Brandon McDonald - 2012
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VW Keys to the Match: D.C. United at Chicago Fire

Here we go! is ready for Saturday…and beyond

With one of the most exciting results in team history firmly in the rearview mirror, D.C. United is looking ahead to this Saturday's League finale in Chicago. Playoff positioning is now the name of the game. A win or draw in Chicago clinches a #2 seed and allows the club to avoid the knockout round of the Eastern Conference Playoffs. That's the goal for the weekend and here's what United needs to do to earn that result.

Get your mind right
Achieving playoff results requires a greater level of focus than during the regular season. D.C. United has been in 'playoff mode' since losing Dwayne De Rosario to injury in early September. The manner in which they have been earning quality points will need to continue in the weeks ahead if the club is to challenge for the MLS Cup. Central to that will be the ability to handle games on the road.

Chicago is a great place to start. Though the atmosphere may not be as heated as Philadelphia, as intimidating as Portland, or conditions as difficult as Toronto, Chicago is a much better side than the last three United has faced away from home. This is, essentially, a road playoff battle and United will need to have the right mentality from the opening whistle to secure a result. The club's ability to do so will go a long way in establishing confidence that United is a team to be reckoned with in the post-season.

On the attack
In perhaps their most dominant performance of the season, D.C. United dispatched the Fire in August by going on the attack. Chicago's speed and ability to run at opposing defenses is best mitigated when they are chasing the ball. United did a good job of keeping the Men in Red on their heels, taking on Chicago defenders throughout the match in a 4-2 victory.

On the night, D.C. United mustered 22 attempts on goal, with Dwayne De Rosario and Chris Pontius both attempting seven shots. Most of these efforts were the result of direct play which provided little opportunity for Chicago to organize in their defensive third. If the Fire spend most of their time chasing United in attack on Saturday, they'll have less opportunity to effectively challenge Bill Hamid's goal. That will signal good things for fans of the Black-and-Red.

Defensive composure
Chicago has speed to spare and containing Chris Rolfe, Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro, among others, will factor in the end result on the weekend. Though these players can wreak havoc on their own, skillful midfielders Alvaro Fernandez, Alex and Pavel Pardo are adept at finding each behind opposing back lines. United must be prepared for the Fire's assault.

Key to United's success of late has been the work rate of Perry Kitchen, Dejan Jakovic and Brandon McDonald in the center of the field. Just as important has been the communication from each. As the three patrol the heart of the defense, Chris Korb and Andy Najar continue to grow in their roles on the outside of the defense. Collectively, the unit has allowed a mere four goals in the club's current six game (5-0-1) unbeaten streak. Continued structure and organization in the defense could simplify the game, lessen the load for Hamid and pave the way to a positive result for United.