Wayne Rooney’s D.C. United pressed the Fire hard in the first half. Like the Fire, D.C.’s 4-2-3-1 shape would devolve into a 4-4-2 when pressing high up the pitch. Despite the intensity of the press, however, the Fire were able to find ways to break it by finding the two holding midfield players.
The Fire’s center-backs were consistently able to break the initial line of pressure by finding Herbers and Gimenez in the middle of the park. These two holding midfield players often had a lot of time to turn on the ball and find players in wide areas as D.C.’s two holding midfield players were consistently occupied with the movement of Brian Gutiérrez.
Although Guti wasn’t able to pick up another assist this weekend, he was still the Fire’s most dynamic player going forward along with Chris Mueller. The two played very well off of each other throughout the match.
With Mateusz Klich and Victor Pálsson protecting the central areas in front of D.C. United’s backline, Guti would often drift to the left wing to find the ball. In these wide areas, he would be able to combine with Mueller and Jonathan Dean to oftentimes create overload situations.
D.C. did a very good job, especially in the first 75 minutes of the match, of packing the box and forcing the Fire into wide areas to create chances. D.C. allowed almost nothing through the middle of the pitch in their defensive third and time and time again frustrated the Fire as they searched for a breakthrough.
The same could be said for the Fire however as they prevented D.C. United from creating any big chances in the match. The Fire also did their fair share of defending in their own defensive third as they were able to keep Christian Benteke and company on the night. Unable to carve out chances inside the box, D.C.’s best effort would come from Taxiarchis Fountas’ shot from distance would rattle off of the post.
Where I feel the Fire fell short in this match was their lack of dominance in attacking midfield. Although Guti was very effective in creating from wide areas, I felt that he could’ve been supported more by the two midfielders behind him in the opposing half of the pitch.
While Gaston and Herbers did a very nice job in progressing the ball to the forward players in wide areas, the duo’s support runs were not quite right. With Guti playing very high, he was often crashing the box or going into wide areas instead of running through the central channels in attacking midfield.
With no runners through these central areas of the pitch, when the Fire’s wide players had nowhere to go, they would either be forced to play back or to force a ball either into the box or further down the line. This is where it could have been helpful to have more consistent runs from Gaston and Herbers through attacking midfield. It would’ve provided the Fire with the option to create and go forward centrally as opposed to forcing everything down the wings.
However, much credit should be given to D.C. United as they were effectively able to nullify the Fire’s presence in this crucial area of the field.
At around the 75th-minute mark, the game began to open up a bit more as fatigue, tired legs, and desire to find a breakthrough began to kick in for both teams. Both teams decided to take more risks and as Tyler Terens pointed out while calling the match, the midfields of both teams were at times non-existent throughout this final period.
Especially in transition, the lack of defensive presence in midfield was apparent as both teams would have acres of space to play through to get into their opposition’s final third.
While the midfield battle was non-existent in this latter period, both teams remained solid as ever in their defensive thirds. Even as both teams pressed more numbers forward, both defensive units were able to hold on and see out the final period of the match.
One moment of defensive lapse on D.C.’s end however gave the Fire some hope at the end of the match. In stoppage time, Guti created some magic on the left side to find Kei Kamara, but a heroic save from Tyler Miller saved D.C. a point.
A change in system and attacking approach could have most certainly been effective in this match, yet Ezra Hendrickson stuck with the same tactics for the duration of the match.
If Hendrickson had realized the deficit in attacking midfield, he could have moved Fabian Herbers forward to play alongside Guti. The two could have played as two true number 8’s with Gaston behind them.
He could have also looked to play with two true strikers with Kamara and Przybyłko as his team continued to whip balls into the box to find an answer. Having two big aerial threats in the box could have helped the Fire find a breakthrough.
For me, the most important takeaway from this match is that the Fire have to learn to be more flexible tactically, especially when they’re continually being frustrated by opposition defenses. The Fire were too predictable on Saturday night as their chance creation came exclusively from wide areas. It is imperative that the Fire can find ways to adjust to situations in which they can’t find a breakthrough by approaching the match with a different offensive mindset.