Confidence surging, Chicago Fire believe they can "do some damage" in MLS

WASHINGTON – The Chicago Fire’s 1-0 victory over D.C. United on Saturday is the latest sign that the Men in Red have ambitions greater than merely making the playoffs, said midfielder Dax McCarty.

Against a desperate United side trying to avoid going a third consecutive home defeat, Chicago shook off D.C.’s aggressive posture and bossed proceedings at RFK Stadium, with David Accam’s 52nd-minute winner telling only part of the story.

For a club that hadn’t won away from Toyota Park in the league since last August – a stretch of 10 matches – McCarty said the result proved the new-look Fire are thinking big.

“I’ve seen more improvement in the past four or five weeks with this team than I even thought would be possible,” said McCarty, one of a handful of key additions to the Fire for the 2017 season. “I think our mentality is starting to shift from that to, ‘we can start to really do some damage in this league.’”

Perhaps no one provides a better example than Accam, who is quietly flourishing lately beneath the headlines grabbed by MLS leading goalscorer Nemanja Nikolic and German superstar Bastian Schweinsteiger.

The Ghanaian has scored in each of his last four matches and now has six goals on the season. While D.C. goalkeeper Bill Hamid thwarted Nikolic on several occasions Saturday, Accam’s vertical threat posed a different, and eventually decisive, danger over 90 minutes.

“I think David is maturing a lot as a player," McCarty said. "He's a guy who tries to combine, he tries to get assists, he tries to make killer passes.

“He’s becoming more unselfish and through becoming more unselfish, he's actually getting better chances for himself."

Accam still scored 19 goals in his first two MLS seasons, but agrees that the vibe around the current squad is exponentially improved from those that finished last in the Eastern Conference in 2015 and ‘16.

“The confidence is huge now,” Accam said. “We feel like we can beat anyone in this league. And also control the game.”

McCarty felt a change in Chicago’s away form coming during their most recent three-match road trip. The Fire earned only a point, closing the stretch with a draw at the LA Galaxy. But as McCarty saw it, “We were playing well on the road – we weren’t getting results.”

Although United currently sit last in the Eastern Conference, McCarty believed facing D.C. on the heels of its recent struggles provided a unique challenge.

“When they’ve had a couple bad results in a row, they tend to come out and – to put it lightly – play very aggressively,” McCarty said. “We had to make sure that our mindset going into the game was that we were going to match that, and we were going to be just as physical as they were, but we were going to let our quality shine through.”

It’s not just skill, though. As Schweinsteiger put it, it’s also a feeling.

“What I liked the most was to see the reaction on our bench,” he said. “Everyone was into it. And we were like a team.”