D.C. United vs. Chicago Fire
2017 MLS Match Preview
RFK Stadium – Washington, D.C.
Saturday, May 20 – 4 pm ET
WATCH: UniMas, Facebook.com in the US, MLS LIVE
After back-to-back three-goal wins and with the third-best points per game average in the Eastern Conference a third of the way through the season, it’s probably fair to say that the Chicago Fire are back.
Powered by the 2017 arrivals of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Nemanja Nikolic, Dax McCarty and Juninho and 2016 holdovers David Accam and Michael De Leeuw, the Fire are clicking. They followed their dominant 4-1 win against Seattle last Saturday with a comprehensive 3-0 home win over the Rapids on Wednesday night, giving Chicago 18 points on the season – it took them until July 31 to hit that number last year.
Schweinsteiger draws most of the attention, but Nikolic has been Chicago’s most productive player in 2017. The Hungarian Designated Player tallied his second brace of the season on Wednesday against the Rapids, giving him 10 goals through 11 games and putting him atop the MLS Golden Boot rankings.
“He has that natural hunger for scoring goals,” Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic said when asked about Nikolic on Wednesday. “When I spoke with him before we brought him here, he said ‘you know, I’m not happy when we don’t win, I’m not happy when I don’t score, so you just have to know that I’m gonna always try to score goals, give my best.’”
He certainly hasn’t had much trouble finding the back of the net so far. D.C., on the other hand, can’t quite say the same. United have actually scored fewer goals as a team this year – nine in 10 games – than Nikolic has on his own. They’ve been shutout in two straight matches, both home losses, and will be without their top attacking talent Luciano Acosta on Saturday due to a red card suspension.
“The message is to have some anxiety right now and that’s OK, that’s normal,” D.C. manager Ben Olsen told media this week. “The good thing is we have a chance to fix it and get something out of this three-game home stand. But we’re also not the only team in this league who has lost two in a row – in fact, most of them have, so it’s also not time to push the panic button.”
Apart from a tough 4-0 defeat at NYCFC in Week 2 and last week’s 4-0 loss to Philadelphia – in which three of the Union’s goals came after Acosta was ejected – D.C.’s backline has actually held relatively firm this year.
It’s the offense that’s been the problem. United haven’t been able to rediscover the attacking magic they unearthed in the second half of 2016, scoring just nine goals through their first 10 games and getting shut out an astounding six times in 2017. The 4-1-4-1 formation hasn’t yielded results, and the individual pieces are struggling – we’ll see if D.C. can get things together against a Fire backline that’s had a penchant for conceding on the road this year.
- Suspensions: M Luciano Acosta (red card vs. Philadelphia)
- Int’l Duty: None
- Injury Report: OUT – M Rob Vincent (left meniscus), GK Eric Klenofsky (left meniscus), M Patrick Nyarko (hamstring), M/D Nick DeLeon (lower abdominal strain), D Sean Franklin (hamstring injury); QUESTIONABLE – M Julian Buescher (IT band irritation)
Projected Starting XI (4-1-4-1): Bill Hamid – Steve Birnbaum, Kofi Opare, Bobby Boswell, Taylor Kemp – Marcelo Sarvas – Lloyd Sam, Ian Harkes, Jared Jeffrey, Lamar Neagle – Patrick Mullins
The Fire have been excellent at home this year, but they’ve yet to really put things together away from Toyota Park. Chicago are 0-3-2 and have been outscored 5-12 on the road in 2017.
Saturday’s match will also mark the third game in seven days for Chicago, who face another quick turnaround ahead of their next game next Thursday against FC Dallas. Ten of the 11 starters from Saturday’s win against Seattle also started on Wednesday against Colorado, meaning we could see Paunovic make plenty of lineup changes on Saturday at RFK. Players like Jonathan Campbell, Arturo Alvarez and Michael Harrington that saw regular action in 2016 but have only played sparingly this year could be in line for a start this weekend.
- Suspensions: None
- Int’l Duty: None
- Injury Report: OUT – M John Goossens (right ankle surgery), GK Jorge Bava (head injury); QUESTIONABLE – M Juninho (right ankle sprain)
Projected Starting XI (4-2-3-1): Matt Lampson – Matt Polster, Jonathan Campbell, Johan Kappelhof, Michael Harrington – Juninho, Dax McCarty – Arturo Alvarez, Michael De Leeuw, David Accam – Nemanja Nikolic
- Overall: D.C. 22 wins (87 goals) … Chicago 18 wins (81 goals) … Ties 15
- At D.C.: D.C. 15 wins (54 goals) … Chicago 8 wins (38 goals) … Ties 5
Referee: Hilario Grajeda
Assistant Referees: Danny Thornberry, Eric Weisbrod
Fourth Official: Mark Kadlecik