August 18th, 2011. Toyota Park, 8 p.m. (ESPN2)
Another match, another opportunity for three points. Or is it? The Chicago Fire have grown accustomed to earning a solitary point this season, particularly at home where they have drawn seven out of its ten matches at Toyota Park and have yet to record a home win since a 3-2 win over Sporting Kansas City on March 26th – a match that now feels like ages ago.
Coming off a 2-2 draw against the New York Red Bulls, the Fire are still seated at the root of the Eastern Conference table with 20 points from 23 games played. A loss on Thursday night against DC United would certainly be viewed as nothing short of a disaster. After all, the Fire’s chances of making a late and improbable run for a playoff berth are already slim and failing to pick up maximum points against a conference foe would certainly help extinguish the club’s ailing playoff hopes. But after an improved performance last weekend, a win could be on the cards tonight.
Chicago (2-7-14): L-L-T-L-T
DC United (7-6-9): T-L-W-T-W
Five things to watch for:
1) Link up play – Last weekend’s match against the Red Bulls saw the men in red demonstrate significant improvement in the attacking third, particularly involving the link up play between Marco Pappa, Patrick Nyarko, and goalscorers Dominic Oduro and Sebastian Grazzini. The Fire will need more of that if they are to overcome a DC team in high spirits following their 4-0 win over Vancouver. It will be interesting to see if the aforementioned players can build on their individual and team performances from last Saturday. One can only hope.
2) Why so much space? – It was clearly evident in Thierry Henry’s eighth minute opener last weekend, as it was at the beginning of the month against Philadelphia. The Fire’s defense has had a knack for leaving opposition attackers with acres of space outside the penalty box. And just as Henry and Paunovic did, teams will punish you for that. Gershon Koffie also scored from similar range in the 4-2 defeat in Vancouver, but that was more down to poor goalkeeping from Sean Johnson than anything else. One thing is certain, however, and that is the need for the Fire’s defense to close down opposition outside the box.
3) Home woes – No one will need reminding from me how long it’s been since the Chicago Fire won a home league match. Unfortunately, it’s been a lot longer since the last time the Fire defeated DC United at home. The most recent home win against DC United arrived on September 17th, 2006, resulting in a 1-0 win for the Fire. So what does it take to break that streak against Thursday’s visitors? And more importantly, what do the Fire need to do in order to simply pick up three points at home? Focus will be vital. The Fire have dropped too many points this season by allowing a lapse of concentration to yield in a second half goal. The defense, as well as the rest of the team, will need to be on their toes for the entire 90 minutes.
4) De Rosario – The Fire have already come up against De-Ro in July while he played for New York prior to his big trade. Despite not getting on the scoresheet that day, De Rosario caused the Fire’s defense plenty of problems and is the type of player capable of scoring a goal out of nothing. He’s got nine goals to his name already this season and is the fifth highest scorer in the MLS. The Fire would be wise to keep an eye on him on Thursday night.
5) Samba magic – A goal and a brilliant Samba dance under his belt from last weekend, Sebastian Grazzini will hope to build on a fine performance against New York and continue his impressive start to his Fire career. His off the ball movement and passing have stuck out the most for me so far, and we’ll need to see that from him on Thursday night for a chance to earn all three points. It will be interesting to see who Frank Klopas pairs with Grazzini, but regardless of who else makes up the Fire’s midfield, Grazzini could play a big role in determining the result and maybe, just maybe, ensuring Chicago notches a second home win.
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