D.C. United hopes for revenge on Chicago Fire
The page has turned on the calendar to the month of August and there are signs D.C. United is turning the proverbial page on the field ahead of its U.S. Open Cup semifinal Wednesday in Chicago.
In a difficult season for United that is not say these are giddy times. It is more cautious optimism. With success in MLS in 2013 essentially out of reach, United has been squarely focused on finding the right lineup and right mentality to capture the Open Cup trophy.
New additions have made a difference. In the in its last two games, a loss to New England and a win over Montreal, United has been more assertive. The lost season in MLS play has been marked by a lack of chances, but now that is changing and goals are coming.
The addition of Luis Silva has brought daylight to a United offense that was stuck in darkness. Last month against the Fire, Silva’s spectacular goal from distance demonstrated a confidence and arrogance that was missing from United's attack. Silva has now scored in all three of his games with United.
Silva opened the scoring Saturday against Montreal and set the stage for a night of newcomers. Conor Doyle and Jared Jeffrey, in just their second games with United, provided the other goals in the 3-1 win over the Impact. Homegrown player Colin Martin came off the bench and made his MLS debut and a difference on the field in 14 minutes.
Roles are being established. Silva is the attacking midfielder or withdrawn striker that can score and also open up the attack. Doyle is a target up top that can hold possession and also find goals. Jeffery is an aggressive two-way midfielder. Martin is technically gifted and from the midfield released the ball that led to the final goal.
“It’s just changed the team chemistry, and we have young bodies with coach’s confidence to come in and produce and play our game," Silva said. “We created a lot of opportunities and we’re attacking from different sides of the field and it makes everything easier for me and our other players.”
To have depth beyond the goalkeeper position is a new sensation for United. In a quest for the right combination or because of injuries, United has used 19 players in its front six this season. With Dwayne de Rosario, Perry Kitchen, and John Thorington back from ailments, head coach Ben Olsen has decisions to make for the right reasons.
On Saturday, De Rosario made his first start since late June and played 64 active minutes. De Rosario looked fully recovered from a hip injury and in the role of striker quickly developed an understanding with Silva playing just below him.
After resting on Saturday because of a sore quad, Thorington likely will return to the starting eleven alongside Kitchen. Thorington's return may push Jeffery to the substitute's bench, but in just two games he has made the case for playing time.
At the back Olsen has already made it clear that he will stay with Joe Willis in goal. It is a nod to Willis' work to get United to this point and not a knock on Bill Hamid who has returned from duty with U.S. Men's National Team at the Gold Cup.
The back line in front of Willis will have to be ready for a better performance than United's last visit to Chicago. United lost 4-1 in league play and the Fire used that win as a launching pad out of a two-game losing streak and back into playoff contention including an impressive road win Saturday in Philadelphia.
While United has struggled this season to find a consistent attacking six from its midfielders and forward, the Fire is positioned well going forward. Mike Magee, tops in MLS with 14 goals, forms a potential lethal partnership at forward with Chris Rolfe. There is quality on the flanks with Jol Lindpere and Dilly Duka, and Alex and Jeff Laurentowicz provide the strength and distribution in the middle.
In addition to dealing with the Fire's attack, United’s defenders need to be involved its offense. Specifically the outside backs have to be prepared to go forward. On Saturday against the Impact, James Riley on the left and Chris Korb on the right were assets to the offense. Riley’s positive play led to United’s first two goals
The winner of Wednesday's match between United and the Fire will play the winner of the other Open Cup semifinal between Real Salt Lake and Portland. The final on October 1st will be in either Portland or Salt Lake City. D.C United has won the U.S. Open Cup twice and the Fire four times.
"In some ways this trophy has helped keep us together through a difficult season," Olsen noted. "We have been through a lot. Our supporters have been a through a lot. Finding a way to win a trophy in this season would be a credit to this group and a sign of better times ahead."