D.C. United had a night to forget on Saturday, as the Black-and-Red fell 3-0 to the Chicago Fire. Ian Harkes headed past Bill Hamid in the first half, and United never really seemed to get back in gear, as Brandon Vincent and Nemanja Nikolic secured the three points with goals in the second half.
Head coach Ben Olsen even tried to shake his team up with a switch in formation late on, but that change did not help United find any traction. It was the 17th loss of the season for United, while they have now been shutout over half of their games (15 times in 29 matches).
Olsen made four changes from the team that dropped a disappointing 2-1 result at home against Orlando City last weekend. Chris Odoi-Atsem took over at right back for the suspended Sean Franklin. Deshorn Brown and Lloyd Sam started in place of Patrick Mullins and Zoltan Stieber, while Harkes made his first appearance since picking up an ankle injury in July, replacing Marcelo Sarvas.
As has been the case several times this season, United had a decent start to the game, but with no end product. Brown nearly had a chance in the 2nd minute from a pass by Sam, but Jonathan Campbell made a last second tackle to prevent a shot. Sam then had his own opportunity on the run a minute later, but his effort from outside the box went right at Fire keeper Matt Lampson.
Then, much like day to turns to night, United began to fade. Even with several key players missing, including Bastian Schweinsteiger, Chicago was able to quickly turn the tide of the game.
In the 16th minute, David Accam created a turnover in midfield, charging into space before looking for Nikolic in the box. Nikolic was able to get a shot off, but Hamid was equal to the effort, and even snagged the rebound out of the air before Arturo Alvarez could pounce.
A long ball from defender Johan Kappelhof created Chicago’s next opportunity, as Nikolic was able to bring the ball down in the area. His shot from close range was saved by Hamid, who conceded a corner. From that corner, the Fire recycled the ball, and a cross from Alvarez towards the back post was headed towards goal by Campbell, but Hamid was able to acrobatically recover to push the ball away.
And just when it looked like Hamid would be unbeatable, it was his own teammate who opened the scoring against him. Three United players were well placed to defend a long throw in from Matt Polster. But amidst confusion, Harkes - who had no pressure on him - headed the ball the wrong way, with Hamid unable to do anything to prevent United falling behind in the 23rd minute.
Hamid then had to push another header onto the top of the netting in the 35th minute, as Alvarez sent a ball to the back post. Vincent headed the ball back towards goal, but Hamid played it safe, keeping the ball from danger, while conceding a corner. From that corner, United initially cleared, but Vincent took aim with a follow up effort. The ball somehow got through a big group of players, and Hamid, who could not have seen the ball until late, was able to kick it away for another corner.
A slip from Steve Birnbaum in the last minute of the first half let Luis Solignac latch onto the ball in the box. Corraling the ball near the end line, Solignac got into a shooting position, but a last ditch effort from Nick DeLeon forced the shot over the goal.
United did manage to come out with more purpose in the second half, after Olsen mentioned during his halftime interview that he was disappointed in how several players reacted to the own goal. Luciano Acosta tried to test Lampson immediately, but his swerving shot was shuttled wide by the keeper. Arriola then helped create a chance in the 52nd minute, with Brown playing the ball back to Acosta at the top of the box. Acosta’s effort forced Lampson to concede a corner, giving United hope.
From that corner, Kofi Opare‘s header was denied by a goal line clearance from Nikolic. The ball sat invitingly inside the six yard box, but Brown’s swing saw him barely graze the ball with his shin, and Chicago cleared. It was a miss United would regret.
In the 61st minute, a misplay from Harkes and DeLeon allowed Alvarez to gain possession, and make his way towards goal. Opare did well to cut down the angles on Alvarez, but the shot forced a save from Hamid, as the ball trickled out for a throw in.
That seemed innocuous enough, but from that throw in, Chicago doubled their advantage. The Fire were able to draw United defensively to that side, causing the visitors to lose their shape. Odoi-Atsem had to move into the middle to mark Solignac in front of goal, but that left no one available to pick up Vincent’s late run. Alvarez’s curling cross allowed Vincent to dive in unmarked, heading past Hamid and effectively ending the game.
Olsen immediately brought Mullins on looking for a way back into the game. In the 71st minute, United had a free kick at the top of the box, which Acosta backheeled for Mullins. On his favored left foot, Mullins fired a shot on goal, but Lampson was equal to the effort.
In the 78th minute, Stieber entered the game for United, signalling a shift to a 3-5-2 formation as Birnbaum was removed. However, even sending Bruno Miranda in and throwing numbers forward couldn’t make a dent in the Fire defense.
United’s misery was complete in the 90th minute, as Nikolic buried a penalty kick for his 18th goal of the season. A poor giveaway from Opare gifted the Fire possession, and Russell Canouse brought down Solignac in the box trying to prevent the Argentine from shooting from close range. Nikolic, who Hamid had robbed numerous times the last time these teams met as well as tonight, emphatically sent the ‘keeper the wrong way from the spot.
United, with 28 points from 29 games, return to action next Saturday, hosting the San Jose Earthquakes in their penultimate game at RFK Stadium.