Fresh off their first win of the season, the Fire return home to host D.C. United. The Fire will be looking to keep an unblemished record against teams coached by ex-English national team players, following their 3-2 win over Phil Neville’s Inter Miami last week. D.C. United, coached by Wayne Rooney, on the other hand, will be looking to halt their four-game winless streak, with their only win of the season coming against Toronto in their season opener. This is the first time this season the Fire face an opponent with fewer points, though they were ahead of NYCFC in the standings in their season opener due to that club opening their campaign a week earlier with a loss.
All time: 23-25-19, 96GF, 99GA (88 pts out of 201)
Last Match: June 18, 2022 Chicago Fire 1-0 D.C. United at Soldier Field
1W-1D-3L (4 pts)
D.C. United started their campaign with a win over a Toronto FC team that many had predicted would finish in a lofty place in the Eastern Conference standings. After that initial performance, however, the team has had precious little solace, losing to Columbus, NYCFC, and New England, while managing a draw against Orlando City in their third game of the season.
The Fire got their first win of the season after 38-year-old Kei Kamara scored a second-half stoppage time goal – a career first out of the 140 he’s scored in MLS – to secure a victory from what looked to be another disappointing draw and remain undefeated going at home going into their third match at Soldier Field.
Coming off of the international break that wasn’t really, at first blush, this is a tale of a match between two of the six Eastern Conference teams that currently sit (and are widely expected to finish) below the expanded playoff line. Yet this is also a match between two teams headed in different directions. D.C. United haven’t won since their first match and have three losses and a draw since, while the Fire are coming off their first win and have only trailed for a total of 37 minutes in regulation time heading into their fifth game.
Wayne Rooney will be desperate to right his ship and get D.C. United’s season back on track, while Ezra Hendrickson will want to show that the Fire’s strong play in this young season is no fluke and that he can translate strong play into actual results.
This marks the 68th matchup between two of the powerhouses of MLS’s early years, with the Fire winning their only MLS Cup over D.C. United in 1998 thereby securing the domestic double, something D.C. United would achieve a year later. Through it all, the series is relatively even, with Fire having four more wins than DC United, but three fewer goals. The Fire can hope to even that goal total out with a strong performance at Soldier Field.
Tactics and Projected Starting Lineups
OUT: Matai Akinmboni, Brendan Hines-Ike, Mohanad Jeahze, Andy Najar, Martin Rodriguez
QUESTIONABLE: Nigel Robertha, Pedro Santos
Wayne Rooney has used a variety of formations but last season, seemed to settle mostly into a 4-3-3. This season, however, he’s most often started the matches by rolling out a 4-4-2 – you can take the lad out of England, but you can’t take England out of the lad – but the shape shifts during the course of play, and often looks more 4-3-3-ish at some phases of the game, with one of the strikers (typically Ku-Dipietro) effectively becoming a left winger.
Rooney wants his squad to build out of the back, and will often leave just the two center backs in the back line with the ball, encouraging opponents to press forward. Once the opposing team commits, D.C. then can move the ball forward and create overloads offensively.
Key to making this system work is an old school, stay-at-home central defensive midfielder, typically Russell Canouse, in charge of distribution and providing defensive backup if necessary, while the other CDM – typically Mateusz Klich – roaming more and often taking corner kicks. Recent loanee Lewis O’Brien – whose transfer papers to Blackburn were sent in a few minutes after the deadline, causing him to be in a no-man’s-land, unable to play for his former (current?) team – is back in England for visa issues and will be unavailable this week.
The biggest difference maker on the team is striker Christian Benteke. He already has three goals on the season, including the D.C. United’s only goal last week vs. New England, where he received the ball, laid off a pass just to get the ball back and get a goal out of what had looked like a fairly innocuous play. At the other end of the pitch, Steve Birnbaum is the stalwart of the defensive line and is now in his sixth season as team captain. Be sure to check out our interview Sarah Kallassy for a D.C. United perspective on the team.
Injured: Victor Bezerra, Federico Navarro, Jairo Torres
Questionable: Xherdan Shaqiri
Despite calls to the contrary from some quarters, expect the Fire to play out of a 4-2-3-1 in this match. Particularly as Xherdan Shaqiri is likely still out, the offensive trio of Chris Mueller, Brian Gutiérrez and Maren Haile-Selassie has been playing too well to break up. Additionally, since recent(…-ish) signing Georgios Koutsias is still unavailable, having not yet traveled to Chicago, Hendrickson only has two experienced strikers available on his roster, and having them both on the pitch at the same time is risky.
In the defensive midfield, Giménez is a lock at starter when healthy, and Herbers should be pulled in favor of Mauricio Pineda in the spot next to him after the German put in a relatively anonymous performance last week. Herbers has always played best off the bench and can come on as a sub in the defensive midfield, winger, or even striker (his first position in the league) in a pinch – useful considering the Fire’s lack of depth at that position at the moment.
Even though the team has played better with Kamara on the field, expect Przybyłko to start, as Hendrickson is likely trying to manage Kamara’s minutes. This does give the Fire something they haven’t really had in the past few years, however: A legitimate scoring threat that can come off the bench and help the team win games.
On the back line, expect Navarro to return to his starting spot at left back next to Czichos and Terán, whose goal last week netted him a “MLS Team of the Matchday” position. On the right, Hendrickson would be wise to give Jonathan Dean his second MLS start, and first at his preferred position at right back, given his strong play to date. Arnaud Souquet has not adapted well to MLS and was one of the players who could be faulted on several of the goals the Fire have conceded in the past few matches – though it wouldn’t be surprising for Hendrickson to give Souquet another shot at starting. Brady, meanwhile, has played well this season and should remain a lock to start in net.
Fire Keys to Victory
- Keep the band together: Gutiérrez has been getting attention from around the league with his strong play at the #10 position in Shaqiri’s absence – and rightfully so – but that’s due in no small part to the strong but less-heralded play of the wingers alongside him, including Chris Mueller (two goals on the season) and Maren Haile-Selassie. Their strong play has been a core part of the team’s recent good play.
- Keep the bus running: Last week, the team switched to a more defensive formation to protect a one-goal lead in the second half. Less than two minutes after swapping an offensive winger for defender Alonso Aceves, the team conceded a tying goal. Given that D.C.’s offense hinges on building from the back, simply parking the bus and not maintaining offensive pressure simply plays into D.C.’s strategy. Even with a lead, the team should keep up the tempo in the final third of the pitch if they want a result.
- Contain Benteke: Christian Benteke is the kind of player that can create chances out of nowhere and goals out of nothing, and is by far the biggest difference maker on D.C. United. Shutting him down denies Rooney of his one true ace in the hole.
The Fire’s offense is clicking right now, but without Fede Navarro, the midfield double pivot continues to struggle. Expect another goal-fest, with Benteke and Mueller getting on the scoresheet for their respective teams, and the Fire should come out on top for the second week running.
Prediction: Fire 3-2 D.C. United
“Gonna make you wonder why you even try/Gonna take you down and laugh when you cry” The Hard Times are back. I think that D.C. is an incredibly underrated team and whenever the Fire should win, they usually don’t. D.C. is a team that likes to leave a lot of things until late and I can see the first half score being 1-0 for the Fire, maybe even into the 60th minute or so, but at full time:
Prediction: Fire 2-4 D.C. United
D.C. are one of the only teams underneath us in the East at the moment and with the Fire seemingly going to pick up some form, I can’t see D.C. coming out of here with any points. Predicting Guti to have another masterclass, but this time the Fire have less defensive errors.
Prediction: Fire 3-1 D.C. United
D.C. United look like a team in need of a significant roster overhaul to compete, though they’re not without skilled players. At the same time, the Fire have played well – better than their record – of late and this is a good time to get their first home win of the season.
Prediction: Fire 3-1 D.C. United
Prediction: Fire 3-0 D.C. United
Match Information and How to Watch
Date and Time: Saturday, April 1, 2023 7:30PM CT
Location: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Forecast: 40’ expected at kickoff with NNE wins 16-24mph and 65% humidity. Rain earlier in the day but a low chance of precipitation during the match, with clouds likely clearing by nightfall..
TV: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV
Radio: TUDN WRTO 1200AM (Spanish)