The Chicago Fire will take their three-game winning streak to the nation's capital Wednesday night to battle a struggling D.C. United side who has one win in their last five games. However, United have yet to lose a home game since the opening week of the season having logged an 8-1-3 record with a +15 goal differential. Here are a few notable matchups and players to look for if the Fire want to collect another three points on the road.
Chicago will be facing one of the league's most potent attacking midfielders in Dwayne DeRosario who has always been a threat to the Fire. DeRosario has seven goals and four assists all-time against the Men in Red and will be a constant threat from the central attacking midfield position. He will be pulling the attacking strings for D.C. all game long with four other attacking weapons at his disposal in Chris Pontius, and the newly acquired Lionard Pajoy up top and Andy Najar and Nick DeLeon on the wings.
Both teams utilize primarily attack-minded wingers (which is why I prefer to have to defensively astute Patrick Nyarko in the starting line up as often as possible). There will be lots of space behind both sets of wingers for counter-attacks so it will be important for holding midfielders to provide cover. Pavel Pardo and Daniel Paladini will need to be ready to cover as will Perry Kitchen who is usually D.C.'s only holding midfielder. This may work in the Fire's favor as the D.C. backline is not among the league's strongest to begin with and does not have the cover of two holding midfielders.
Furthermore, the difference in morale between the two teams seems to be quite considerable. D.C. United had a complete meltdown after their 1-1 draw at home to Philadelphia in which two United players were shown the red card and two others were fighting each other at the end of the game. Ben Olsen also made harsh accusations towards the officiating of that game causing further unrest and possible disciplinary problems. D.C. are outside the playoff picture now and even though they have multiple games in hand over fifth place Montreal, they still have to get the points to safely make the playoffs.
Compare that mess to the Chicago morale who just won three straight and are 7-2-2 since late June. The Fire are coming together at the right time with great performances from Chris Rolfe, Sherjill MacDonald, Nyarko, Pardo, Arne Friedrich, Sean Johnson and more. The Fire have solid depth and are getting contributions from players who haven't seen the field all season from Paladini and Mike Videira while still having the option of speedster Dominic Oduro or creative midfielder Alex off the bench.
The Fire are feeling great with talent to spare and D.C. are struggling with players suspended or injured. Everything on paper shows this should be a comfortable win for the visiting team, but with a home side riding raw emotion, anything can happen. Especially since young players who don't get regular minutes filling in for the suspended Emiliano Dudar and Branko Boskovic will be hungry to prove their worth to Olsen. This could easily be a trap game for the Fire so attention to detail on the defensive end and proper execution on the attacking end will pay dividends to achieve victory against the Pope seekers.