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DC Dominates in 4-2 Win Over Fire

What do the Michigan Bucks and DC United have in common? They are the only two teams to score more than two goals against the Chicago Fire in 2012, but last night the Fire could only blame themselves (and not dodgy turf or a backup XI) for an embarrassing loss.  With a loud but small home town crowd, DC United used speed and an unconventional line-up (for them) to tear apart one of the best defenses in the league and firmly insert themselves back into the hunt for a top three spot in the Eastern Conference with a 4-2 win.

DC United had not beaten Chicago since 2009 and when these two teams faced off at RFK last October, the Fire scored two second half stoppage goals to shock the Red and Black and effectively end their playoff chances.  This time, the two teams were occupying the last two playoff spots in the East and if Chicago would have won, they would have been within three points of first place Kansas City.  The story line going in was whether DC’s allegedly potent offense could handle the Fire’s stingy defense and if the Fire could exploit a makeshift DC midfield to create opportunities.  The answers to these questions were a resounding yes and resounding no.

Before diving into a tactical analysis, recapping the goals illustrates the larger trends.  In the first half, DC quickly unlocked the vaunted Chicago defense using a quick formation switch. After a muddled first 15 minutes for both sides, Ben Olsen swapped wingers Nick DeLeon and Chris Pontius to their opposite sides. Pontius found himself with the ball in the 19th minute and scuffed a shot that rolled past a very confused Sean Johnson to Dwayne De Rosario for the game’s first goal. DC would have a few other good chances and seemingly controlled possession (although the Fire had a slight edge in that statistic).  The first half came to a dramatic close with Chicago late stringing together their best possession of the game, resulting in a series of one touch passes that found Daniel Paladini open in front of net, an opportunity he took to equalize the score in the 44th minute. A minute into stoppage time DC stormed back as Andy Najar whipped in a sharp cross to the far post which DC newcomer Lionard Pajoy headed just past Sean Johnson to send DC into the half with a 2-1 lead.

The second half was an opportunity for the defenders to show off their offensive prowess.  In the 51st minute, Chris Korb crossed the ball to an open Brandon McDonald, who headed it precisely over Sean Johnson into the top corner of the net for a magnificent goal.  The Fire would have their revenge a little over twenty minutes later when their corner kick found an unmarked Gonzalo Segares who headed his own line drive low into the bottom corner to draw Chicago to within one and raise the specter of last year’s epic game at RFK.  However, after scuffing some chances, Long Tan scored his first goal for DC in the 89th minute as his weak shot trickled past an off-balance Sean Johnson for the final goal.

The scoreline was 50% DC tactical dominance, 50% Chicago poor play.  For the home team, their starting XI was a bit of a mishmash due to suspension (Boskovic) and injury (Santos).  Ben Olsen went with a 4-4-1-1 but started holding mid Marcelo Saragosa next to Perry Kitchen in front of the back four, while basically conceding the wings defensively by starting Najar at right back and Korb at left back, then allowing them to roam freely up the field.  Olsen compensated by using the speed of his fullbacks and winger DeLeon to apply pressure any time Chicago tried to go down the wings, thus forcing them to try and create chances through the middle.  Kitchen was effective in the first half coming forward to assist in the attack, while switching more in this role with Saragosa in the second.  What resulted was constant pressure from DC on Chicago and except for a few five minute stretches where Chicago was able to execute their 4-2-3-1, DC dictated the tempo.

But analysis of this game would be incomplete without a recognition of the poor play from Chicago.  They also were missing some key players and, to be blunt, Paladini left Fire faithful with a bad taste in their mouth despite scoring.  All four goals saw a Chicago defender trailing or not covering the scoring player, which is a mental issue and not a tactical one.  Additionally, Sean Johnson had a very poor night with the first and final goals two plays Johnson should have at least gotten a hand on.  The result was both a wake-up call for both teams and the Eastern Conference that maybe the current pre-game narratives are not as clear cut as they seem.

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  1. CoconutMonkey

    August 25, 2012 at 11:33 pm

    Can’t argue with any of it… *sigh*

  2. Robert Hay

    August 24, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Cavan – Good points all. I think the game on Wednesday perfectly
    illustrates the Sean Johnson conundrum – physically he is a top
    notch keeper but his decision making and instincts have a ways to
    go. In some ways, he is similar to the other keeper on the pitch,
    Bill Hamid, although Hamid struggles more with decision-making
    regarding using his strength while Johnson more has problems with
    routine plays.

  3. Cavan

    August 24, 2012 at 10:41 am

    Well written. I think it’s fair to argue that Fire goalkeeper
    Johnson should have smothered the scuffed shot that led to the
    first goal rather than looking to see it over the endline, I don’t
    think the fourth goal was his fault. He was committed to going to
    his right to prevent DeRo from smashing the ball in far post when
    he crossed. Johnson had to then change direction then get back
    across the goal to deflect Tan’s shot. While Tan’s shot wasn’t very
    powerful, it was perfectly placed inside the far post. He also shot
    from about the six yard box. At that distance, the goalkeeper
    barely has enough time to process that a shot even happened much
    less track its trajectory and make a save. Any save at that
    distance is purely a reaction/guess. I don’t know if Tan meant to
    place it perfectly inside the post (he’s missed many other chances
    in his playing time so far) that’s where it ended up. Johnson also
    made a lot of really high quality saves that kept the score at 4.
    He really had a good night overall. If he hadn’t have stoned DeRo
    with the short-range kick save, get a glove save to a couple of
    Pontius shots from the top of the box, and saved a point blank
    Pontius header, United could have easily put in 6 or 7 goals. I
    think he’s the last person a Fire fan should blame for the loss.
    United was simply the better team for the entire night and could
    have easily won by four or more goals. A Fire fan should be
    encouraged that their team managed to score two goals on the road
    when they had far fewer chances than the home team. In most road
    games, that would be good enough for at least one point. As a
    United fan, I’m glad that the attack was strong enough so that the
    Fire’s two road goals against the run of play were not enough for a
    point or more.

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