Chicago Fire FC will have a quick turnaround on Thursday night as they play their second game in six days, this time against new head coach Hernán Losada and D.C. United in our nation’s capital.
D.C., like the Fire, come in having dropped its last three results. They’ve lost recent contests to the New England Revolution, San Jose Earthquakes, and Columbus SC after picking up all three points in a come-from-behind win against NYCFC on opening day.
Here’s what to look for as head coach Raphael Wicky and the Fire search for their first win of the year this week.
FIGHTING THROUGH IT
It is no secret that the Fire have been dealt a brutal hand with regard to injuries. Of the six guys who have been injured - including Elliot Collier, who just returned last week - each one picked up their knocks during preseason.
However, as the old cliché goes, things could always be worse. For D.C. United, it is, in fact, worse.
In their most recent affair in Columbus, the Red and Black only had 16 rostered players out of a possible 20. As of this weekend, they had 13 players injured. Here is the list:
GK Bill Hamid, D Steve Birnbaum, D Brendan Hines-Ike, D Donovan Pines, D Jacob Greene, D Chris Odoi-Atsem, M Griffin Yow, M Kevin Paredes, M Russell Canouse, F Erik Sorga, F Nigel Robertha, F Yordy Reyna, F Paul Arriola.
Now, I expect one or two of these names to be potentially available for Thursday’s fixture, but still. That list is obscene.
I watched the last couple of matches for D.C. trying to sort out exactly what type of football we can expect in the Hernán Losada era. It is obviously very different from the “Benny Ball” made famous by former manager and DC united legend Ben Olsen, but I think given all the injuries, it would be unfair to etch their current style in stone just yet. Losada doesn’t have anything close to a full compliment of weapons.
Of the 13 players on the injured list, one could make the argument almost all of them would be receiving starts or regular appearances.
When Losada was hired from Beerschot in Belgium’s first division, he was deemed one of the more sought-after young coaches in the footballing world. Losada not only coached Beerschot in the 2019-20 season, but played there for six years and amassed over 125 appearances to go along with 46 goals. Losada - who turned 39 this past weekend - caught the eye of many after taking his beloved Beerschot into the Belgian first division just in time for the club’s 100th anniversary after three years in the second division.
The Argentine has a clear style of play that requires a fitness level that cannot be overstated, and it’s easy on the eye. He wants his team to be effectively the opposite of the “Benny Ball” that the club’s supporters had endured for so many years – a style that was defensive and at times sluggish. Under Losada, when fully fit, I expect this team to play similar to the likes of Leeds United on the attacking side of the ball. The first-year manager was quoted in a great article with MLSSoccer.com’s Charles Boehm, saying he loves the dynamic and energy Marcelo Bielsa applies in the Premier League. Losada, in the same breath, says he also likes the defensive organization of Diego Simeone’s teams at Atlético Madrid.
To accomplish anything close to what these two managers have, it demands a very specific type of player…
In the past few months there have been many reports of the expectations Losada has of his players to execute his style. It requires an immense commitment from his group - not only on the field, but in terms of taking care of their bodies off of it. He was quoted saying a number of players, by his standards, came into preseason unfit and overweight.
I am not here to connect dots that don’t need to be connected but between Losada's vision for how he wants to play, those statements, and the amount of injuries, it is tough to ignore.
Losada has rolled out what few guys he has healthy in a 3-5-2 formation. When in possession it looks more like a 3-1-4-2 and when defending (especially when pressing) it is blocks of a 3-3-2-2. If you pin them back, then the wing backs drop deeper and it is a 5-3-2.
Unlike previous D.C. teams, Losada’s group throw a lot of numbers forward and there is a lot of movement, especially vertically. Runners need to be accounted for, and it will take a lot of communication from the backline.
Designated Player Edison Flores is the focal point of the attack, and Julian Gressel likes to come inside when not delivering and play with the very talented Peruvian.
Frédéric Brillant anchors the back three and is actually a former teammate of his now manager Losada. Tony Alfaro - a late signing on April 16th for D.C. due to all the injuries - and former D.C. academy product Andy Najar have started on either side of Brillant. Brendan Hines-Ike was actually showing well on the right side of the back line, but picked up up a nasty gash against San Jose that kept him out of the Columbus game.
Junior Moreno sits in front of the back line for protection and distribution, while Yamil Asad and 17-year-old Moses Nyeman are just in front of him.
With both teams short-handed and riding three-game losing streaks, something has to give at Audi Field on Thursday night.
D.C. have been leaking goals since their 2-1 win over NYCFC and appear to be susceptible to some pressure further up the field. They gave up a lot of chances to Columbus from simple giveaways at the back.
The Fire handled D.C. by a score of 2-1 last year after the dismissal of Ben Olsen at Soldier Field, but obviously this is a different regime.
As Tony Meola said on the last broadcast, these aren’t “must-wins” from a points standpoint, but at some point you need confirmation that what you’re working on is paying off.
Both teams will want this one, and want it bad.
See you at 7 p.m. CT Thursday night on WGN and CFFC Live.