D.C. United is in truly unfamiliar territory tonight, as they take on the Chicago Fire today. It’s their first game against the Fire all year, and their first visit to Soldier Field since 2005, but of course that’s not what we’re talking about. For the first time since October 29, 1997, United will take the field tonight without Ben Olsen listed on the club’s roster or as a member of the coaching staff. It’s a strange feeling, especially in a league where no team has a comparable relationship with one person, and in a lot of ways it overshadows the game itself.
However, with United facing an extraordinarily difficult climb back into the playoff picture, the remaining players and coaches will have to channel the emotions of the day into a vastly improved performance, as the Fire have only lost once in their last four outings.
player concept: Positive play
Here’s United interim head coach Chad Ashton on what he and the players both seem to want out of this game, and the games to come:
Just start to be a team who enjoys our football a little bit more and, you know, that’s kind of been my message with the guys over over the last 24 hours, and honestly that’s been their message with me. They want to be attack-oriented, they want to again just create chances as much as possible. Now, it obviously doesn’t always play out that way, but that’s our mentality moving into this game. Can we figure out a way to get on the ball and not defend quite so much? Now, it obviously doesn’t always play out that way, but that’s our mentality moving into this game.
That sounds good to me, and probably to you too. But of course, as Ashton notes at the end, it’s not just an automatic thing that happens when you decide to give it a shot. United will have to take the steps to make that kind of approach work, or Chicago will pin them back, and it’ll be hard to tell whether this is a bunkering DCU or a DCU that can’t get out of its own end. The decision to be more positive is step one, but that’s the easy part. The execution of a more possession-based gameplan that sees more of the match played away from Bill Hamid’s goal is the hard part.
Location: Soldier Field (Chicago, IL)
Kickoff time: 7:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4312) - Bill Hamid; Chris Odoi-Atsem, Frederic Brillant, Donovan Pines, Joseph Mora; Julian Gressel, Junior Moreno, Russell Canouse; Kevin Paredes; Ola Kamara, Griffin Yow
Bench: Chris Seitz, Earl Edwards Jr., Axel Sjöberg, Oniel Fisher, Moses Nyeman, Yamil Asad, Edison Flores, Erik Sorga, Gelmin Rivas
Based on Ashton’s comments above, we’re stuck guessing here on formation and on personnel. However, if United wants to be on the ball more, this midfield diamond (which we saw at home against the Red Bulls) was what they used the last time they really had a lot of the ball in a game. The players available aren’t a perfect fit, especially without the left-footed Mohammed Abu to station on the left side of the diamond, but nothing’s going to be ideal at this point in 2020.
Ashton will be without Abu, Paul Arriola, Steven Birnbaum, Felipe Martins, Yordy Reyna, and Ulises Segura, and possibly one more. Yesterday, speaking extemporaneously, he said he thought United would only have 19 players in uniform. We’re listing all 20 players that are not currently listed as unavailable, but don’t be surprised if someone is absent.
One player that we do know will travel: Flores, who was cleared to play and added to the active roster after a trade brought United a sixth international spot through the rest of the season. It sounds more like he’s in the 15-30 minute range, so hopefully United can get him into the game.
Projected Chicago starting 11: (4231) - Bobby Shuttleworth; Boris Sekulic, Johan Kappelhof, Mauricio Pineda, Jonathan Bornstein; Micheal Azira, Alvaro Medran; Djordje Mihailovic, Fabian Herbers, Ignacio Aliseda; Robert Beric
Fire head coach Raphael Wicky is in a similar spot as Ashton, as he’s without seven players for a variety of reasons. Francisco Calvo, normally a starter at center back, is suspended due to yellow card accumulation, while international duty has claimed two more first-choice players (Gaston Gimenez is with Uruguay, while Miguel Angel Navarro is with Venezuela).
It is possible that Wicky could choose this as the game to rotate in, but based on recent history, it seems like he’s going to continue rolling out the strongest team he can. If that’s the case, Kappelhof will replace Calvo, Azira should step in for Gimenez (thanks in part to an injury for Brandt Bronico, who started in that role mid-week), and Bornstein will come in at left back, a spot he and Navarro have been battling for all season.
Beric leads the team with 6 goals, but in home games, Herbers (4 g/1a in their last 5 appearances in Chicago) has arguably been the danger man. If there is rotation, though, Przemyslaw Frankowski and longtime United killer CJ Sapong are very strong candidates to step in.
Referee: Allen Chapman
Available TV: WJLA 24/7 News (D.C. region only)
Available streaming: If you live inside this blackout zone that United provided for us, you can stream the game on the team site. For everyone else, ESPN+ or FuboTV (subscribe via those links, & your friends at B&RU get some cash!).
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What are you drinking?: Probably nothing more exciting than some Polar grapefruit seltzer, but if the game goes south, I might enrich that seltzer with some gin and lime juice.
This is the place for all your pre-game, in-game, and post-game discussion. Vamos progress!
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