In football, there are sometimes days that you want to obliterate from your memory like a spell from Harry Potter or the flashing pen in Men in Black…
Let’s do that.
The players will be the first to tell you last Saturday’s performance wasn’t nearly good enough. There’s nothing more to be said.
The best part of it all is that the Fire get a chance to right their wrongs from Music City just four days later back in the cozy confines of Soldier Field
Here’s what to keep an eye on as Hernán Losada and D.C. United visit the Lakefront on Wednesday night…
THEY GET AFTER YOU
As we talked about in the scouting report earlier this year when the Fire visited our nation’s capital (a 1-0 loss), Losada had a very specific vision of what he wanted his team to look like.
Energetic, pressuring, heavy metal football with an emphasis on defensive organization. He pulls ideologies from the likes of Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa and Atletico Madrid manager Diego Simeone. They want to win the ball far up the field, throw numbers forward in droves and leave themselves exposed at the back in hopes that the finished product will end up in the back of the net or at least out of play so they can reorganize themselves.
We’ve seen what this press can produce on the positive end of the spectrum, i.e. a 7-1 win over Toronto FC on July 3 that proved to be the last straw for then-Toronto head coach Chris Armas. We’ve seen the other side as well, though, in a 4-1 loss to San Jose and a 3-1 loss to Columbus.
However, since those defeats in early May, the Red and Black have sharpened things up and let the principals set out by Losada sink in. They are 3-1-2 in their last six and - despite a big injury to Peruvian DP striker Edison Flores - they’ve gotten results.
They’ve even had some of their young, academy products drawing interest from the other side of the pond. Moses Nyeman is receiving inquiries from France and Belgium, while Kevin Paredes’ phone has been ringing with City Football Group (Manchester City’s mothership) on the other end.
DC is coming off a 2-1 loss at the hands of Philadelphia, but definitely did enough to get a result out of the game. Philly scored both goals on straight up counterattacks that, combined, only had five passes. It was extremely direct and straightforward, but that’s the downside of playing that sort of system. It’s a 3-4-3 that leaves the back three wildly unprotected when they are engaged in their press and re-press.
Philly were clinical on the two goals in recognizing where the space was, used one-touch passing and found the open man. This game can be really easy when there’s time and space, and with DC, you will have it. It’s just a matter of if you can execute or not.
Being brave, taking on the initial pressure, or playing quick 1-2 touch is the recipe for success. On Philly’s first goal, it was full-back Olivier Mbaizo who took the ball through two on-rushing D.C. United players and found Alejandro Bedoya, who floated out to the wing to get some chalk on his boots (Disclaimer: D.C. want you to play narrow and force you to where their numbers are. Philly stayed wide and Bedoya did that on this play in particular even though he’s technically a “central” midfielder”). Bedoya took a couple of big touches in space and eventually found Daniel Gazdag in the middle who, with one-touch, just helped the ball along to Sergio Santos who was making a run up field. Santos was left 1-v-1 with Bill Hamid, and finished off a three-pass counter-attack for a goal.
This sort of recognition of where the space is, playing quickly on the ball, and using as little touches as possible is the recipe for success against D.C. The catch-22 with this all is that if you turn the ball over trying to play out of the pressure by dribbling or passing, it can quickly turn into a scoring opportunity.
D.C. has been dealing with some injuries and personnel issues as of late. It’s confirmed that Brendan Hines-Ike and Steve Birnbaum will be unavailable for their trip to Soldier Field in addition to Donovan Pines’ being with the U.S. Men’s National Team.
Paredes picked up a hamstring injury while on a two-day training stint with the USMNT before Gold Cup. Edison Flores is most likely going to be unavailable as he’s been out with a hamstring issue for about five weeks and was unavailable against Philly.
Adrien Perez, who played extremely well against Chicago earlier this year, came out with an injury at Subaru Park this past weekend. Russell Canouse is in the same boat. Both were supposedly evaluated, but it’s unclear as to what their status is.
This is to say nothing of Paul Arriola’s injury that he picked up while with the USMNT and leading goal-scorer Ola Kamara who is on leave for a family matter.
Did I miss anyone?
Clearly Hernán Losada’s side has just a few players missing but this was a very similar situation to what we saw from D.C. when these teams met back in early May. Losada used a lot of young pieces in that game and was still able to get the most out of them. His system is plug and play and everyone knows what is expected of them. Despite a decimated roster, Frank Klopas will have the boys ready and remind them of May 13, because this is a group that can get after you know matter who is out there.
While the results are important and this game consumes us, family always comes first and our thoughts and prayers continue to go to Fire head coach Rapha Wicky and his loved ones. This is a difficult time for him and therefore a difficult time for the entire club. We are all with you, Gaffer.
See you Wednesday night at 7 p.m. CT on WGN and CFFC Live.