Fire 1-0 DC: Rugby Meets Soccer

At its worst, last night’s Eastern Conference semifinal between DC United and the Chicago Fire looked like a pugnacious midfield scrum in which every ball seemed 50-50, not unlike an endless series of drop-balls put in play by an angry god. Think a lower-tier game in the English Premier League, but without the skill. At its best, the game pitted a DC team moving the ball slickly up to Chicago’s attacking third against a Fire team hunting for DC’s defensive mistakes.

The final score – 1-0 to Chicago – signals one successful kill, but the echoes from a couple other shots were heard around Bridgeview.

Call ‘keeper Troy Perkins DC’s man of the match. His defense left him for dead on the goal, but he saved two other dead-certain goals at least, most notably his brave challenge when Calen Carr broke through late. Given the way DC essentially controlled two-thirds of the field, that one goal disadvantage keeps them well within the margin for recovery for the home leg; emphasis belongs on the word “essentially,” though, because the brittleness of Black and Red’s defense wound up gifting Chicago more clear-cut chances than DC created at the other end. That’s a worrying sign because those breaks came under minimal pressure.

Against that, Chicago’s advantage doesn’t feel all that safe. Their collective struggle to generally connect left them facing relentless pressure, too often close to their own goal. To their credit, though, they limited DC’s chances to a near-range header here (Christian Gomez should have done better) to long-range efforts there; Fred took a number of these and Ben Olsen lashed in low crosses from the right, but neither approach really threatened Matt Pickens’ goal. DC had the rhythm, while Chicago’s rare moments came from smart dribbles out of danger by Wilman Conde, Chad Barrett’s energetic chasing, and Chris Rolfe’s tight control. Speaking of Barrett, losing him for the second game strikes me as a significant loss; who can see Paulo Wanchope causing the stir Barrett did in DC’s back line?

It says plenty about this game that Chicago looked the more menacing side in spite of being hemmed in for long stretches. The rare occasion when things opened up in front of goal, it happened in front of Perkins; when DC reached the Fire’s defensive third, players in red shirts looked so thick on the ground one might think the Fire fielded 15 defenders; Dasan Robinson, in particular, played like two men. And he had to due to Chicago’s repeated problems with playing out of the back.

The second leg should look roughly the same – a somewhat dreary notion that we should all hope doesn’t pan out. About the only escape from a second game of rugby posing as soccer (or is it soccer posing as rugby?) comes with DC scoring – and more than once. I don’t see Chicago leaving its shell for anything less than two unanswered goals. But if the second leg winds up fighting last night’s war a second time, that’s fine too; last night made up in tension what it lacked in grace.

The weekend should be good.

I don’t know how many DC or Chicago fans visit this site, but I’m curious as to how last night’s game looked to you. What do expect for the second leg? Are you approaching with a knot in the stomach or the sun on your back?

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6 Responses

  1. Here’s what I thought as a Chicago fan.

    For the most part, I agree with your analysis. Especially the comments on Perkins and Conde; they both were impressive last night. The game was definitely rough-and-tumble, but the rugby comparison seems like a little bit of sensationalizing.

    I was really pleased with the Fire’s intensity of play. I think that is what carried us through the game. Our finishing was definitely better than it was against LA. Rolfe’s strike was great, even if the setup was a little bit of boot ball. The second shot that Rolfe had and Blanco’s shot from the top of the box were both well struck, but we should have created more good looks than that.

    My one frustration with our defense in the final third was that DC was able to block so many of our clearance attempts and get into dangerous positions as a result. Too many passes back to the keeper. One in particular was too dangerous. When they are back to full strength DC will finish on at least one of those mistakes.

    Our inability to maintain possession in the midfield or consistently transition into offense was disappointing. I think having Mapp back would go a long way toward improving those two things. Playing kick-and-run again won’t win us the series. If we can’t transition the ball quickly through the midfield and onto the attack (let alone hold it there and build something) we’ll be in trouble.

    DC will certainly start Emilio and Moreno next Thursday. If the Fire play the same game that they did last night I think the series will at least go to PK’s, if DC doesn’t win outright. If we can improve on the things I’ve mentioned above I think we’ll walk away with at least another draw, if not another win.

  2. Very good.

    And, yeah, I was gunning for sensationalism. I like it.

  3. Gonzalo Segares was my MOTM. Conde did very well as well as did Rolfe.

    Something that continues to concern me is the insistance to field eight defensive players (goalkeeper, three defenders, four defensive midfielders). True the reason for that is our wingers are injured (Mapp, Guerrero), but it really causes a gap between the defense and the attack. That leads to difficulty with midfield possession that Tim alluded to which leads to attacks being killed off quickly which leads to not having any possession in the entire second half when United decided to push for an equaliser.

    I expect to see Moreno start next week and Emilio playing more, but not playing the whole 90. I know D.C. will be in attack mode for 90 minutes, but I really don’t know if they’ll get a goal. I expect to see Mapp get 15 minutes next week either to keep D.C. honest if they are still trying to get a goal or if Chicago needs a goal to continue the series. I know Chicago will field the same lineup, but if we are in defense mode for 90 minutes I really don’t know if we can hang on.

    Also, everyone knows damn well that when Chicago and D.C. play it’s going to be ugly, physical, and painful. That’s probably why Chicago has so much success against D.C. Free flowing soccer seems to be United’s strength and Chicago just wants to sit back and destroy opposing attacks and opposing players. By the way, did you see when Brown slidetackled Gomez in the first half? It brought back memories of the incident in 2005 when Gomez dived and spat in Brown’s face after a tackle. And I don’t know about you, but I would pay damn good money to see a Blanco vs. Olsen cagematch.

    As for the question, I have a knot in my stomach. A one goal advantage is never enough, especially against D.C.

  4. I’m a big Segares fan, so I’ll accept him as man of the match 7 times out of 10. I would have picked Dasan in last night’s – and that’s in spite of some really, REALLY horrible passing from him out of the back. But he cut off passing lanes too often for me to not notice him.

    For the record, I’m a Fire sympathizer for the rest of this series.

  5. Blanco vs Olsen cage match? Maybe more the problem with American football is the fact that fans would rather see violence on the field than they would beautiful football. The game truly looked like a rugby match.

    The problem with a Blanco – Olsen cage match is that when Blanco would be arriving at the ring someone would give him a high five and he would fall over and complaing that someone just broke his wrist.

    Talk about a detriment to football, Blanco is doing nothing for the sport in America other than encouraging the next generation of American youngsters to dive when you are close to the opponents goal, and oh yea tell the ref to shut up when he is talking to you.

    I am not a fan of either of these teams but it seems in Chicago they are a little delirious about their Mexican God.

  6. I would have to agree with the violence. That is what makes the ratings.

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