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Signal Intel: Ascendent Fire have United nervous

Men in Red out to prove that road jinx is a past thing against struggling DC side

MLS: Colorado Rapids at Chicago Fire Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

We hooked up with Ben Bromley of Black & Red United for the three-question ritual - DIG:

Hot Time: What would you rate the odds of Bobby Boswell going gently into that good night? Because he seems more of a rage, rage against the dying of the light kinda guy, and the light seems to be dying; how's he holding up? And, more to the point of the game upcoming, how has the DC United defense adjusted to their eagle-proud former leader starting to lose his edge?

Black & Red United: Boswell has been very up and down so far this season. He started on the bench, with Steve Birnbaum and Sean Franklin starting. He was pressed into service when Birnbaum went down with a concussion, and United got two wins in a row during that time. However, the past few weeks have seen him make uncharacteristic mistakes of thought; if he can't correct those, the time of him as a starter may quickly be coming to a close.

HT: You signed a perfectly healthy and productive Patrick Nyarko, and apparently you've gone and messed him up. At least, that's what I'm hearing. Two-parter: a) Why does DC United hate light and joy (as they demonstrated by being unable to keep Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko healthy), and b) how have United compensated for the lack of production from their wings this year?

BRU: To take the second part first: they haven't. Patrick Nyarko started off slowly but was starting to get into a slight groove before he got injured; we hope to see him back this weekend, at least in a substitute role, to provide some life to D.C. United's attack. In his absence, neither Lloyd Sam nor Lamar Neagle have been able to be effective in sparking offense, and so United's attack has been moribund. Without Luciano Acosta today, someone is going to need to step up and create.

As for the first part: injuries happen, man, but we'd still gladly take more players you all don't want. You sure you don't need to offload Matt Polster?

HT: Ok, so you've got to imagine I'm, like, lighting some candles or something, and there's all this magical writing on the table, and suddenly I'm chanting "yay-soan-and-her-son" in a monotone, over and over: A RITUAL OF 'SUMMON JASON ANDERSON' IS UNDERWAY! In order to answer this question, you must summon your most Jason Anderson-y voice to explain how DC United approaches this game Saturday tactically, and how those choices help United win.

BRU: Without Acosta, D.C. United is going to look to make this game an ugly affair in the midfield: defensively, it have been a sieve and without their best attacking player it will be lacking for creativity as well. If United can at least slow the very good midfield and attack of Chicago, that will be a start. Secondly, they have to get their wing play and fullbacks going to have any chance of scoring. Patrick Mullins hasn't looked very threatening yet, but he has also been starved for service. If the game is flowing and pretty, Chicago is going to win; if it is ugly and choppy, United may have a chance.

Predicted lineup (4-1-4-1): Bill Hamid; Chris Korb, Steve Birnbaum, Bobby Boswell, Taylor Kemp; Jared Jeffrey; Lloyd Sam, Ian Harkes, Sebastien LeToux, Lamar Neagle; Patrick Mullins

BRU: What has made Nemanja Nikolic so good this year and do you think he can keep it up?

HT: Niko's defining trait is his voracious, apparently insatiable hunger to score goals. His single-mindedness can make him look kinda ordinary in combination, but give him a sniff of goal and he comes to life. He's scored boatloads of goals everywhere he's gone, and he's showing MLS that it's no different. Yes, barring injury he can absolutely keep it up. In fact, based on the way he's played so far, I wouldn't bet against him setting both club and league single-season scoring records this year.

BRU: What made Hauptman actually spend money on Bastian Schweinsteiger?

HT: We at Hot Time are exiles from the inner circles of the Fire front office - we don't get press passes, or invites to open practices, or circled in on conference calls. Any statements we make about Hauptman's motivation are highly speculative - please understand this.

With that said, here's some speculation. I see two possibilities here: 1.) That Andell Holdings has determined the previous 'spend-nothing-say-nothing' approach was untenable, and approved a jump in payroll expenditures for 2017, or 2.) This is all part of an MLS-led effort to burnish the club's bona fides in advance of a sale. We will only know which it is after the fact, in all likelihood. There's no one left in the Fire organization who feels more loyalty to the idea of the Fire than to their paychecks.

BRU: Is Velko Paunovic the one or do they need to dump hm for a new coach?

HT: Pauno looked naive and out of his depth at times last year, but better players always make a manager look better, and this group is no exception. But that's not to say that Velko's made no improvements - far from it. Every aspect of game management looks better in 2017; the Fire have displayed a tactical flexibility that was simply out of reach last year, and the team's substitution patterns are now logical and explicable. Finally, his handling of the two failing parts of the defense - benching Michael Harrington and Jorge Bava - has shown him willing to reverse course after poor results, which concerned me at times last year. Long story short, Velko seems to be growing into the position; I'd be loathe to contemplate a change at this point.

Predicted lineup: This is the third game of a three-game week for the Fire, so some rotation is almost certain. I'd guess that the Fire stick with the 4-2-3-1 they've used most recently, with one of Dax and Basti rested from the outset, and at least one of the attack-midfield band rotated in favor of Daniel Johnson's first start. Or maybe not - this is the first time we've expected rotation this season, so we don't have a lot of data about how Paunovic plans to manage minutes. We also could see Jonathan Campbell in central defense, but I'm betting the Fire stand pat defensively.

(4-2-3-1): Matt Lampson; Brandon Vincent, Joao Meira, Johan Kappelhof, Matt Polster; Dax McCarty, Juninho; David Accam, Michael de Leeuw, Daniel Johnson; Nemanja Nikolic.