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DC United vs Chicago Fire FC Game Preview


The Managers: 

DC United - Troy Lesesne 

DC’s new Head Coach has not only improved the play on the field, but has improved the sense of camaraderie and teamwork. Lesesne showed a lot of pragmatism last week at Inter Miami. Instead of a high press, he opted to organize in a deeper formation, and play a more counterattack style. Which almost worked. One moment’s hesitation kept DC from getting a well deserved point.


Troy Lesesne's team have won praise for their counter-pressing approach this year, but he says they still have plenty of room for improvement when playing on the break. A team like Chicago is a good opportunity to show their improvement.


Lesesne continues to coach the idea of DC playing with courage and on the front foot, yet at the same time patience and calmness on the ball, so they can maintain control of the game. Last week was a tough one for United, but if Lesesne can keep his players focused, the Chicago Fire could be a good ‘Get Right’ opponent.


Chicago Fire - Frank Klopas

Over the offseason the Chicago Fire chose to make  Frank Klopas their permanent Head Coach, after he served as an interim Head Coach last season. Klopas is Chicago through and through. A Greek who’s family immigrated to Chicago, he signed with the Chicago Sting of the North American Soccer League straight out of high school. When MLS started, Frank Klopas was one of the original players, playing for the Kansas City Wizards. In 1998 he was traded to Chicago, and was one of the team’s original players. Klopas retired following the 1999 season. He was inducted into Chicago's "Ring of Fire," which celebrates outstanding players and contributors to the organization, in 2004.


After serving as a color commentator for the Fire, Klopas returned to their sideline as an assistant coach in January 2020. He was named interim head coach on May 8, 2023, following the dismissal of Ezra Hendrickson.


Tactically, Klopas faces challenges. While he isn’t known for intricate tactical acumen, he is known for being meticulous in his preparation. Klopas collaborates with his staff to devise his  game plans. 


Frank Klopas has said the Chicago Fire need to adopt a "relegation battle" mentality ahead of their game against DC.


A lot of Chicago’s issues come down to the roster’s limitations, as the team seems to lack the necessary quality to execute the game plans effectively. Yet some of the issue lies with Klopas’s game plan as he hasn’t seemed to find a tactical approach that helps the Fire be more than the sum of their parts.


Preview:

After a rain-soaked trip to Miami, the Black & Red return home to host the struggling Chicago Fire FC. 


With 14 games into the 2024 MLS season, DC United have a 4-5-5 record with a -4 goal differential, placing them in ninth position in the Eastern Conference. However, the gap between third-place NYCFC and DC is only six points, leaving room for upward mobility in the standings.


The Chicago Fire, on the other hand, find themselves near the bottom of the conference standings, sitting only above the New England Revolution. Their offensive struggles and leaky defense has made the 2024 season a real challenge. 


With the home crowd behind them and Christian Benteke—one of the league’s leading scorers—leading the attack, the Black & Red will look to get a much needed three points.



Keys to the Match: 


Can DC push up the tables? 

After two disappointing losses DC United faces a must win game to get back on track. The losses to their biggest rival and league leading Miami were a significant setback in their quest to finally secure a playoff spot in the fiercely competitive MLS Eastern Division. 


The Black & Red must get home victories, something they haven’t done enough of this season, if they are to move up the table and make the playoffs. Teams like the Chicago Fire are attainable wins.


Home victories would not continue the team’s good morale, it would also reward the team for their really strong play. Also every point is now necessary for them to move up in the standings. DC United’s supporters can sense the team is at the beginning of something great, a win versus Chicago could play a pivotal role in energizing United and help them later this season in securing their first playoff match in years.


It’s imperative that DC United must harness the power of their home ground and turn it into a fortress to achieve their postseason aspirations.


 

Can the defensive improvement be repeated? DC United’s defensive unit has faced challenges recently, conceding four goals in their previous home game against Red Bulls, and a late winner on the road against Inter Miami. 


Against the Red Bulls, the defensive line, consisting of Lucas Bartlett and Christopher McVey, showed a vulnerability to quick counterattacks by New York, especially when turning the ball over against the Red Bull press. 


Steve Birnbaum has started to play more and while he didn’t do too well against New York, he was stellar against Miami. His physicality and aerial ability can provide stability and help shore up the defense. However, the question remains whether the coaching staff will opt for bringing him back into the starting lineup or have him come off the bench.


The team’s defensive ability will go along way to making DC a guaranteed playoff team.


What position should Matti Peltola play? Matti Peltola has been a good, maybe even great, pickup for DC United. The young Finnish player has done well moving around the world, integrating into a new league and team. He has been really good with the ball at his feet, and been very accurate with his passing. Where Peltola has had room to improve is his ability to close down opposing players in the open field. As a Defensive Midfielder the ability to close on opposing players and keep them from making open passes is a must skill. This is one of the reasons that Peltola has been better as a third Center Back instead of Defensive Midfielder. However this requires Head Coach Lesesne to utilize a three back defense, yet he seems more comfortable playing a four back line. With Steve Birnbaum back, it makes it harder to put Peltola into the defensive line. One way to put Peltola in the back line would be to move McVey to the Left Back spot, but DC would lose the speed Christian Dajome provides.


Matti Peltola will play against Chicago, where will tell you a lot about how Lesesne plans to lineup against Chicago.



What is the condition of the field Watching the spirit game and the field looks to still be rather rough. The field looks somewhat better this week than it did when United hosted the Red Bulls. It seems without the rain factoring in, it should be less of a factor. 


Against New York, in opportune slips by United players did have an impact on the game. In the offense a player losing his footing ended a couple of 

 offensive opportunities and on defense DC players slipping left United vulnerable. It wasn’t the reason that United lost, but it did add a hurdle for the Black & Red.


Hopefully the field conditions are improved, and allow for clean and swift passing.


Things to Watch: 


Offense - DC United’s defensive players need to accelerate their ball movement up the field. Against the Red Bulls, the back line was too slow moving the ball, and had way too many turnovers which led to quick counter attacks. When the Center Back’s passing game lacks swiftness and accuracy DC United’s offense suffers. DC is at its best when it can transition effectively from defense to offense, and not allow the opposition get set.


DC United is at its best when it uses a dynamic pass and move as a cohesive approach to their offensive buildup. Quick and accurate passing from Klich, Herrera and Stroud, combined with intelligent movement from Benteke and Ku-DiPietro, gives the Black & Red their best scoring chances. This more multifaceted attack not only benefits Benteke but also makes DC United a more potent offense.


Defense - DC United still need to improve their defensive organization and pressing players in the middle of the field. One key aspect the Black & Red must address is closing down their opponents more quickly and effectively. A big weakness has been the freedom of movement opposition midfielders have had at times. It’s how they gave up the game winning goal to Inter Miami last week and gave up tying goals to Columbus and St.Louis.. This adjustment could have a profound impact on the team’s defensive solidity and overall performance.


Pressing as a cohesive unit has been greatly improved under Head Coach Troy Lesesne. It starts with the forwards who harass the opponent’s back line and goalie. DC United’s three lines, defenders, midfielders, and forwards have learned to work in sync with each other, ensuring that there’s coordinated pressure on the opposition players throughout the field. This collective effort does a good job to disrupt the opponent’s passing lanes, limit their time on the ball, and force turnovers higher up the pitch. Now it’s important to get all the United players on the same page. Individual errors and loss of concentration are momentary openings that teams have pounced on to score against United. 


The Midfielders need to prioritize getting back into position more quickly when the team loses possession. Quick transition from attack to defense is crucial to prevent counter-attacks that Chicago will attempt. 


One thing Lesesne wants his team to do is short accurate passes between United’s lines so his team can retain possession and quickly build the attacks from the back. Clearing the ball hastily has often lead to loss of possession and invite more pressure from the opposition. The Midfielders play an important role in this vital aspect of defense.


By improving their pressing, transition play, and communication between the lines, DC United’s defenders can reduce the pressure they face and enable the team to have better control over games. It’s not just about individual defending but also about working as a synchronized defensive unit to disrupt the opposition’s rhythm and create more opportunities to regain possession and launch fast attacks. These adjustments could be pivotal in improving DC United’s defensive performance and overall competitiveness.



Predictions:

2-0 victory at Audi Field. The Black & Red recorded a 4-0 home win over Chicago in the teams' last meeting last September, and they are looking to post back-to-back victories over the Fire for the first time since a four-game winning run against them between 2014 and 2016.

















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