This was a big test for D.C. United. Our near flawless home record was threatened by a talented Chicago Fire team that was playing well, coming off a streak of three straight wins in three straight multi-goal games. Well, the Fire managed to continue one of those streaks tonight, but not both. D.C. came out on top by a score of 4-2.
It's important to note that this wasn't the New York Red Bulls with a depleted back line. This wasn't the Houston Dynamo without Brad Davis. This was an Eastern Conference playoff team at full strength. Coming into the game, the Fire were playing their best soccer of the season. Leaving it, they're looking for the license plate of the bus that just hit them.
Welcome to D.C.
With just 10 matches left in the season, United is in fine position to essentially lock up their playoff spot in the coming weeks. That's a great thing to be able to write, especially for those of us that watched this Fire team collect two very late goals to beat United the last time they visited RFK Stadium. And you shouldn't feel bad if you were just a bit nervous that the same was going to happen tonight. But this United team has proven time and time again that the year is not 2011 anymore. Or 2008, or 2009. And certainly not 2010.
This United team is undefeated when leading at the half. This United team knows how to close out a game. This United team knows what it takes to win.Not only was it an impressive win, it was an entertaining win as well. It left me wishing that this was the game carried on national television rather than that crap that we watched on Sunday.
The quality entertainment started when Chris Pontius took a shot that turned into an assist as Dwayne De Rosario ran onto the ball at the back post to give United an early 1-0 lead. The Fire would come back to tie it up as Dan Paladini finished off a pretty play with lots of one-touch passes, but the deadlock wouldn't last long and United struck again just before halftime. Lionard Pajoy made one of his few positive contributions of the night by heading in a cross from one of Andy Najar's many positive contributions of the night. Najar getting involved from the back might be something we should get used to seeing.
United would take a 3-1 lead as Brandon McDonald nicely placed a floating header into the upper corner of Sean Johnson's goal on a cross from Chris Korb. Then after Gonzalo Segares' diving header cut the D.C. lead in half, United pulled away with a late goal from substitute Long Tan as he finished off a play created by De Rosario.
Some of us (myself included) have been a bit critical of Ben Olsen's lineup choices lately, so its worth pointing out how United won the tactical battle tonight. The use of two central defensive midfielders may have seemed necessary due to the absence of Branko Boskovic, but it really worked to our advantage. Not only did Perry Kitchen and Marcelo Saragosa both play well in their roles, but they also provided valuable cover to allow Najar and Korb to get involved in the attack whenever they saw an opportunity. Since both outside backs contributed assists, it should be obvious that the flexibility provided was incredibly valuable.
This may have been United's best attacking performance of the season, because it came against a very good defensive team. If you're looking for the last time that Chicago gave up four goals, you'll have to look back more than a year (8/7/11).
We can add this great performance to the growing list of great performances we've seen at home this year. Unfortunately the list of great performances we've seen on the road this year is still very short. It might actually be empty. In order for United to last longer than a single round in the playoffs, that will need to change. And they'll have a chance to change it in just four days against the Montreal Impact.