Tampa Bay Sports Day

DC United anticipate hot contest with the Chicago Fire

When DC United plays the Chicago Fire, the fans are guaranteed to witness a hard-fought struggle. The Fire were among the first MLS teams to realize that United is best defended by shutting down their attacking center and DC, in turn, will make life miserable for Chicago’s Cuauhtemoc Blanco. The game may well be settled by how the referee deals with persistent infringement.

Interestingly enough, MLS has yet to disclose who will control the match. Conspicuously absent from the five top centers already assigned for the weekend is the name of Jair Maruffo, who has only the Sunday match in Dallas as an alternative to covering DC-Chicago.

Both teams will target opposing engines and complaints are sure to flow from both sides. In particular, the Fire will harass Christian Gomez, who has a history with them and United will pester Blanco, who has a worse history with them.

Coach Tom Soehn will probably give the Blanco charter to Ben Olsen, who has learned well from Richie Williams how to get in the pocket of an opponent and drive him to distraction. Olsen never lets a rival forget his presence, using little tugs and nips at the poor target to enrage him while coming up short of drawing a caution.

Blanco has a well-earned reputation for diving and losing his temper. He is often targeted for close attention, and rightly shares a frustration with United’s Jaime Moreno and Gomez with MLS referees’ tendency to let the tactic succeed . Thus, the choice of referee and the choices made by the referee will have a major impact on the conduct and result of the game.

The need to harass Blanco and the potential rewards of unbalancing him should lead to a 3-5-2 formation to allow Olsen to focus on one man while Clyde Simms cuts off the Fire’s alternatives. Since both teams are hurting in the back, defense will inevitably be more focused than usual in midfield.

The Fire are missing both Gonzalo Segares and Boukary Soumare to international duty and United have two large question marks in Devon McTavish and Greg Janicki whose heads continue to heal after last Sunday’s collision.

If the center is mutually denied by hard play, the contest will devolve to the wings where the Fire have a particular strength with the speed of Justin Mapp. In years past, DaMarcus Beasley provided width for the Fire, only to find himself neutralized by the tenacious Josh Gros. Mapp has often been similarly stifled.

DC will very probably be without the veteran services of Santino Quaranta and Fred, and will rely on Rodney Wallace and a player to be determined to perform strong two-way service. Wallace’s collegiate experience in defense should help him to focus on that element as he fronts for Marc Burch. The ability of either to swing into attack should also take the opposing winger out of his rhythm.

On the right side, the strength of Bryan Namoff may allow Soehn to test the impressive Chris Pontius on the wing. His placement there will be a bit of a risk, but would reward his excellent offensive efforts last Sunday while starting the cagey duo of Luciano Emilio and Moreno up front.

Moreno and Gomez will often drift to wide positions and switch front to back. This will present the inexperienced Fire defenders with mental challenges. In turn, Brian McBride will present United’s youth with a veteran’s bag of tricks and a solid aerial presence.

As with so many DC United matches, the contest will focus on midfield with bursts of offense by both sides. The Fire have the solid Jon Busch in their net while United will probably use Louis Crayton. This should be a barn-burner and how the referee/fireman responds to the action may well be the decider.