D.C. United 2, Chicago Fire 1: A Supporter's View

D.C. United 2, Chicago Fire 1: A Supporter's View

Major League Soccer

D.C. United 2, Chicago Fire 1: A Supporter's View

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Who said there’s no place like home?

Not the Chicago Fire, which continued its struggles at Toyota Park. A week off didn’t keep the Fire from dropping another decision at home, leaving a nice-sized crowd wondering where that unstoppable team they’ve been watching on TV was.

D.C. United won’t complain, not as they continue the climb out of the Eastern Conference basement. D.C. still has defensive issues, but its offense looks like the attack we thought we would see coming into the 2008 season.

SBI Correspondents Stephen Wattles and Joel Sanderson took in the match and shared their thoughts with us.

With defense struggling, D.C. leaning on the attack

By JOEL SANDERSON

Before I get into reviewing the Chicago game, I would like to point out the single negative thing I’ll have to say all day, that DC has allowed 23 goals through 12 games. That’s right, 23. Know how many goals they allowed last year? 34. In 30 games. Know how many Houston allowed? 23. Second worse this year is the Galaxy, who, if you hadn’t heard, are pretty good at scoring goals.

And that brings us the DC United. A DC United whose best chance this season may end up being, oddly enough, scoring lots of goals.

We’ve seen the defense, it’s porous. But did you see the offense against the Fire? That’s far and away the best defense in the MLS this season with just eight goals allowed. Second best is 12, so it’s not close.

DC pulled two and could have had more. DC cut through that defense repeatedly, getting opportunities and shots on goals. Another statistic: 10. That’s the number of shots on goal DC had. That’s a phenomenal number. The Fire looked like Gonzalo Peralta was running the defense.

DC’s offense really does have a chance to take 3-2 games every week. Now that Fred is in the line-up, this team can bring the ball up from anywhere. If there were someone better to take Clyde Simms spot on the field and distribute the ball, this could be the best offense in the league. For now I’ll leave that role to the Los Angeles Pretty Boys and their hairdressers.

Fred has been a revelation starting this year. He could have had a number of goals against the Fire.

In the end, it was a beautiful goal by none other than the perpetually derided Luciano Emilio. He’s been slow all season but he’s back to being a little twinkle-toes. Maybe soccer is like riding a bike after a while off it: it take awhile to get back up to speed. If only he hadn’t spent his whole winter break at Golden Corral there wouldn’t have needed to be this reacquaintance period.

“Emilio, I want you to meet ball, ball, this is Luciano.”

“Hi, nice to meet you. Wait… I know you!”

And he does. While the “move” he used to get the shot at the end of the game was really just the Fire defenders being on the take (and why not, they get paid crap), it was still a fantastic play and truly changed the way I view this team. Chicago is good. DC won. At Chicago. Yeah, the defense made mistakes, but Wells made a couple saves and I’ve already complained enough about them so I’ve decided to take the week off.

Emilio knows how to score and he has moves the MLS doesn’t see much of.

It was a fun game to watch even before his winning goal because both teams were playing good ol’ MLS thug-soccer. Wait, I’m supposed to criticize thug-soccer and whine about the physical play. Oh well, it was a fun game to watch. Both teams played hard and DC looked good. Even stealing a point wouldn’t have been a bad result.

Instead, DC told the ref that he could have his red cards, because this team can score whenever and wherever.

Well, except for in the rain at RFK, but that’s a different story. On the topic of the Dynamo game, I was at a conference in DC and one of the other attendees told me that the Screaming Eagles were still going crazy in the rain and the flood. Kudos to you guys.

This week, the Screaming Eagles will get to yell at the inconsistent, unimpressive Red Bulls. The offense has seven goals in its last three games. Let’s see if it can get to 10 in four against the second best defense in the league. With the way the offense has been playing, I wouldn’t bet against them.

Defensive woes, poor home form a concern for the Fire

By STEPHEN WATTLES

It would have been nice to see the Fire sharpen the league best form they carried into their lone off-week of the 2008 MLS season, but that certainly wasn’t the case. The Fire turned in their most disappointing performance of the year in front of its best crowd of the year, and squandered an opportunity to once again climb toward the top of the table. A place they’d already be if they could play a fraction as well at home as they have on the road this year.

Despite numerous circumstances over the course of the evening that seemingly tilted the game in the Fire’s favor, none were enough to offset the indifference, lack of energy, and lack of focus that the team displayed. At least the performance should end the argument by members of the fan base that we couldn’t use a former US National Team forward recently departed from Fulham.

DC United thoroughly deserved the three points they earned. But in the end, when Luciano Emilio justifiably wrapped up the win for DC, despite being down a man, the only question that remained was whether it is even an accomplishment to beat the Fire at Toyota Park?

The performance by the Fire was so collectively poor I’d strongly advise Dennis Hamlett to take the schedule he laid out for the 12 days the team was off, and destroy it.  Except it was so bad that he might want to hold onto it so he can reference it throughout his career to ensure he avoids ever doing anything similar again.

How poor? How about so poor that it can be unequivocally said that John Busch played his best game of the year. Considering he came into the match with the league’s best GAA, that shouldn’t be possible in a 2-1 loss. Yet, he was without a doubt the only thing between the Fire and being routed at home.

It would be impossible to pick out anyone else who played well on the evening without rewatching the game. I don’t plan on doing that. It is far easier to pick out those who didn’t play well (not that there are enough words allowed in this space to capture them all).

Most glaringly however were two more pieces of evidence that Diego Gutierrez is not the answer at center back on this team. On both goals, he was part of a double team of Emilio at the corner of the Fire’s penalty area, and on both occasions he conspired to allow a dangerous shot leading to a goal. Thankfully there are options to replace him.  Unfortunately, they are all hurt.

With Gonzalo Segares now departed for a well deserved call-up to the Costa Rican national team (for which it appeared his brain left 90 minutes early) and Brandon Prideaux looking at a suspension, a strong center-back pairing is going to be needed over the next few weeks.

But on the plus side, at least the Fire are heading back on the road for their next three games, including Wednesday’s US Open Cup play-in versus Columbus which will be played three hours from Chicago in Peoria.

Maybe the front office saw the writing on the wall and had already figured playing at Toyota Park was a bad idea. Unless Hamlett can do something to translate the Fire’s early season road form to their home park by the end of the month, it will be up to the front office to figure out how the Fire can play their remaining schedule away from home. Or maybe they can locate a forward who recently delivered a little late season road form in the Premiership and put him in a Fire shirt?

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