D.C. United got a much needed road win and snapped the team right back into a playoff position with a tough fought 1-0 win in the Windy City over the Chicago Fire. Bryan Namoff’s second headed goal of the season was all the Black and Red needed on a night that saw United pull off their second consecutive league shutout. United has been MLS’ worst defensive road team this season and perhaps their visit to Chicago was exactly what they needed to snap themselves out of a bad patch of form. United has now won three consecutive matches at Toyota Park and they have jumped back over Toronto FC help their playoff positioning. United only has two road matches remaining this season with five home matches sandwiched in between them.
United got the scoring started in the 11th minute with a rare headed free kick goal. Christian Gomez lined up a free kick from about 40 yards out on the right side of the field and the ball whipped into the box and met the head of Bryan Namoff who skimmed it easily to the far post and a 1-0 lead for United.
Chicago continued to pour forward throughout the remainder of the first half but while they presented some dangerous and nervy moments for United in their barely used 4-4-2 formation, they rarely challenged United netminder Josh Wicks. A header from CJ Brown and a wayward Cuauhtemoc Blanco free kick from 19 yards were the only serious challengers for United. United managed to hold on and get to the locker room with the 1-0 lead.
With United’s penchant to give up leads and goals throughout the MLS season, United went from their familiar 3-5-2 to a more defensive 4-4-2 to start the match. After the goal in the first half, that actually morphed into a 4-5-1 when it was clear that Ben Olsen couldn’t hack playing on the right side of midfield . As the second half progressed, it seemed United was more interested in bunkering down than settling the ball and counter attacking. It seemed obvious the goal was to frustrate the Fire and try to hold on to the lead for as long as possible. But somewhere along the way United figured their best defense could be their best offense.
United almost doubled their lead in the 63rd minute when a sustained period of possession resulted in a near goal from Ben Olsen. March Burch sent a driving ball to the far side of the penatly area where Santino Quaranta one-timed his volley to Olsen who’s toe-poke just narrowly went wide of the far post. Chicago nearly equalized a minute later but Wicks dove to his right to smother a Marco Pappa drive. Amazingly, the Black and Red came right back down to the other end of the field and Luciano Emilo forced Jon Busch off his line and he made a jumping reaction save to Emilio’s attempted chip over the diminutive goalkeeper to keep the scoreline at 1-0 for United.
United continued to gain more traction in the match and actually carved out a number of decent chances but couldn’t put anything behind Jon Busch. Marc Burch might have had the best opportunity on a rare counter attack in the 75th minute when substitute Jaime Moreno fed him down the left flank and the left-footer with a hammer for a peg hesitated when an open look on his preferred left foot was available. He instead chose to fake his oncoming defender and eventually sent in a cross that caused a few defensive problems for the Fire but was eventually cleared out of danger.
Chicago nearly got the game-tying goal in the 85th minute when a Blanco cross was met by Mike Banner who headed it into the middle of the United goal area. Julius James and Josh Wicks nearly collided but the Jamaican defender managed to get the ball over the bar to keep the shutout intact. Chicago nearly had another chance to tie in the 90th minute when James fouled a Chicago attacker right at the top of the box, but Blanco misfired for the third time in the match and United knew at that point that the win was in the cards. The match had a very unusual conclusion which saw Josh Wicks nearly come to blows with his own teamate Marc Burch. Wicks was complaining about the fact that Burch seemingly was lax in his defending a Chicago onslaught. Cooler heads prevailed however and United got back to finishing off the match.
United now will face the Seattle Sounders FC in the U.S. Open Cup final on Wednesday night at RFK Stadium. United will have the opportunity to win their 13th major trophy in their existence. For anyone keeping score, that’s 13 more than Metrostars/Red Bull have ever gotten, should United win the match.
– Danny Szetela and new signing Ty Shipalane were left back in DC. Andrew Jacobson (ankle) was out injured and also left back in Washington.
– Big thumbs down for Fox Soccer Channel when at halftime, their 6 in 60 segment (a series of questions in one minute) included a question for Santino Quaranta about “your preferred choice of adult beverage”. Apparantly no one at FSC bothered to realize that the youngster is in the throws of substance abuse recovery. Nice job.
– Thanks to results across the league, United is still out of a playoff position in 9th place. They could drop even further if the Colorado Rapids win on Sunday afternoon.
– Dejan Jackovic is now suspended for United’s next match at Dallas next Saturday when he got a late yellow card during the Wicks/Burch bust up.