Match Preview | Chicago Fire Seek Three Points vs. D.C. United Saturday

Michael Stephens
Chicago Fire (1-2-3, 6 pts.) vs. D.C. United (2-2-3, 9 pts.)
Saturday, April 30 • 4 p.m. CT
Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.
CSN Chicago (Pregame Show: 3:30 p.m. CT)<br> CSN Chicago Plus (Spanish)
97.5 FM Poder (Spanish)
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Every match and training session in the young 2016 MLS season has presented the Chicago Fire a chance to learn more about themselves as a team, and their just-completed two weeks of uninterrupted training was no exception. 

"There's a lot of things that we still have to work on, but we've done some great things the last six games," veteran midfielder Arturo Alvarez said this week. "The commitment, the hunger to want to do well is there. We show that every day in training, the coaching staff has done a great job showing us the way they want us to play, and I think the guys are showing that we're committed, we believe in that, and we've just got to keep pushing for it."

The Fire make their next push for three points Saturday at Toyota Park, hosting D.C. United (4 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago) in a match that comes ahead of a pivotal portion of the MLS campaign. A match flanked on either side by idle weekends -- the Fire's six matches played are the fewest in MLS, with four teams having already played nine games -- Veljko Paunovic's men are looking to lock up three points before embarking on one of two three-match road stretches in this season's schedule. 

Opponent Profile: D.C. brings experience to Toyota Park

For a D.C. United side coming off a 3-0 win over New England, the experience that characterizes their core group takes a small hit Saturday with the absence of both Fabian Espindola (hamstring) and Marcelo Sarvas (yellow card accumulation), but there's still no shortage of cohesion and savvy in the team that will take the field at Toyota Park. That likely includes longtime Chicago Fire winger Patrick Nyarko, who's scored once in seven starts for D.C. after leaving the only club he knew as a professional earlier in 2016. 

Match Preview | Chicago Fire Seek Three Points vs. D.C. United Saturday -

"He's a good player, obviously," Fire midfielder Matt Polster said of lining up opposite his former teammate. "You just try and make sure he doesn't dribble at you. He's a good dribbler, good on the ball, so to make him face away towards their own goal is the best way to defend him."

Nyarko is one of several notable former members of the Fire returning to Chicago. Chris Rolfe (2005-09, 2012-14), second all-time in goals scored for the Fire with 55, is poised to see his first game action at Toyota Park since leaving the club in 2014, while goalkeeping great and D.C. assistant coach Zach Thornton (1998-2006) and current 'keeper Andrew Dykstra (2009-10, 19 appearances) also revisit their former stomping grounds. 

On the field, D.C. United has seen much of its success in recent weeks come through a very direct style of play. Like Chicago, United has seen less of the ball than its opponent this year (47.8 percent possession) and is last in the league in pass success percentage (72.1 percent). The combination of "route one" service on the counterattack, smart runs in the final third by Chris Rolfe and Alvaro Saborio, and the aerial presence on set pieces of U.S. National Team defender Steve Birnbaum will require Fire centerbacks Johan Kappelhof and Jonathan Campbell to be in constant communication and on the same page for a full 90 minutes. 

WATCH: Valspar Matchday Primer

Offensively, Paunovic will be looking to his side to implement the possession tactics and passing patterns to which he dedicated so much of the last two weeks of training. The Fire's 7.17 chances created per match -- second-fewest in MLS, ahead of only Toronto FC's 7.14 -- is a number Paunovic will want to see bolstered Saturday and moving forward. 

For the Fire head coach, improved play on matchday will be a result of the increased competitiveness he saw within his team in training.

"It was very good, I think youngsters especially did very well, they understand that they have to push more the guys in front and they are doing that very well," he said Thursday. "This is what we need in our team, competitiveness is very important. We're very happy with the work the group did so far and we'll continue to do the same thing until we start having consistency in our play and in our style and of course win games."

ALL-TIME (52 meetings): Fire 18 wins, 76 goals … United 21 wins, 78 goals … Ties 13
AT CHICAGO (25 meetings): Fire 10 wins, 40 goals … United 7 wins, 30 goals … Ties 8
RETURN MATCHES: 8/27: Chicago Fire at D.C. United, 6 p.m. CT; 9/16: D.C. United at Chicago Fire, 7 p.m. CT

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