There’s no room for D.C. United to rest on their laurels today, and no room to overlook a potential trap game today against the Chicago Fire. Facing their biggest game of the season, and possibly of the last five years, United produced one of the most lopsided wins in club history last time out by shellacking Montreal. It was great, but following a Montreal win yesterday, the Black-and-Red are 5 points out of the last playoff spot, exactly where they were when last week’s game kicked off. Any slip-ups against a Fire team that has been better of late than their spot in the standings would indicate would essentially throw away last week’s victory.
Key player: Wayne Rooney
We’ve tried to avoid doing this every week despite the obvious temptation of a Señor Wayne boost in attention. This week, though, there’s a specific reason we have to go with United’s most famous player. Chicago deploys Bastian Schweinsteiger at center back these days, and it’s not like the “center back” role he had last year, when he was a straight-up libero. This year, the Fire are playing a standard back four, but they use Schweinsteiger as a tempo-setter and deep-lying distributor in that spot.
That’s a big risk on their part, because he gives away a lot in terms of athleticism, but the idea is that his vision and passing range will open up transition opportunities. Schweinsteiger is looking to break lines when Chicago is in possession, and he gives them someone who can play out of pressure.
Rooney isn’t going to do this alone by any means, but he’ll lead the charge in terms of preventing just that sort of thing. If there’s no smart pressure on Schweinsteiger, United’s defense will be under constant pressure against a team that, despite their struggles, has good off-the-ball attackers in their front four. Schweinsteiger can pick any of them out if he has time, and that can’t happen.
Oh, and you know, it’d be cool if he does some of that Rooney magic on the ball.
Location: Audi Field (Washington, DC)
Kickoff time: 1:00pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Paul Arriola, Frederic Brillant, Steven Birnbaum, Joseph Mora; Junior Moreno, Russell Canouse; Zoltan Stieber, Luciano Acosta, Yamil Asad; Wayne Rooney
Bench: David Ousted, Jalen Robinson, Kevin Ellis, Nick DeLeon, Chris Durkin, Ulises Segura, Darren Mattocks
The big question is at right back, where Oniel Fisher’s injury has opened the door to a lot of possible solutions. Reading the tea leaves, my guess is that Stieber comes in with Arriola moving back. However, don’t be surprised if it’s Ellis starting and Arriola in the spot where, to be fair, he’s been tearing it up lately.
DeLeon might be fit enough to play 20 minutes, and I’m guessing that Ben Olsen will be looking at getting him into this one unless the circumstances prevent it. If he gets in off the bench, it’ll be his first appearance in 19 games.
Projected Chicago starting 11: (4231) - Stefan Cleveland; Nicolas Hasler, Johan Kappelhof, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Brandon Vincent; Dax McCarty, Brandt Bronico; Aleksandar Katai, Djordje Mihailovic, Michael de Leeuw; Nemanja Nikolic
Veljko Paunovic is not doing as much tinkering as he did last year, but there are still some positions that are in question here. Hasler could end up being replaced by Jorge Corrales like he was last week, for example. In the attacking midfield trio, Katai and de Leeuw could swap flanks, or the speedy Raheem Edwards could replace one of them and play on the left. Mihailovic and de Leeuw are both unlikely to last 90 minutes as they’re both coming back from torn ACLs suffered at the very end of the 2017 season.
Referee: Ismail Elfath
Available TV: ESPN, ESPN Deportes
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: Filibuster has a very informative segment on where the Fire are at these days. In written form, we discussed the possible lineup Olsen will put on the field and took a look at what’s working for Lucho these days.
What are you drinking?: I am staunchly anti-early kickoffs because I’m a night owl, so I’m gonna have an iced coffee on my way in, and then another cup or two during the game.
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