Match storylines: Fire look to turn tables against D.C. United


Matchup Chicago Fire (6-12-8, 26 pts.) vs. D.C. United (7-9-12, 33 pts.)
Date Friday, September 16 • 7:00 p.m. CT
Location Bridgeview, Ill. • Toyota Park
TV UniMas
Radio (Spanish) 97.5 FM Poder
Fire Field Vision Watch Now

The Chicago Fire wrap up a three-match homestand on Friday night when D.C. United comes to town for a third and final meeting of 2016. Coverage of the match begins with kickoff on UniMas at 7 p.m. CT (TICKETS). The Fire are looking to avenge their last meeting with United, a one-sided loss in the nation's capital just three weeks ago. With that in mind, here are five factors at play when the teams take the field Friday night:

Bouncing back
In addition to erasing memory of the 6-2 loss to D.C. at RFK Stadium, the Fire will be looking to Friday's match as an opportunity to rebound from a 2-1 defeat suffered to Toronto last weekend. Despite David Accam's re-introduction and a strong second half push -- one that included nine shots and a 63%-37% edge in possession -- the Men In Red were only able to halve their deficit. The loss marked the Fire’s first at Toyota Park since an April 16th defeat to Montreal, breaking a stretch of 12 consecutive matches unbeaten at home in all competitions.

On the other hand, D.C. will be looking to secure a full three points on the road after leaving Red Bull Arena with only one last Sunday. Late goals from Steve Birnbaum and Lamar Neagle erased a 2-0 deficit and devastated the Red Bulls in second half stoppage time, earning a result for United who, like the Fire, are pushing for a spot above the red line in the Eastern Conference playoff hunt.

Points on the table
Speaking of draws, United has picked up quite a few of them in matches held away from RFK Stadium in 2016. Their road record of 1-5-8 this season includes the league-high amount of draws, something they’ll be looking to remedy ahead of Friday night’s match if their postseason hopes are to remain afloat. D.C. currently resides in eighth place in the conference, a spot ahead of Chicago and one point behind sixth-place Orlando City SC above the red line.

With both sides thirsty for points on Friday night, the chances for late game fireworks should be high. United has made a living off of late goals in 2016, having scored 13 of them this season from the 75th minute onward, just shy of the league high. On the flip side, they’ve also conceded 12 times in that same time frame, the third-highest amount in MLS.

Roaring Dutchman
There will be players on each side riding enviable waves of form come Friday night. For the Fire, forward Michael de Leeuw has made his presence felt in each of his team’s last three contests. He’s bagged goals in each, all at close range with an opportunistic nose for the goal, and added two assists in the same timeframe. For head coach Veljko Paunovic, de Leeuw’s efforts off the field have been equally as important.

“(He’s) putting all of himself into every single play, every single game, and also helping others which is something we demand,” he said. “Do your job and then help others do their job. So far we are very happy with his performance. He’s very generous with his effort and supporting the teammates. In the locker room he’s honest and very direct and has that kind of mentality that we are looking for for our team, which is a winning mentality and always doing your best.”

For D.C., the aforementioned Neagle -- the team’s leading goal-scorer (6) -- has finished in three of his team’s last four matches. Additionally, United assist leader Luciano Acosta (8) has four helpers in his last two matches played, including a trio against the Fire on Aug. 27, while striker Patrick Mullins will look to get back on the scoresheet for the first time since his hat trick against the Fire.

Up the channel
With each team employing a different preferred style of play, the midfield battle figures to be a key in determining a result on Friday night. For D.C., veteran Marcelo Sarvas is having a fine 2016 holding down the deep-lying role for the United midfield. The 34-year-old Brazilian ranks third in MLS in tackles with 93, and falls only shy of Seattle’s Osvaldo Alonso in total defensive recoveries among midfielders with 222 to his name. He figures to have a busier night than he did the last time these two teams met, when the Fire played with 10 men for almost an hour after a first half Khaly Thiam red card.

The Fire have mostly employed a rotation of players at their holding midfield positions throughout the summer due to match load and injuries, but the current tandem of Matt Polster and Razvan Cocis have strung together two mostly positive performances in a 3-0 win over Philadelphia and last weekend’s defeat to Toronto. Polster believes the consistent minutes he’s received since returning from injury earlier this season have bolstered his form.

“It’s getting better,” he said. “I think towards the beginning of the season it was a little choppy for me with the concussion and being out for a bit, then I had a couple injuries that left me out of a couple games. As I’ve played more games in a stretch, I think I’ve gotten better each game. With Razvan, he’s just a good leader. We talk a lot. We understand what each other wants to do on the field, so it’s always positive when I’m playing with him.”

#CHIvDC all-time
In two previous meetings this season, D.C. claims the only win after an April 30 draw at Toyota Park, extending D.C.'s unbeaten streak in the series to eight games. Chicago's last victory over D.C. came on Oct. 4, 2013. United also own a narrow lead in the all-time series in matches played at Toyota Park with a record of 4-3-7 since 2006.

Several familiar faces make their return to the park they once called home, including longtime Fire standout Patrick Nyarko. After joining D.C. last offseason, the winger has played 21 games and totaled four goals and five assists for his new side, including a goal, assist and a red card drawn in the August 27 matchup. Striker Kennedy Igboananike, traded midseason by the Fire, also returns to Bridgeview for the first time as a visitor, while goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra and forward Chris Rolfe -- who has not played since suffering a concussion in the April 30 match at Toyota Park -- also see their current and former clubs collide. Finally, Fire goalkeeping great Zach Thornton returns as a member of the D.C. technical staff.