The Chicago Fire snatched their first victory of the season with an assured 2-0 win over a dreary-looking D.C. United side at RFK Stadium on Saturday night, with late goals from Marco Pappa and substitute Brian McBride securing all three points in a battle of early-season strugglers.
United saw plenty of possession but once again looked hesitant and confused in and around the Fire goal, while several of their defensive errors went unpunished before Pappa’s composed strike turned the match Chicago’s way in the 80th minute.
The United defense lived dangerously for much of the evening, and ten minutes from full time they were finally punished by Pappa. Patrick Nyarko made a driving run to the endline and with second-half sub McBride pressuring, Devon McTavish was unable to block the Ghanaian’s cutback, allowing Pappa to settle the ball calmly and rifle a sharp finish into the roof of the net from 12 yards out.
The Guatemalan’s goal would stand as the game winner, but the result was made certain by a seeing-eye header from McBride. The veteran striker outmuscled Carey Talley to get the slightest of touches to a booming free kick from Dykstra and the ball squirted past Troy Perkins and snuck inside the left post to hand the Fire a well-deserved road victory.
Entering the match, Curt Onalfo’s defensive options were highly limited, but the D.C. head coach did make a somewhat surprising move in handing United’s attacking midfield role to Andy Najar, the 17-year-old academy product who signed a senior contract just last month and is still completing his coursework at a northern Virginia high school.
Arranging Baggio Husidic, Justin Mapp and Pappa in front of Peter Lowry in midfield, Onalfo’s opposite number Carlos de los Cobos added a substantial dash of flair to his first XI. The trio’s dribbling and movement gave their hosts fits, carving out a host of chances for frontrunners Patrick Nyarko and Collins John that left United’s back line riding their luck.
Taking advantage of Rodney Wallace’s indecision, John almost stole an early goal in the 9th minute with a quick-thinking chip from the top of the United penalty box that forced Perkins to scamper back towards his own net and palm the ball over the crossbar.
Lowry was the next to have a go at goal, skipping a first-time shot wide of Perkins’ right-hand post from about 20 yards out. Nyarko also looked lively up front for Chicago in the early going, cutting inside to menace Perkins with a left-footed drive that flew just high and wide of the top corner.
United suffered yet another injury setback in the final minutes of the first half, losing Chris Pontius to a hamstring strain. Salvadoran Christian Castillo came on in his stead and took up a left wing role as the wind picked up around RFK, dropping temperatures dramatically as the night unfolded.
CHI -- Marco Pappa 2 (Brian McBride 1, Patrick Nyarko 2) 80’
CHI -- Brian McBride 2 (Andrew Dykstra 1) 89’
DC -- Julius James (caution; Reckless Tackle) 74’
DC -- Kurt Morsink (caution; Reckless Foul) 86’
Referee: Silviu Petrescu
Referee's Assistants: Daniel Belleau; Steven Taylor
4th Official: Andrew Chapin