United ready to resume rivalry with Fire
WASHINGTON -- D.C. United have enjoyed precious little success in road matches over the past two years. In fact, since the beginning of last season, D.C. has won just three matches away from RFK Stadium, with an overall away record of 3-16-8 in MLS play along with an 0-4-2 road mark in CONCACAF competition during the same period.Yet amid all their 2008 travails, there was something about Chicago that worked for United. Amazingly, both of last year's away victories were secured at Toyota Park, at the expense of a Chicago Fire side that has traditionally bedeviled the Black-and-Red where it matters most -- the MLS Cup Playoffs.With just one league win since their last match against the Fire, a 2-1 win at RFK on June 13, United are wobbling at the moment. But memories of last year have given D.C. reason for optimism going into Saturday's Windy City showdown with the Fire, the latest installment of one of the most bruising rivalries in Major League Soccer.Fueled by their contrasting styles and tense history -- the Fire are the only team D.C. have never overcome in the postseason, dating back to their 1998 MLS Cup Final clash -- meetings between these two clubs tend to be blood-and-thunder affairs with plenty of passionate, physical play.United expect more of the same this weekend, even if the bitterness of the past has mellowed into something approaching mutual regard."It's one of our rivals, but it's one of those things where both teams respect one another. It's always a good battle and a good game every time we get together," said Clyde Simms on Friday, as he and his teammates waited to board their flight to Chicago. "Fortunately we've had some success in Chicago, particularly the last couple of years, so hopefully we can keep it going."Simms and his teammates are most concerned with extending that run, now that they find themselves in dire need of a victory."I wish I knew the answer to that one," he said, when asked to explain last year's achievements in Chicago. "It's such a big rival, maybe the guys get a little more pumped up for this one -- I don't know what it is. But we definitely need a win here this weekend."Chicago sits in second place in the Eastern Conference, nine points and three places above United, but with three losses at Toyota Park the Men in Red have showed themselves to be vulnerable at home this season. Both teams need all the points they can get in the midst of a tight race for playoff berths that have become increasingly scarce due to the league's recent rounds of expansion.United have slipped down the East standings over the past two months and with losses in their first two CONCACAF Champions League group matches, most recently a 3-1 home loss to Mexican side Toluca on Wednesday, international play has offered no relief.But head coach Tom Soehn rested several key starters against Toluca in deference to his team's draining August calendar and dispensed with United's usual 3-5-2 formation for most of the game. With league considerations now likely to trump the club's fading Champions League hopes, Saturday should feature a significantly different approach."It was a tough midweek game and we were trying different things with the lineup to get some [reserve] guys some time. So we're trying to put that one behind us," said Simms.The squad has instead focused on the possession and attacking fluidity they displayed in last weekend's 0-0 home draw against the Los Angeles Galaxy at RFK. The D.C. strike force will look to exploit a Chicago defense that has been decimated by injuries this month, not to mention commanding center back Bakary Soumare's recent transfer to French club Boulogne."We had a decent overall performance against L.A. and we're going to look to definitely go for three points [in Chicago], considering that the standings are kind of tight," said defender Dejan Jakovic on Friday. "Mentally, I think we're good. The game at home against L.A., it helped us a lot. I think we're back on track -- we had a good day at practice today and I think we'll be ready."