Preview: Playoff push starts now for Chicago vs. DC

CHICAGO FIRE vs D.C. UNITED
TOYOTA PARK, Bridgeview, Ill.
August 18, 2011
9 p.m. ET (ESPN2/Deportes/TSN2)

DOWNLOAD FULL GAME GUIDE

The Chicago Fire kick off a vital homestand in their bid to rise in the Eastern Conference when they play host to D.C. United on Thursday night at Toyota Park. The Fire are coming off an MLS-record 14th draw of the season, a 2-2 result in New York, and sit at the foot of the East. United are also looking to move into a playoff position, coming off a dominant 4-0 home win vs. Vancouver last weekend.

REFEREE: Ricardo Salazar. SAR (bench): Craig Lowry; JAR (opposite): Peter Manikowski; 4th: Niko Bratsis.
MLS Career: 136 games; FC/gm: 26.9; Y/gm: 3.5; R: 42; pens: 53

INJURY REPORT

  • CHICAGO FIRE – OUT: DF Mike Banner (R knee arthroscopy); DF Steven Kinney (L groin strain); MF Marko Maric (L ankle posterior capsulitis)
  • D.C. UNITED – OUT: MF Branko Boskovic (L ACL tear); GK Joe Willis (back spasms); DF Jed Zayner (L knee sprain)

INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none

SUSPENDED: none

WARNINGS:

  • SUSPENDED NEXT YELLOW CARD: CHI: Diego Chaves, Cory Gibbs, Dominic Oduro, Gonzalo Segares
  • SUSPENDED AFTER TWO YELLOW CARDS: CHI: Dan Gargan, Cristian Nazarit, Daniel Paladini … DC: Austin da Luz, Charlie Davies, Dwayne De Rosario, Brandon McDonald, Ethan White

HEAD-TO-HEAD

  • ALL-TIME (39 meetings): Fire 14 wins, 54 goals … United 16 wins, 55 goals … Ties 9
  • AT CHICAGO (19 meetings): Fire 8 wins, 29 goals … United 6 wins, 23 goals … Ties 5
  • RETURN MATCH: 10/15: D.C. United vs. Chicago Fire, 7:30 p.m. ET

LAST YEAR (MLS)

  • 4/17: DC 0, CHI 2 (Pappa 79; McBride 89)
  • 10/16: CHI 0, DC 0
  • The Fire haven’t defeated D.C. United at home since Sept. 17, 2006, a 1-0 victory at Toyota Park. United have won on three of their last five visits to Bridgeview, with two draws.
  • The Fire have won on two of their last four trips to RFK Stadium, including a 2-0 victory last year.
  • Coaches' records: Ben Olsen v CHI: P1 W0 L0 D1 … Frank Klopas vs. DC: first game

CHICAGO FIRE

The Chicago Fire saw their winless run reach nine games, as they coughed up a lead in a 2-2 draw with the New York Red Bulls on Saturday evening at Red Bull Arena. The Fire have 20 points from 23 matches on the year, sitting in ninth place in the Eastern Conference.

LAST MATCH

  • The home side took the lead after just nine minutes. From the edge of the area, Dane Richards laid the ball back to Thierry Henry, and he curled in a majestic effort inside the right-hand post.
  • But the Fire were even just seven minutes later. Freed down the left flank by Marco Pappa, Patrick Nyarko sent a pass across the face of goal where Dominic Oduro tapped a shot past Red Bulls goalkeeper Chris Konopka.
  • Just eight minutes later, Chicago was in the lead. Pappa again sprung Nyarko, this time with a through ball up the center of the park. Konopka was able to deflect Nyarko's lofted shot, but the deflection fell right into the path of Sebastian Grazzini, who tapped home.
  • But the Red Bulls found an equalizer in the 63rd minute. Joel Lindpere played the ball to Dane Richards on the right flank, and he returned a centering pass that Lindpere hooked inside the far post first-time with his left boot.
  • Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas made two changes to the team that went down to a 4-2 defeat by Vancouver Whitecaps FC at Empire Field. Dan Gargan and Sebastian Grazzini came into the side, in place of Josip Mikulic and Daniel Paladini.
  • CHICAGO FIRE (4-1-3-2): Sean Johnson - Dan Gargan, Yamith Cuesta, Jalil Anibaba, Gonzalo Segares - Pavel Pardo - Sebastian Grazzini (Diego Chaves 67), Logan Pause, Marco Pappa (Cristian Nazarit 73) - Patrick Nyarko (Orr Barouch 56), Dominic Oduro.

TEAM NEWS

  • The Fire played to their 14th draw of the season in New York, matching the MLS record set last season by MLS Cup finalist FC Dallas.
  • “I thought we were not very dangerous, but we still created two or three very good chances late in the game to put it away,” said Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas. “But I am very happy with the performance of the group in a very difficult place to get a point on the road here. It’s good, now we just have to go back home and get three points.”
  • The game against United kicks off a run of three consecutive home games in league play, plus a US Open Cup semifinal.
  • “We still have 11 games left. It is our goal always when we step on the field. Now it is the next game, this is behind. We have to look at some of the things we need to improve,” Klopas said. “We are back home so we have to get three points. We have a lot to play for as a team and as individuals.”
  • Dominic Oduro celebrated his birthday in style Saturday, scoring his career-best and team-leading seventh goal of the season.
  • “I thought I did well. I put a ball in the net, that is what I try to do every game,” Oduro said. “I thank my teammates every day for trying to help me out, to help me become a good player. I thought I was very good up front.”
  • Klopas returned to a two-striker scheme for the New York match, partnering Oduro and Nyarko up top, with Pavel Pardo and Logan Pause lying deeper in central midfield and Sebastian Grazzini and Marco Pappa as attacking midfielders.
  • “I think it was a good tactic,” Oduro said. “Obviously we weren’t trying to sit back with our situation. We were just trying to go as hard as we can and I think they didn’t expect that coming in. So we were able to take them by surprise [a little bit].”
  • But the tactics changed at halftime when Nyarko moved back to the right flank and Oduro was left to plow his own furrow in attack. Then Nyarko was forced off before the hour mark, with Orr Barouch coming in up top and Oduro moving to the wing.
  • “I think things changed when Patrick Nyarko came out. We had to change the way we play,” Klopas said. “Later in the game, we got tired a little bit, we dropped a little too deep and gave them space to operate.”
  • Defender Dan Gargan made his Fire debut, starting and playing the full 90 minutes at right back. He had been acquired in a trade with Toronto FC on July 28.

D.C. UNITED

D.C. United rolled to their biggest victory of 2011, a comprehensive 4-0 defeat of Vancouver Whitecaps FC on Saturday evening at RFK Stadium. United have 30 points from 22 games on the year, sitting in a tie for fifth place in the Eastern Conference.

LAST MATCH

  • United took the lead just before halftime. Dwayne De Rosario was at the heart of the move, dancing past Whitecaps FC defender Jay DeMerit in the right corner of the box before finding a sliding Chris Pontius to knock it home at the back post.
  • Two minutes after the second-half restart, DC doubled its lead. Santino Quaranta sent a long, diagonal ball towards a streaking Andy Najar in the right corner, and he fired a low shot from almost on the end line that caught Vancouver goalkeeper Jay Nolly by surprise.
  • United made it 3-0 in the 70th minute. Stephen King fired a shot from the top of the area that was deflected to the left, but right to Pontius, who hammered the rebound into the roof of the goal for his second on the night.
  • De Rosario again played provider nine minutes from the end, getting forward on the right flank before rolling a square pass to King who drilled a left-footed shot past Nolly for the United fourth.
  • United coach Ben Olsen made three changes to the team that got a late equalizer in a 3-3 draw with Toronto FC at RFK Stadium. Andy Najar returned to the lineup for Stephen King, Charlie Davies started up top in place of Josh Wolff, and Joe Willis made his MLS debut in place of the suspended Bill Hamid.
  • D.C. UNITED (4-1-3-2): Joe Willis - Perry Kitchen, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, Daniel Woolard – Clyde Simms - Andy Najar (Austin da Luz 74), Santino Quaranta (Stephen King 63), Chris Pontius (Marc Burch 77) - Dwayne De Rosario, Charlie Davies.

TEAM NEWS

  • For United, it was their first home victory since May 4, a 2-1 win against Seattle Sounders FC. They had lost twice and tied five games in between wins.
  • “It feels like it’s been a long time coming. I don’t remember the last time we had a game like that. It was good; I think we have been knocking on the door for a performance like that for a while, and to put it all together is a good feeling,” said United assistant coach Chad Ashton, filling in for the suspended Ben Olsen. “Hopefully we can realize the things we did well and use them going forward.”
  • The four goals were a season-high, the most United has scored since a 4-1 win against the LA Galaxy on June 29, 2008. United has scored nine goals in their last three games.
  • “I think the biggest thing is that we won 4-0,” midfielder Stephen King said. “We know that we’re at a time in the season that if we want to make the playoffs, we’ve got to make the push now, and we wanted to improve on our home form.”
  • With Bill Hamid suspended, rookie Joe Willis won the starting job for the match ahead of Steve Cronin, and the 23-year-old out of Denver University recorded a shutout in his professional debut.
  • “At the start of the week we, as a group, decided we were going to let [Willis and Cronin] battle it out over the course of the week. It was a good battle – they both did a good job. Joe [Willis] was just a little bit better during the course of the week,” said Ashton.
  • Since coming to D.C. United from New York, De Rosario has six goals and three assists, playing a part in nine of the 12 goals United have scored in that time. He had scored the last six goals United had scored before the Vancouver game.
  • “DeRo is a game-changer; that is exactly why you call him. In the second half they started to really converge on him with bodies, and our guys did a really good job of running off him and that created a lot of holes,” said Ashton. “Not only does he make great plays, but also other teams are so aware of him that he creates space just with his presence.”
  • Pontius scored two goals in a game for the second time this season (also: April 16 vs. Toronto FC), and for the third time in his career. He has a career-best seven goals this season.
  • “He had a great game. He was a little tight during the course of the week with that hamstring that was cramping up last weekend, so we were a little worried going in. He put a quality performance and in the second half you started to see that the attacking pieces really worked together,” Ashton said.