On paper, D.C. United should be facing one of their easiest remaining games of the season tonight against the Chicago Fire. The Fire are currently not in last place in MLS only due to a tiebreaker, and their record at Toyota Park features more draws (six) than wins (five). The Fire have not beaten United since October 4, 2013; since then, the Black-and-Red are 5W-3D-0L against Chicago, with a gaudy +12 goal difference (22 goals scored, or 2.75 per game, to 10 against).
However, we’re talking about a team with just one road win in 2016, and who could not beat the Fire on their last visit to Chicago, instead ending up with a rain-soaked 1-1 draw. United has padded that goal total we just talked about in home games, with their last two visits resulting in two total goals. The Fire are also in a position where every game is a playoff game; a loss this weekend would see Chicago fall to 10 or 11 points outside the playoffs with just six games left to make the ground up. It’s never easy to go into someone’s place and effectively end their season.
Key player: Whoever starts at right back
When Sean Franklin went down injured against the Red Bulls, Olsen turned to Luke Mishu rather than Jalen Robinson (who has experience at right back, or could have played in the middle with Steve Birnbaum moving wide). Franklin is confirmed as out of this game, so one of these three players is going to step in for the veteran. It’s a major issue to watch, because Chicago’s only elite MLS player happens to be David Accam, their electrifying left winger.
Accam is Chicago’s leading goalscorer as well as their chief scheme-breaker. His speed, by itself, is a huge problem. Add in the fact that he’s one of MLS’s most dangerous dribblers, and you have a problem United must solve to get a much-needed win. If Olsen’s choice is Mishu, he’ll have to avoid the kind of costly mistake that we saw at NYCFC. If Olsen turns to Robinson, he’ll have to play well enough against a fluid, hard-working Fire attack to make up for the fact that United’s best defender would be playing out of position at right back. He could also use Robinson as a right back, but he’s clearly been more comfortable in the middle.
We could even see an unorthodox solution here, like Nick DeLeon joining the back four for a game, but most likely it’s down to Mishu or Birnbaum being vigilant and not getting caught out by a Fire team that always looks to find Accam in transition.
Location: Toyota Park (Bridgeview, IL)
Kickoff time: 8:00pm Eastern
Available TV: UniMas, Univision Deportes
Available streaming: Univision Deportes app, and MLS Live for those outside the blackout radius
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
Our gamethread will be posted one hour before kickoff.