It certainly wasn’t pretty like some of the other Chicago Fire home wins this season, but it counted just the same. The Fire struggled at times, but were able to score twice off set pieces to defeat a bad D.C. United side, earning three crucial points at home.
With the 2-1 victory, Chicago moved to 9th place in the MLS Eastern Conference, putting them back into a playoff spot with six matches to play. D.C., which remains in last place in MLS, played the match without longtime coach Ben Olsen, who was fired last week after a decade in charge.
“We knew it’s going to be not pretty,” Fire Head Coach Raphael Wicky said after the match. “It’s a tough opponent, and whenever a team has a coaching change, you know they have a little bit of a boost.”
The Fire wasted no time taking the lead. In the third minute, Álvaro Medrán sent a free kick into the box. CJ Sapong was able to put it away, making it 1-0 Chicago. For Sapong, who spent a lot of time away from the team after the premature birth of his daughter, it was his first 90 minute performance in months.
“For me, it’s a personal achievement to able to come in, to start after I haven’t started for awhile, and that goal was, I think, just a testament to the work that I’ve put in,” Sapong said. “I do have a lot of things going on, and soccer is my escape, my channel to happiness.”
The match featured several non-regular starters. Besides Sapong, who got the start on the left side of the attack in place of Ignacio Aliseda, Przemyslaw Frankowski was back in the XI in place of Djordje Mihailovic, who was injured for the match. Micheal Azira got the nod in central midfield, and Wyatt Omsberg started in place of Francisco Calvo, who was suspended because of yellow card accumulation.
“Some of the guys for seven months they didn’t have a game, other than one or two intra-squad games,” Wicky said of the new faces in the lineup. “And they did really well, so I’m really happy about that.”
After forty minutes of uneventful play by both teams, the Fire made it 2-0 when Medrán found Boris Sekulić unmarked on a 45th minute corner kick.
“I think we were very dangerous on set pieces the last couple games,” Sekulić said. “Today we scored two goals from set pieces. It’s a very important part for our team. We all know Gastón (Giménez, who is away on international duty) and Álvaro, they have a very good cross, so we are preparing very well, we are doing this every week.”
D.C. pulled one back in the 56th minute, when Fire defender Jonathan Bornstein put one in the back of his own net trying to clear a deflected shot on a 4-v-3 counter attack. After that, D.C. launched a full out attack that kept the Fire on the back foot for much of the second half. The Fire were able to hang on, earning another victory on the Chicago lakefront.
The Fire are scheduled to play on the road Wednesday at Minnesota United. The Loons, who had two players recently test positive for COVID-19, had their Sunday match against FC Dallas postponed. There’s another round of testing coming Monday that could determine whether the Fire are able to travel to St. Paul, or whether that match will be postponed as well.
Chicago Fire FC: GK Shuttleworth, D Sekulić, D Pineda, D Omsberg (D Reynolds II 75’), D Bornstein ©, M Azira, M Frankowski (M Aliseda 63’), M Medrán, M Herbers (F Collier 75’), F Sapong, F Berić
Subs not used: GK Sparrow, GK G. Slonina, D N. Slonina, D Kappelhof, M Casas Jr., M Gutiérrez
D.C. United: GK Hamid, D Odoi-Atsem (M Paredes 80’), D Brillant ©, D Pines, D Mora, M Gressel (F Yow 83’), M Canouse, M Moreno, M Asad, F Sorga (M Flores 59’), F Rivas (F Kamara 59’)
Subs not used: GK Seitz, GK Edwards Jr., D Fisher, D Sjoberg