Normally, this is where I’d begin to lay out the way I think this match would play out, but since it’s a completely meaningless match, it’s pretty much impossible to gauge how teams will react with literally nothing to play for on either side. So, I suppose it’s justice of a sort that I am forced to be somewhat generic after being hammered for being pessimistic, and completely wrong in being optimistic, in writing these previews the previous two weeks. Perhaps, like Goldilocks, this one will be just right.
Right, so off we go. Chicago is coming off a hideous performance losing to KC at home after being eliminated earlier in the week, and DC knows well that familiar let down as they dropped a clanger against Houston at home the week after they were eliminated. However, DC rebounded with a stunning win in Colorado, so perhaps the Fire will rebound as well in McBride’s last home match.
DC United will have essentially a full roster for the first time in a while. Well, full for them anyway considering the stunning amount of long term injuries suffered this year. Leaving aside those already lost for the season, and of course Jaime who got tossed in the San Jose match last week, DC has pretty much a full starting lineup now that Branco Boskovic, Julius James and Dejan Jakovic have returned from international duty themselves and Andy Najar returns from suspension.
So, Olsen almost seems certain to start Allsopp, who co-leads the team in goals with 5, and Hernandez, who set a United record as the only forward with no league goals who had played more than 1,000 minutes in a season, at forward. In midfield, Santino Quaranta, Boskovic, Clyde Simms and Najar are virtual locks to start the match. As are Jed Zayner, James, Jakovic, and Devon McTavish starting across the backline. Perhaps Jordan Graye gets another shot, but he hasn’t really redeemed himself much lately so I doubt it. Perkin of course will start in goal barring a disaster.
It seems likely the Fire will start Freddy Ljungberg alongside McBride at forward, then with Marco Pappa back from international duty, it seems likely he will be inserted back into the lively Fire midfield joining the enterprising Peter Lowery, industrious Logan Pause, and the dynamic Patrick Nyarko. Perhaps Bratislav Ristic keeps Pappa or Lowery off the field, but I doubt it as he’s not been all that influential since being signed a month ago.
Their defense is a bit more dicey to predict. Perhaps they play Ristic as the right back, but more likely Steve Kinney grabs that job back. Then the Fire have a couple of banged up starters that could see time, but maybe not since the game means nothing. CJ Brown spent more time flopping around on the ground than fish with a hook in its eye against KC and probably will sit, but then again it could be his last home match too, so maybe he plays. Wilman Conde almost certainly plays if CJ takes the night off. Then Gonzalo Segares is limping and should sit in favor of Krystof Krol on the left side of defense, while rookie Kwame Watson-Siriboe should round out the defense.
So, looking at the matchups and comparing styles of play, DC has some decent advantages. I like Allsopp and Hernandez going against Watson-Siriboe and CJ or Conde. Najar against Krol is definitely an advantage for DC and Quaranta against Kinney or Ristic is a push at worst. Boskovic and Simms against Pause and Lowery is less promising, but not frightening either, so DC’s epically bad league worst offense does have a good shot at scoring some goals especially in a match that means nothing and could easily be a wide open affair.
Then again, defensively, DC could have some problems. The rapidly aging McBride being used badly by an almost as equally bad Fire offense, and a dynamic but relatively ineffective and whining Ljungberg might cause trouble for Jakovic and James, but maybe not. However, McTavish or Graye will have serious problems with Nyarko who has been the Fire unsung hero this year with his speed and attacking flair. Pappa will give the unflappable Zayner some palpitations too unless he’s a lot better than Columbus thought when they shipped him out.
So, if Nyarko and Pappa cause more problems that DC can handle, McBride and Ljungberg will score and DC will lose as they can’t possibly win a shootout with the more potent Fire. However, if DC manage to keep it tight, DC might well pull off their fourth road win of the season. For certain a sister kissing tie is well within the range of possibilities if Chicago sputters at home as they are wont to do.
The intangibles tentatively favor DC as well. United has won two of their last three on the road, by shutout no less, and led the league leading Galaxy for 80 minutes to boot. Chicago on the other hand has been pitiful at home as they pretty much have ever since Toyota Park opened. The Fire did manage to beat the tired and frustrated Crew a couple days after Columbus’ Open Cup final loss, but aside from that, Chicago hasn’t won at home in almost two months. Overall, the Fire are 4-4-6 at home, and have been shutout 5 times including 3 of last their last 4 at home. Granted, DC is 3-9-2 and has been shut out 8 of their league record 16 times on the road, but they are trending up while the Fire are trending down. Surely, a 0-0 tie at worst is indicated by recent form anyway.
But even better, DC has been ridiculously successful in Toyota Park ever since it opened. The Fire own DC in knockout tournaments, but DC own them in the regular season. Overall, DC is 3-1-2 in Toyota Park including 3 straight wins there the last 3 years, having outscored the Fire 6-3 and not lost there since 2006. So, while 0-0 seems indicated by current form, history suggests something more along the lines of a 2-1 win. And if you want a lively blast from the past check out my preview of the away Fire match last year. Perhaps the last time I really enjoyed writing a preview.
DC is already guaranteed the worst record in the league with that NE win in Houston last week, but United has avoided the worst ever record in MLS already. However, the league record for fewest goals scored is squarely in their sights. DC has a mere 19 goals and would need 7 goals in their last two matches to put Toronto’s 2007 record for futility behind them.
DC finishes the season mercifully at home next weekend hosting Toronto FC in Jaime Moreno’s last match wearing the Black and Red.