The past two week has shown Chicago Fire fans something they may have forgotten could exist: exciting soccer. The combo of David Accam, Michael De Leeuw and Luis Solignac; along with actual possession in the midfield and decent-enough defending has helped the Fire end their two-year plus road winless streak and accrue five points in their past three matches.
It’s probably fatalist to consider, but the Fire sit just six points behind their Saturday night opponent, DC United, for the sixth and final playoff spot - with the Fire having a game in hand. Dreams of overcoming United (as well as Orlando and New England) in the final ten matches of the season are overly-optimistic, but a win in our nation’s capital is essential to keeping the Fire’s flicker of playoff hope alive. The match begins at 6 p.m. central time and airs on CSN Chicago.
The Fire won’t just walk into the Raccoon den known as RFK Stadium expecting DC to roll over, as United are doing everything they can to hold on to the last playoff spot in the east. They also enter Saturday’s match on a minor roll, having gone undefeated in their past five matches - though that streak includes only one win.
They’ve accomplished their recent run the same way they have maintained their spot smack in the middle of the eastern conference standings: quality play out on the wings, competency in the backline and regular immaculate performances from goalkeeper Bill Hamid.
Since coming back in June from offseason knee surgery, Hamid has returned to his former role as brick wall in front of net. The former MLS Goalkeeper of the year has four shutouts in his 12 starts this season, and is arguably the sole reason why DC United walked away from Wednesday night’s match in Montreal with a 1-1 draw. Even with centerbacks that could best be described as adequate, the Fire’s slowly emerging attacking identity will have their biggest challenge yet against Hamid.
In the Fire’s favor, only they and the Houston Dynamo concede more possession in the league that DC United’s 48.0% on the season. As has been the case for Ben Olsen’s side, United is looking to spring on their opponent on the counter with their play on the edges. Anchored by former Fire Patrick Nyarko and Lamar Neagle - as well as recently acquired Lloyd Sam - United are going to provide a challenge to Johan Kappelhof and Brandon Vincent.
DC has rotated players in the lone striker slot, with new acquisition Patrick Mullins securing the role with two goals and one assist in four starts since he was acquired from NYCFC last month. However, Mullins has played nearly 170 minutes in the past six days, so it’s possible that former Fire legend Kennedy Igboananike takes the slot up top instead.
United has played much better since they started the season in a serious rut, though even the biggest optimistic may not be able to describe the sum of their parts as anything more than above-average. Their 27 goals this season are tied with the Fire for lowest in the Eastern Conference and second-lowest in the league. Additionally, the squad sits in playoff contention despite only six wins in 25 matches; proving themselves masters of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.
Saturday’s action will make for an interesting view, as both sides are playing their third match in a week. It will be a battle of attrition -and substitutes - as United hope to cling to a playoff spot and the Fire hope to eeks their chance for a playoff spot past one percent. With the curse of the road finally over, it’s finally OK to predict a Fire road win. I won’t be doing that though, as Saturday’s match looks to be primed for a 1-1 struggle.
What are your thoughts and predictions? Leave a comment below?