For the first half hour of tonight’s match between D.C. United and the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois, it wasn’t looking too good for road-weary United.
Down 2-0 to a desperate squad on a terribly re-sodded pitch, you would have given the Black-and-Red the proverbial pass considering the team was wrapping up an 8 matches out of 11 stretch on the road, including a midweek match in Jamaica.
This team however are making believers of all United fans as they rallied to a 3-3 draw and pushed their precious lead at the top of the Eastern Conference standings to three points over idle Sporting Kansas City. With United already clinching the season series over SKC (with a head-to-head match still remaining in October at RFK), the three point cushion keeps them in first place even through next weekend when they welcome the Philadelphia Union to town after their lengthy road sojourn.
Luis Silva led the comeback with a pair of goals including a dead-cinch lock for Goal of the Week with a wicked free kick stunner in the 54th minute to level the match after United had fallen behind so early. Silva’s penalty kick conversion in the 39th minute had turned around a performance that was less then stellar until that goal. Silva leads United now with 10 goals on the season, all in the last 15 matches United has played.
United had designs on stealing all three points when Perry Kitchen finished off a bizarre play in the 58th minute to give United a 3-2 lead. Taylor Kemp’s free kick was flicked on in the area by Bobby Boswell and found Kitchen in a good spot with Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson rushing out to stop him. Kitchen got a touch to the ball to poke it past Johnson as it rolled towards the empty net. Fire defender Gonzalo Segares made a lunging attempt to clear it just as it crossed over the line. Boswell was on hand however to slam the clearance into the net to remove all doubt on the play. Once the league reviews the play, no doubt Kitchen will be rewarded with his 5th goal of the season.
However, as has been the case on occasion this season, United gave up the equalizer in the 78th minute when Matt Watson’s shot from 23 yards took a fatal deflection off of defender Steve Birnbaum and flew past the helpless Bill Hamid in goal.
All of the drama wouldn’t have been necessary had United not slept-walked through the games initial start. Chicago took the lead in the 16th minute when Quincy Amerikwa took advantage of a failed clearance from Taylor Kemp and curled a left-footed shot past Hamid for the 1-0 lead. In the 32nd minute the Fire doubled their advantage when Kitchen was judged to have tripped Amerikwa in the box. Jeff Larentowicz stepped up and blasted his shot past Hamid to give the home side the 2-0 lead.
With Chicago seemingly in control of the match, United received the lifeline they were looking for when Birnbaum was shoved over in the penalty area in the 38th minute by Fire defender Baky Soumare. Silva stepped up and strangely seemed to shoot right at Johnson as he dove to his right but the burly goalkeeper couldn’t keep the full force of the shot out and United’s comeback had it’s start.
With United at the tail end of their most devastating crunch of matches all season (7 out of 9 league matches on the road in addition to the midweek trip to face Waterhouse FC in Jamaica), Ben Olsen’s squad was missing their top player in Fabian Espindola to a red card controversially given ten days ago in a last-second 1-0 loss in New York as well as Eddie Johnson for a third consecutive league match with concussion symptoms although he did return to training late in the week.
This gave young Michael Seaton his first start in MLS up top with Silva and it also saw the MLS debut of Ghanaian International Samuel Inkoom on the right side of the midfield. Seaton was a non-factor until the last minute of stoppage time in the first half when he got a flick to well struck free kick from Silva that forced a diving fumbling save from Johnson to keep Chicago ahead 2-1 at the break.
After the break Olsen subbed in both Chris Pontius and Chris Korb into the lineup and brought off the two debutants and it paid immediate dividends on both ends of the field. Pontius’ pass set up Silva with a chance in the area but his shot was well defended by Fire defender Lovel Palmer who was throwing his body all over the field.
Korb helped to stabilize what had been a shaky first half performance from United’s usually staunch defense. Even though United were missing quite a few offensive weapons, their defense for the most part had been picking the team up through the past two league matches which saw United shutout in both of those matches in Vancouver and New York.
With the big road point, United now will play three of their remaining five matches at the friendly confines of RFK Stadium to close out the season. Before that however is a tricky midweek home match against Tauro FC in the CONCACAF Champions League on Wednesday night. All United needs is a draw against the winless side to advance to the knockout stages of the competition beginning next February. Conventional wisdom will have Olsen playing mostly a reserve side to help rest for their big match next Saturday afternoon when the welcome the Union to town. That match will be live on the NBCSports Network starting at 3:30 pm EST.