D.C. United 0-2 Chicago Fire: Good old-fashioned Eastern Conference soccer

The Chicago Fire picked up their first win of the 2022 campaign on Saturday afternoon as they beat D.C. United 2-0 at Audi Field.

Far from the prettiest contest, Chicago was ultimately able to convert when it mattered most. Stanislav Ivanov opened the scoring with a deft finish in the first half, and a volley from Jonathan Bornstein of all people with 10 minutes to go doubled their advantage. That proved to be enough, as the backline secured another clean sheet to clinch a potentially massive victory for the Fire.

Story of the match

After an ugly opening to proceedings, D.C. managed to carve out a chance. A shot deflected up into the air, and Ola Kamara headed the ball towards goal. Chicago was just about able to deal with it, though, as Gabriel Slonina made the save before Rafael Czichos cleared the danger away.

The Fire then had an even bigger opportunity just moments later. Kacper Przybyłko slipped Mauricio Pineda in behind the backline, but he couldn’t finish off the move, with Bill Hamid coming out to make the crucial block.

It really should have been 1-0 to Chicago midway through the first half, as they could’ve scored multiple times from the same set-piece. The initial cross picked out Czichos, and his botched header bounced off an opposing defender, which allowed the ball to fall right back to his feet. He failed to make the most of the second chance, and another poor attempt at a finish was eventually cleared away.

A defensive giveaway from the Fire gave Adrien Perez a chance at goal, but his shot was a weak one that was easily saved.

The dreadlock was finally broken at the half hour mark. It all started courtesy of a wonderful flick from Fabian Herbers, which tee’d up Xherdan Shaqiri in space. His pass somehow made it to Stanislav Ivanov, and he managed to find the back of the net, dinking the ball past Bill Hamid. It was a decent move, but Brad Smith will be at fault for D.C. conceding the goal since he absolutely should have cleared Shaqiri’s pass away.

United then came within inches of equalizing, as Julian Gressel’s low cross rolled teasingly across goal. It couldn’t find the bottom corner, and no one was on hand to slam it home at the far post, so the ball ended up going just wide.

There would be one more chance before the half, and it really should have been converted. Herbers drove forward on the break before laying the ball off to Kacper Przybyłko, who went for a first-time curler. It wasn’t good enough, though, and Hamid was able to block the shot that was hit too close to him.

Herbers threw a snowball at Gressel right before the start of the second half, which was a fun moment.

The second 45 took a while to get going, and nothing really happened until there was 10 minutes left to go. Chicago were able to double their advantage, as a cross was flicked-on towards the back post by Gastón Giménez right to Jonathan Bornstein, and the ball sat up perfectly for the defender to volley into the back of the net.

D.C. nearly responded immediately, but they were instead denied once again. A set-piece was cleared right to Andy Najar, and he made solid contact on an effort towards goal, but it was hit right at Slonina.

There were some half-chances for both before the afternoon was done, but the scoreline would stay at 2-0, which meant that the three points went to the Fire.

Takeaways

The conditions on the night were not ideal to say the very least. It was very, very cold, with near-freezing temperatures recorded in the area. The pitch wasn’t great either, as the snow that had fallen earlier in the day made the playing surface very hard and a bit uneven. As a result, some ugly soccer was played at times.

Chicago will grab the headlines, and maybe deservedly so, but D.C. did not look great. Disjointed throughout going forward, they failed to create many chances of their own, and they didn’t make the most of the opportunities that fell their way. It was more of the same defensively, as mistakes and poor marking ended up costing them a potential result. They’ve still got six points from their first three games, but they could use a better performance next weekend.

Can the Fire be the MLS’ version of Burnley? They’re incredibly solid defensively, and even when they look like they’re about to concede they’re able to clear the danger away. They aren’t great going forward, but they might be able to sneak in a goal or two every once in a while, which could always prove to be vital since they’re so good at the back. It's too early to draw this comparison right now, but it might just become spot on in the future. 

Man of the match - Stanislav Ivanov

No one really stood out for the Fire, as everyone pretty much did their job.

However, there was only one matchwinner when all was said and done, and that was Stanislav Ivanov. His goal was an admittedly lucky one since the ball bounced right to him just a few yards out from goal. The finish certainly deserves praise, though, as his clever flick over the goalkeeper was enough to put his side in front.

Ivanov’s career in Chicago hasn’t been the best, but that moment of magic might be what kicks him into high gear.

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