United midfield and, for that matter, the entire team this season.
DC’s nonexistent attack is so clueless that they recalled some nobody (Casey Townsend) on loan from USL Pro’s Richmond Kickers and Carlos Ruiz started their last MLS game. While that sentence pretty much summarizes what Chicago will face, there are other possibilities.
The aforementioned DeRosario isn’t the star he once was, but his poor play won’t be a season-long issue (or will it?). If DeRo plays, expect him to operate between the midfield and forward(s). Pontius has also been used up top, but that seemed more like a desperation move than anything.
How can Chicago win?
Give ’em hell
DC United are reeling and they have issues all over the field. As such, Frank Klopas hasa wonderful opportunity to change this season’s narrative. If he can add a convincing win this weekend to a damn good point away from home, two new big name players, and a 3rd round U.S. Open Cup win on the road, the stage is set for a “The Fire have momentum!” storyline to run for the better part of their upcoming four-game home stand. With that in mind, Klopas would be criminally negligent if he didn’t unleash the hounds and demand his players take the game right at DC United.
Seriously, press all over the field
It seems Fire fans all agree that the absence of Pavel Pardo is at the heart of the Fire’s offensive woes this season. The vision and accuracy of his passing dictated games last season, whereas this season’s midfield has been marked by sloppy and uninspired distribution.
While their strengths are many, Bakary Soumare and Mike Magee aren’t midfield maestros, so goal-scoring chances won’t come from slick and smart passing. However, chances can come from winning duels and creating turnovers – especially from an opponent lacking confidence. Press high, press hard, and transition quickly.
Do no favors
United are in desperate need of some help, and the Fire will do well not to provide it. This means no stupid fouls resulting in unnecessary cards and dangerous free-kicks. This means get ahead early and don’t let United hang around. This means, no gifts.
Best of luck Fire fans. This game could mark the beginning of a much better season for you.
The Union are in Toronto this weekend, so I’m free to attend the University of Delaware’s Alumni Weekend on Friday and a wedding on Saturday. I’m predicting a steady 0.10 BAC for moi for about 48 hours straight.
In addition to being a brilliant opponent and tactical previewer, OTF’s Stephen Mangat is a connoisseur of exotic beer-drinking apparatuses. Follow him @smangat12