To believe the pregame broadcast on NBC Sports Network, Saturday's game between D.C. United and the Chicago Fire meant very different things for each club. United viewed the game as crucial moment. Would it signal another year of despair or would it be the beginning of the new era the club hoped its offseason overhaul would lead to? Team morale was on the line.
The Fire had a different viewpoint, looking at it as the fourth game of a long year on the road with another opportunity to integrate fresh philosophies and new faces. It would be a small step in a long process and the result would not make the club deviate from its plan.
It showed. DC's urgency controlled large stretches of play, but Chicago created enough chances to walk away with a point in 2-2 draw on a cold, rain-soaked at RFK Stadium.
In the first half, the Men in Red had a good first 10 minutes to start, pressing high and controlling possession early. But as in the games before, the possession led to nothing in the final third as they failed to get even a shot off in the first 25 minutes.
After that 10-minute start, it was all DC led by Eddie Johnson and Fabian Espindola who were focused on attacking the left side of Chicago's defense. Greg Cochrane had his hands full as the crosses and runs were flowing on his side of the field.
Johnson finally broke through with a big chance at the 15-minute mark when Benji Joya slipped and Cochrane scrambled to cover a streaking Johnson who put a shot near the left post and almost through Sean Johnson's legs. 25 minutes in, United had outshot Chicago 8-0.
Despite the lack of possession, the Fire got on the board first when Harry Shipp once again proved his lethal crossing. Matt Watson did well to push up toward the goal line on the right side and play a ball off the defender to set up a corner. Shipp looped in a huge bender that Jhon Kennedy Hurtado put home after a nice effort to push through the defense. Their first shot of the evening found the net, and Chicago led, 1-0.
Less than 10 minutes later, Johnson received a pass that split Bakary Soumare and Cochrane, leaving Cochrane to once again chase him down. Johnson went down right outside the top of the box after some light contact from Cochrane. Nick DeLeon put a fancy tap on the deadball and Espindola put it past the Fire wall to level the game. It was a save that Johnson may have been able to make, but again it showed the difficulty Chicago has with set pieces.
The second half was a little more of the same to start, but United's attack was less threatening. 10 minutes in Frank Yallop made his first substitution sending in Patrick Nyarko for the quiet Benji Joya – a move that would prove beneficial.
The Fire put on some pressure around the 65 minute mark when Quincy Amarikwa bodied up nicely on a defender in the box and got off a clean shot that was saved by Bill Hamid. Shortly after, Alex had a header and a rebound shot that were both deflected.
But United took the lead in the second. In a goal that was eerily similar to the goal the Fire gave up last week to New York, Perry Kitchen did his best Dax McCarty impression and banged home a rebound after a mad scramble in the box from failed clearances on a corner kick. It looked exactly like the New York goal from a week ago.
Chicago had a great opportunity to equalize a minute later when Mike Magee won a free kick at the top of the box. But unlike Chicago's wall earlier, United held strong and Magee's attempt never made it past five yards.
Unlike the Chivas loss, Yallop decided to go for broke and brought Juan Luis Anangono on for Alex at the 80 minute mark. While the move did not make a huge difference, the attacking style did.
The Fire found their equalizer when Nyarko broke the ankles of Christian Fernandez on a move along the goal line that freed him to make a cross into Amarikwa, who streaked down the middle of the box and put home a goal.
There were some nervy moments to end the contest, but the Fire held on for a draw that could have easily been a loss. The team played better in the second half and it seemed a draw was a just result for both clubs.
It should be noted D.C. United made a classy gesture before the game, taking a moment of silence for Shawn Kuykendall who briefly played for United in 2005-06. He died in March this year at 32 years old from an incurable form of cancer. It was a nice show of respect.
• Harry Shipp was fantastic again. Not only did he send in another cross on a set piece for a goal, but he was all over the field and drew penalties in key areas for set piece chances. He had two other shining moments in the game. One on a header he sent to Magee late in the first that Magee attempted to pass back to Shipp for a give-and-go goal. The other, a perfect cross to an open Nyarko who missed on a diving header. He is exciting.
• I thought Matt Watson was quietly good today. He pressed when he could and defended well. Maybe it was because United focused so much of the attack on the Fire's left side, but he seemed efficient.
• Frank Yallop said in a sideline interview at halftime Magee needs to be more comfortable playing behind Amarikwa. I think that is going to be a big adjustment moving forward, but if it can click, I still think this team can be dangerous.
Summary: D.C. United 2 – Chicago Fire 2
United Starting XI: Hamid; Franklin, Parke, Boswell, Fernandez; Neal (Jeffrey – 62'), Kitchen, DeLeon, Silva (Arnoud – 38'); Espindola (Doyle – 80'), Johnson
Substitutes: Dykstra, Attakora, Kemp, Arnaud, Jeffrey, Caskey, Dolye
Fire Starting XI: Johnson; Watson, Hurtado, Soumare, Cochrane; Shipp, Larentowicz, Alex (Anangono – 80'), Joya (Nyarko – 55'); Amarikwa (Rolfe – 88'), Magee
Substitutes: Reynish, Ianni, Pause, Nyarko, Rolfe, Anangono, Gentile
Scoring: CHI: Hurtado – 27' (Shipp), Amarikwa – 82' (Nyarko)
DC: Espindola – 35' (DeLeon), Kitchen – 73' (Boswell)