In the land of draws, the Chicago Fire are kings.
Last night, La Maquina Roja looked well on their way to their third win of the season after dominating DC United at home for about 70 minutes. Sebastian Grazzini had given the home side the lead early in the second half and United’s attack looked spent. However, two second half substitutions by DC coach Ben Olsen turned the game as the visitors were able to grab a goal and hold on for a point, etching Chicago’s name in the record books. The draw was Chicago’s fifteenth on the year (out of 24 matches), setting an MLS record for most ties in a season.
Both teams are original MLS franchises and have a healthy rivalry, so the game was electric from the start. The 15,000 plus at Toyota Park witnessed their team get off to a quick start with Dominic Oduru consistently getting behind the DC defense and setting up some quality scoring chances. But, in a statement that I could cut and paste repeatedly for the description of this game, Oduru could not finish his shots and failed to take advantage of the space he created. As such, Chicago abused the DC defense but failed to score any early goals. Also hindering their efforts was the solid play of DC keeper Bill Hamid, who made a great save on Marco Pappa in the 30th minute and was a solid presence in net. However, in the final seconds of the first half, Hamid strained his hamstring on a free kick and was forced to leave the game at halftime.
Grazzini made DC pay in the 59th minute and finally scored after so many chances. Patrick Nyarko beat Dejan Jakovic on the right and sent in a cross that Daniel Woolard couldn’t clear. Grazzini had no such troubles and sent a shot that went off backup keeper Steve Cronin’s hands and into the net.
To start the match, Ben Olsen had made the curious decision to start midfielder Steve King atop his midfield diamond instead of Santino Quaranta, who had been playing well of late. Olsen, seeing the need for a change of pace, made this switch in the 71st minute and two minutes later it paid off. DC had begun to threaten the Chicago defense after Sean Johnson had basically been able to lounge in the first half, when MVP candidate Dwayne De Rosario found Quaranta atop the Chicago box. The midfielder made a pass over the top to second half sub Josh Wolff (who had come on earlier for an ineffective Charlie Davies) and Wolff sent a rocket to the top of the net for DC’s only shot on goal and only goal. Replays showed Wolff was likely a step offside but it was a very close play.
The result for the Fire was another draw and devastation. Chicago dominated the match, outshooting DC 14-6 and they looked like they were on their way to only their third victory of the season. They were undone by absolutely atrocious finishing in the first half and poor defensive attention in the second, a combination Fire fans have seen over and over. Even with nemesis Hamid out of the net in the second half, the Fire had really only a few scoring chances and failed to definitely put DC away. This one will sting for a while.
DC, on the other hand, has to be happy with the result. After being dominated for most of the match, they get a valuable point and move into a tie with New York for fifth in the East. A win against Kansas City on Sunday could move them up to third in the conference, and they still have games in hand against most of the teams ahead of them. But there were two troubling results from this game for DC. The first is the health of Bill Hamid; he was in serious pain after the first half and does not look like he will play Sunday. Cronin, who has been erratic at best, now looks to be the starter in a very critical match against KC. The second troubling issue is the disappearance of Charlie Davies. The forward was absent most of the sixty minutes he was on the pitch and the few times he got himself into scoring position, he could not do anything productive with the ball. Either his confidence or an unseen physical ailment is hindering him, and either is a major concern for DC.