The last time D.C. United faced the Chicago Fire, the Black-and-Red were comprehensively outplayed en route to a defeat. The scoreboard at RFK Stadium only read 1-0, but realistically the Fire’s dominance on the day would have been better reflected by 3-0 or 4-0. It took some great play from Bill Hamid just for United to escape with some dignity intact.
Tonight in Chicago, the new-look United will get a chance to prove that the club has made some progress since the dark days of losing three straight at home without scoring. It also has to be said that Chicago is only just emerging out of a spell that saw them win just once in eight games, and their last two outings have still seen them struggle to find the attacking potency they previously had. With injuries and suspensions hitting Veljko Paunovic’s side, United might be looking at a good chance to play spoiler.
Key player: Patrick Mullins
2017 has been tough on Mullins. Last year at this time, he was in the middle of a run that saw him score 8 goals and add 2 assists in 14 total appearances following a trade with NYCFC. This year, injuries threw off his rhythm in the spring, and he hasn’t been able to build up his confidence. In recent weeks, he’s sent some great chances wide of goal, and when he has put it on frame, he leaves just enough of a window for goalkeepers to make the save.
If United is going to to build on their solid history in Chicago (an all-time record of 7W-10D-10L when visiting the Fire), they’re probably going to need goals, plural. Most likely, that means one of their misfiring strikers is going to need to step up and show some precision that just hasn’t been there recently. Of Mullins and Deshorn Brown, the former has been getting into more dangerous positions, and probably plays a game more suited to the thought process the attacking midfield trio seems to favor.
Location: Toyota Park (Bridgeview, IL)
Kickoff time: 8:30pm Eastern
Projected D.C. United starting 11: (4231) - Bill Hamid; Chris Odoi-Atsem, Steve Birnbaum, Kofi Opare, Nick DeLeon; Russell Canouse, Ian Harkes; Paul Arriola, Luciano Acosta, Zoltan Stieber; Patrick Mullins
Bench: Steve Clark, Jalen Robinson, Chris Korb, Marcelo Sarvas, Jared Jeffrey, Lloyd Sam, Deshorn Brown
With the injury list where it is (Taylor Kemp is out for the season, while Bruno Miranda is still listed as out for the time being), Sean Franklin suspended due to yellow card accumulation, and Julian Buescher and Travis Worra away on loan, Ben Olsen can pick his 18 while only leaving out Chris Durkin - who will be joining the US under-17s next week - and Eric Klenofsky.
The only mysteries coming in here are Harkes or Marcelo playing as the #8, and who gets Franklin’s spot at right back. I’m hoping for youth in both instances, but don’t be surprised if a) Harkes isn’t actually fit enough to start just yet, and b) right back goes to Korb or even Robinson, who at this point has earned more minutes (even if not in his best position).
Projected Chicago starting 11: (4231) - Matt Lampson; Matt Polster, Johan Kappelhof, Jonathan Campbell, Brandon Vincent; Dax McCarty, Drew Conner; Arturo Alvarez, Luis Solignac, David Accam; Nemanja Nikolic
Alvarez stepping in for the suspended Michael de Leeuw is fairly straightforward, as the Fire have little attacking midfield depth. The other option is to move Solignac wide and give a start to 18 year old homegrown product Djordje Mihailovic (which is not completely out of the question). Bastian Schweinsteiger, who is carrying a knock that earlier this week saw him listed as out on the injury report, only to be moved up to questionable once Juninho was declared out, could end up starting over Conner.
Conner could also end up at right back if Polster, who is also listed as questionable, ends up being unable to go. Campbell was recently fourth choice at center back, but injuries to Joao Meira and Christian Dean will see him start today.
Referee: Ismail Elfath
Available TV: NewsChannel 8 and regional affiliates (check the link for the over-the-air alternate channel in your area), including CW Richmond in RVA.
Available streaming: MLS Live for those outside the blackout radius
For listings in other countries, check out LiveSoccerTV.com.
What do we have to say about it?: We talked this game over on Filibuster, and Steven Streff had a chat with Stieber after training this week. Later today, we’ll have predictions and a deeper look at Chicago’s lineup.
What are you drinking?: It’s looking like I’ll be going with some Evan Williams Single Barrel on the rocks.
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