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D.C. United 2, Chicago Fire 1: A Look Back



At the end of a tightly contested 90 minutes, D.C. United stood victorious, and with the result now sit in first place in the Eastern Conference. Their one point of breathing room in the standings equaled their margin of victory over the Fire last Saturday night.

The match had all the chipiness one would expect from such two bitter rivals facing off. Hard tackles and a stray elbow or two were visible. United rookies Rodney Wallace and Chris Pontius most likely woke up the next morning with a bruise or two, as they were on the receiving end of a hard tackle or two.

Don't get me wrong, Chicago didn't come to RFK taking aim for the player and not the ball. They came out attacking, looking to feed balls to Brian McBride. Maybe it was their stellar road form, or perhaps their visit to the White House that inspired the confidence, but they didn't just park the bus in front of the net. This created one of the most exciting matches I've seen on the year.

United coach Tom Soehn was appreciative of the spectacle Chicago helped create.

"I have to compliment Chicago. There's too many times that teams try to pack it in. They did a great job, they came at us," he said. "As a fan you watch the game and it had everything. It was an exciting game to watch and I think they did a great job."

Marring such an exciting match was a couple of questionable penalty calls. While they balanced each other out, it was discouraging to see in a league that can't seem to shake some dodgy referee decisions.

Toledo's first call came in the 24th minute. Santino Quaranta launched a ball into the box that Chris Pontius controlled and managed to get a shot off with Jon Busch bearing down on him. The shot trickled wide as Busch sent Pontius tumbling down. With most eyes following the ball, it took a few seconds to notice that Toledo pointed to the spot. It seemed a bit harsh, though on replay Busch seems to jump into Pontius as opposed to trying to play the ball.

Jaime Moreno stepped up to the spot and buried the spot kick. While the Fire could do nothing but stand there and protest, they didn't let the lead last for very long. Nine minutes later, a diagonal ball from John Thorrington eluded Fred, finding Chicago defender Tim Ward. Ward cut it back for Marco Pappa just inside the box, who stumbled with the ball at his feet for a second before curling a beautiful shot to the back of the net. Honors even.

A note on Pappa — he was far and away the most dangerous player for the Fire. His darting runs down both flanks troubled the United defense most of the night. Not to mention his sweetly struck finish. The 21-year-old Guatamalan is one of the brightest young talents in the league.

The draw wouldn't last until half time. Christian Gomez buried a free kick just three minutes before the end of the half, shortly after Toledo called for a free kick in a dangerous position. Gomez's dipping effort just eluded the diving Busch.

After the break, a scoreless second half was all about Josh Wicks. The Galaxy castoff stood out on numerous occasions, putting in a solid, if not spectacular performance. He was tested early on after a series of headers put Wilman Conde in alone on goal, but Wicks was alert, and Conde showed why he is a central defender, as his shot struck Wicks right in the midsection.

It was moments later that dubious penalty number two was called. Marco Pappa played Nyarko in behind the United defense, and after Nyarko tumbled to the turf, Toledo was pointing to the spot. On initial reaction, Dejan Jakvoic had his arm out which certainly gave Toledo the impression he pulled Nyarko down, though replays suggest otherwise. Brian McBride stepped up to take the subsequent penalty, but his low shot to the left was deftly parried by a diving Wicks.

There's no question about how well Wicks has raised his game. Soehn was not only pleased with the penalty save, but also Wicks' performance on the evening. "Josh [Wicks], not only with that save, had a really fantastic day today. He really established himself as a presence when balls came in the box, and came up with some really good plays."

On the other side of things, Patrick Nyarko put in a rather uneven performance. His did draw the penalty in his 68 minutes of action, but aside from that created very little. He and McBride weren't always on the same page, and one might wonder if putting Chris Rolfe up top for a week or two would help smooth things out.

The absence of Cuautehmoc Blanco was evident — while McBride is an outstanding player, you couldn't help but wonder if Blanco would have buried the penalty. What they must now focus on is improving their record at Toyota Park. Relying on their road form will ultimately leave them on shaky ground, especially if improvement can't be made on their 1-2-3 record at home.

Back on the United side of things, one concern from the second half was the inability to kill the game off. Despite Dennis Hamlett swapping defenders for attackers, United couldn't get that third goal on the counter. Thabiso Khumalo and Santino Quaranta both came close to burying the game, but if the Fire had managed that late equalizer it would have been a different story to tell.

Going forward, United's next two months of the schedule are quite brutal. Two games on the road await next week, and their only league home game for the rest of June and July isn't until July 18. It's a two month period that will go a long way in determining how United fare at the end of the season.

For the Fire, they'll have to wait to put an end to this league losing streak. San Luis, a Mexican team visits Toyota Park to kick off the 2009 SuperLiga. It'll be interesting to see Hamlett's approach to this match, considering their drop in form. Their next league fixture isn't until July 4, a bit of a wait until they can end their skid.


  1. I understand completely, but it was boring as someone who cheers for one the teams, as a neutral I might not have bothered watching.

    2)Don’t get me started on formations and hamlett’s inflexibility. The obvious answer sans blanco to a 3-5-2 is to play a 4-2-3-1. With the outside mids pushing up. Forcing the wingbacks in the DCs midfield to track back effectively pinning them back into a 5-3-2. But no……longball to wings is much better. *rollseyes*

    I was just answering the people who thought this was an entertaining matchup in this thread.
    Like the in the 3rd paragraph of the article “This created one of the most exciting matches I’ve seen on the year.”

    Seriously? I gotta question how much MLS games people making those statements actually watch.

    I’ve seen two games that DC united played that were more entertaining. DC vs Energy Drink when DC won it in stoppage time with two late goals (remember that game?)and the 2-2 tie vs the gals.

    I dunno, maybe I’m the only one here that actually bothers to watch telefutura games.

  2. @ A. Ruiz: do you actually understand what you were watching? Chicago was trying to beat a congested midfield by sending balls over the top to their forwards. Their usual method of playing through the middle (with Blanco) wouldn’t work against a 3-5-2.

  3. If they can come away with some good results it is smooth sailing to another Eastern conference title IMO.

    Posted by: DC Josh

    It’d be a real shot in the arm to do so, but United (my team) has a lot of work to do before they’re smooth sailing into anything.

  4. Exciting? The Fire did nothing but play longball for the 2nd half. It was a crap game by their standards.
    The Fire-Columbus was way more exciting and in that games both teams played well. Actually, Seattle vs Chicago was better and so was Chicago vs Kansas.
    DC musta been in some real stinkers if this is the most entertaining game they’ve played in so far. 😉

  5. Nothing to do with this match but looks like Johann Smith and Rohan Ricketts have been released adn Ali Gerba has been signed by TFC. Gossip suggests that Julian De Guzman is a potential signing at DP too

  6. The DCU-Chicago match was one of the best-played matches I’ve seen this year. The penalty calls were mystifying. In the stadium we had no idea what the infractions might have been – you usually have a decent idea, even if you disagree.

    It was a hard-fought match, and apart from a couple of unnecessarily hard fouls from Thorrington, a pretty cleanly played one too. It seemed to be less chippy than it has been in previous years.

  7. The Refs in MLS suck, but apparently they suck everywhere. This is evidenced by the last two USA vs ITLAY where the refs gave both games to the Italians

  8. you “hate” both teams because we give you a crick in the neck from looking up the table at us.

    We don’t care about you….you’re team is just 6 points a year to us.

    But I appreciate your gladness for Stefan.

    Metro Energy drink FC of Jersey, best in the west.

  9. Actually Josh, DC have a week off between the Rapids and the Crew, so its not as bad, but still a rough patch.

  10. Flew in for the match from Chicago–liked DC as a city, btw.

    2 debatable penalties, and a hell of a strike from Gomez didn’t separate the teams, but it did decide the game. DC maintained good stretches of possession, and Chicago countered well on many occasions. What bothered me was that EVERY chance to hoof it up the pitch, the Fire D and mids did just that. Did they not notice that it WASN’T GOING TO WORK!!?? I thought perhaps the coaching staff would have noticed that and let the team know during the half. Mapp frustrates the daylights out of me, but at least he’s willing (and able) to take on defenders and take the ball up the gut.
    There were a few chances that perhaps both teams should have scored on, but….such is the nature of the game, and we all know that. Regardless, even from a Chicago perspective, if you took out the 2 calls and the odd fluffed chances, I think DC still would have won on the day. They simply wanted it more–or at least came out with more of a game plan to win it. 1st was there’s to take, and they did. 1st was the Fire’s to lose, and they did.
    I don’t think the result was shocking given the Fire’s recent slump. But I will be shocked if Hamlett doesn’t use Superliga to tinker with lineups and adjustments–seeing as he hates to do that during the regular season matches.

    And was it just me, or did EVERYONE in the stadium know that McBride was going to go low and left?! He made Wicks look like a superstar (which I am certainly not convinced he is at all).

  11. It’s a shame that refs have played such a dominant role so far this year in the MLS. You could easily say a team’s entire season will be decided on a wrong call.

    Might be time for Garber to take some of that expansion cash and spend it on officiating.

    Anyways, DC United (who are 11-1 in their last 12 BTW) looked good Saturday night, but they have a vicious road trip. They play at Seattle tomorrow night at 10:30pm Eastern (OUCH), then Saturday at Colorado, finally finishing at Columbus next Saturday. If they can come away with some good results it is smooth sailing to another Eastern conference title IMO. They have looked too strong to be denied second place in the East.


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