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Preview: D.C. United at Chicago Fire

United fights for Playoff seeding in final match of the regular season

MLS MATCHDAY 34
D.C. United at Chicago Fire
Saturday, October 27 - 4:00 PM ET
TV: NBC Sports Network - Find CSN in your area

D.C. United will travel to Chicago for a Saturday afternoon match-up against the Chicago Fire in a game that has huge seeding implications for both teams. United can secure second place with a win or a draw, while a loss could see the Black-and-Red fall as far as fourth place in the crowded East depending on other Saturday results.

What we do know is this – D.C. United has secured a home playoff match for the first time since 2007. Ben Olsen’s troops have already met their coach’s singular goal of making the playoffs, but are decidedly not content with what has been achieved thus far.

“We’re in the playoffs, we’re happy with that, but I think a lot of the guys [on the team] have a lot more that they want to accomplish this year,” midfielder Chris Pontius said this week on the Capital Soccer Show.

Both teams have a lot to play for on Saturday beyond bragging rights. A draw or Chicago loss could see the Fire fall from third place to fifth in the standings, necessitating a mid-week road game that the men in red will be keen to avoid. D.C. United’s starting eleven can be sure the Fire will come out seeking full points.

Since the injury to Dwayne De Rosario in early September, Olsen has been primarily using a hybrid 4-4-2/4-5-1 on the road, dropping a fifth midfielder behind target forward Lionard Pajoy. The additional body in the midfield allows wingers Nick DeLeon and Chris Pontius additional freedom to get forward, while deep-sitting midfielders Perry Kitchen and Marcelo Saragosa cover any open ground. With the speed of players like Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe, Dominic Oduro and others, a similar approach seems likely away from RFK Stadium.

United’s recent success – a unbeaten streak of 5-0-1 – has been largely due to the team’s defense. Prior to last Saturday’s 3-2 win over Columbus, United had not given up two goals in a game since late August. Playoffs are known for being the time that defense-first teams find success and that fact is not lost on United.

“Defense wins championships,” Bill Hamid told the Washington Times this week. “We have not let in many goals, and it’s been a very cohesive group in terms of our defending and getting the ball moving forward and taking advantage of a chance or two when we get them.”

With the knowledge that a draw will secure second place on Saturday, United will be focused on maintaining the same defensive posture that has brought the team recent success. Facing a Fire side that wants full points, D.C. will likely see counterattack opportunities throughout Saturday’s contest.

Regardless of Saturday’s result, United fans can rest assured they’ll have the opportunity to cheer on their team in a playoff match for the first time on five years.

» ANALYSIS: Volkswagen Keys to the Match

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One of the biggest games of the entire season in the Eastern Conference is ahead in front of an NBC Sports Network audience Saturday afternoon when the Chicago Fire entertain D.C. United. The teams are separated by just a single point in the standings ñ and each could end up in any one of four different spots heading into the MLS Cup Playoffs depending on the roundís results. United come into the match riding a six-game unbeaten streak following their 3-2 home win against Columbus, while the Fire lost a third out of four matches in a 1-0 defeat at New England last weekend.

REFEREE: Jair Marrufo. AR1 (bench): Eric Boria; AR2 (opposite): Anthony Vasoli; 4th: Abbey Okulaja MLS Career: 143 games; FC/gm: 24.1; Y/gm: 3.1; R: 32; pens: 44

INJURY REPORT: CHICAGO FIRE: OUT: DF Cory Gibbs (R knee meniscus repair) ... D.C. UNITED ñ OUT: FW Josh Wolff (lower back disc herniation); MF Dwayne De Rosario (L knee MCL sprain); QUESTIONABLE: DF Daniel Woolard (concussion-like symptoms); FW Long Tan (L ankle sprain)

INTERNATIONAL ABSENCES: none
SUSPENDED: none
WARNINGS:
FINED NEXT YELLOW CARD: CHI: Pavel Pardo, Gonzalo Segares ... DC: Dwayne De Rosario, Marcelo Saragosa

HEAD-TO-HEAD

ALL-TIME (42 meetings): Fire 15 wins, 59 goals ... United 17 wins, 61 goals ... Ties 10
AT CHICAGO (20 meetings): Fire 8 wins, 30 goals ... United 6 wins, 24 goals ... Ties 6

  • The teams are meeting for the second time this season. Dwayne De Rosario scored a goal and set up another as United rolled to a 4-2 win Aug. 22 at RFK Stadium.
  • It was D.C. Unitedís first win against Chicago since Aug. 29, 2009, a 1-0 win at Toyota Park. The Fire won two of the four meetings in between, with two draws. It also snapped a two-game home losing streak to the Fire.
  • But the Fire havenít defeated United at home since a 1-0 win in 2006. Since then, United have won three of their six trips to Toyota Park, with three draws.
  • When the Fire came back for a 2-1 win last Oct. 15, it was the fifth time in MLS history a team had scored the game-tying and winning goals in second-half stoppage time ñ and it was the third time either D.C. or Chicago had been involved. United was on the winning end in a 3-2 win against the Fire, April 8, 2000, and also in a 4-2 win against New England on July 27, 2003.
  • The first time a team scored the tying and winning goals in stoppage time also involved D.C. United and Chicago ñ April 8, 2000. The winning goalscorer that day? Current United head coach Ben Olsen.
  • Coaches record: Ben Olsen vs. CHI: P4 W1 L1 D2 Ö Frank Klopas vs. DC: P3 W1 L1 D1

LAST MEETING

8/22: DC 4, CHI 2 (De Rosario 19; Pajoy 46+; McDonald 51; Tan 89 ñ Paladini 44; Segares 75)

  • United took the lead in the in the 19th minute. Chris Pontius scuffed a left-footed shot from outside the box that rolled past a static Fire defense toward the far post, where Dwayne De Rosario streaked in to knock home his 99th career MLS goal.
  • The Fire pulled even in the 44th minute on their first real scoring chance of the game. Sherjill MacDonald, Marco Pappa and Daniel Paladini executed a flowing passing move at the top of the 18-yard box, as Pappa fed Paladini to his left and United goalkeeper Bill Hamid had little chance against Paladini strike from inside the area.
  • But United grabbed the game with goals on either side of halftime. In first-half stoppage time Andy Najar ñ deployed at right back ñ beat two challengers and crossed to Lionard Pajoy, and D.C.ís newest acquisition headed home. Then in the 51st minute, Brandon McDonald looped a beautifully placed header from a Chris Korb cross following a cleared corner.
  • Chicago's Gonzalo Segares added intrigue to the matchís final quarter-hour when he dove to convert a difficult set-piece header in the 75th minute, from a Pavel Pardo service.
  • But Long Tan sealed the result for United, turning home a pass from De Rosario from the penalty spot that just eluded the grasp of Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson.
  • D.C. UNITED (4-4-2): Bill Hamid - Andy Najar, Brandon McDonald, Dejan Jakovic, Chris Korb - Chris Pontius (Mike Chabala 85), Marcelo Saragosa, Perry Kitchen, Nick DeLeon - Dwayne De Rosario (Hamdi Salihi 91+), Lionard Pajoy (Long Tan 77).
  • CHICAGO FIRE (4-2-3-1): Sean Johnson - Jalil Anibaba (Alvaro Fernandez 63), Arne Friedrich, Austin Berry, Gonzalo Segares - Daniel Paladini (Alex 85), Pavel Pardo - Patrick Nyarko, Chris Rolfe, Marco Pappa (Dominic Oduro 74) - Sherjill MacDonald.