Two struggling Eastern Conference teams face off on Thursday night as D.C. United hosts the Chicago Fire at Audi Field.
After a promising win on opening weekend, D.C. have fallen flat. They’ve lost their last three games, with the most recent defeat coming against reigning MLS Cup Champions the Columbus Crew. United effectively beat themselves, to be fair, as own-goals from both Frédéric Brillant and Tony Alfaro were what ultimately cost them on the day.
The Fire’s winless start to the campaign continued on Saturday, as they were beaten by the Philadelphia Union. Chicago were clearly second best despite being at home, which demonstrated just how bad things are for them at the moment. Fans are understandably concerned already, and the team needs to do something to turn things around, and they need to do it quickly.
Considering the two teams’ respective poor starts to the season, both will really want to win on this occasion.
D.C. United are in the midst of an injury crisis at the moment, as Erik Sorga, Steven Birnbaum, Bill Hamid, Yordy Reyna, Chris Odoi-Atsem, Jacob Greene, Donovan Pines, Russel Canouse, and Nigel Robertha will all miss out. Meanwhile, the likes of Joseph Mora, Griffin Yow, Kevin Paredes, and Paul Arriola are currently listed as questionable.
Chicago are better off, but they’ve got some notable absences as well. They’ll be without Ignacio Aliseda and Carlos Terán, who are both dealing with thigh injuries. Stanislav Ivanov and Kenneth Kronholm will miss out due to knee issues, while Nicholas Slonina is unavailable for selection because of health and safety protocols. Lastly, Fabian Herbers is a doubt with a knee injury of his own.
D.C. United: Seitz, Alfaro, Najar, Brillant, Gressel, Nyeman, Asad, Moreno, Perez, Flores, Smith
Chicago Fire: Shuttleworth, Sekulić, Omsberg, Calvo, Navarro, Medrán, Stojanović, Giménez, Frankowski, Berić, Offor
Ones to watch
He’s not had the best campaign, but Yamil Asad has the ability to turn things around at any given moment.
Starting his MLS career on loan with Atlanta United, the Argentine made a marquee move to D.C. United the following year, which was also on loan. He had a good campaign, but he returned to Vélez Sarsfield in his homeland at the end of the season. However, United would come calling once again, and they were finally able to bring the player in on a permanent basis in 2020.
The move hasn’t completely paid off, though. Asad, like the rest of the team, struggled last season. He only scored three goals, and two of those came via the penalty spot. He also only managed one assist, which was not a good enough output for a player of his quality.
There is some hope, though. The attacker has already halved his assists tally this campaign, as he set up Tony Alfaro's goal against the San Jose Earthquakes, even if he didn’t really mean to. His performances have still left plenty to be desired, but it’s a step in the right direction, at least.
When Asad is in the mood, he can be one of the league’s most dangerous players. Incredibly dynamic on the ball, he uses his pace and technical ability to cause chaos going forward. He’s more than capable in the final third, as well, able to create chances for his teammates or simply convert them himself.
D.C. would love to have him back at his best, and this game could be the start of Asad’s resurgence.
Is Robert Berić just in a bad run of form, or should the Fire start to worry about their DP striker?
Coming to the club before the start of last season, Berić had an excellent debut campaign. He scored 12 goals in total, with 10 of those coming in the team’s last 13 games of the year. He was living up to the hype that surrounded his signing, and it seemed like Chicago had found their frontman for the future.
He could not have started the campaign better, scoring five minutes into the first game of the season before then getting an assist only six minutes later. However, he’s failed to register a goal contribution since, and he’s not played too well, either.
What is especially concerning is that the striker is starting to miss chances. His clinical finishing was a huge asset to the team last season, as he often made the most of whatever opportunities fell his way. That’s not been the case this campaign, though, which has cost Chicago on occasion.
In his defense, not all of the problem’s are his fault. Berić suffers from a lack of service, with the team’s issues going forward resulting in him not having a lot to work with. He’s also trying to be more than a goalscorer, dropping deep to link up play and open up space for others. The Slovenian can do that well, but it keeps him away from the penalty area, which is where he does his best work.
If Berić can get onto the scoresheet in this game, a lot of these concerns will fade. However, the longer his duct continues, the more the Fire will have to worry.
Last time out
The two sides did face off last season, with the Fire winning 2-1 at Soldier Field.
Chicago made a dream start to the contest, opening the scoring after just two minutes. Álvaro Medrán whipped in a perfect free-kick into the area, and CJ Sapong was able to stretch out a leg to volley the ball past the goalkeeper.
They would double their advantage right before the half-time break courtesy of another set-piece. Medrán was the provider once again, as his corner was headed home by Boris Sekulić, who managed to grab his first goal for the club as a result.
United were able to get back into the game 10 minutes into the second half, with the goal coming in quite fortunate circumstances. A shot from Joseph Mora deflected off of Wyatt Omsberg, and Jonathan Bornstein couldn’t deal with the danger, accidentally redirecting the ball into the back of his own net.
Despite the setback, the Fire were still able to hold on to secure the win and all three points.
How to watch
The contest will be aired on NBC Sports Washington and WGN for fans living in the respective areas at 8 p.m. EST, while others in the United States will be able to see the game on ESPN+.