Chicago Fire vs DC United: Week 5 Preview

DC United, Hernan Losada (Photo by BRUNO FAHY/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images)
DC United, Hernan Losada (Photo by BRUNO FAHY/BELGA MAG/AFP via Getty Images) /

On Thursday, two teams with similarly uncertain futures will meet in the US capital to find who will find the strength to get back up. The Chicago Fire are walking into a familiar situation, facing off against a DC United side that looks vulnerable. In fact, the Fire have seemingly played the role of a rebound team for most of their opponents, with the New England Revolution and New York Red Bulls both impressing since their match with the Fire. Maybe DC hopes to pick up some of the magic. Or maybe the Fire can finally get their own win.

With Elliot Collier’s appearance in the starting lineup, it’s clear that he has returned for the Chicago Fire. Along with him, Fabian Herbers was raised up to “Questionable” for the match against the Philadelphia Union, but did not make the 18. Miguel Navarro has also been making a recovery and there’s still hope that Carlos Teran and Ignacio Aliseda can return soon. As for DC United, Most of their key players have been out for a while, with Bill Hamid, Steven Birnbaum, Paul Arriola, Yordy Reyna, and Chris Odoi-Atsem all making up just a part of the injury list in DC.

Here are three things to look out for in this matchup:

What is a Designated Player Worth?

The Chicago Fire are stuck in a jam when it comes to the roster. Pretty much all of the fill-able “slots” are filled on the team. International slots, Designated Player slots, they’ve even got the elusive “Young Designated Player”. So what have all of these players done so far? As a whole, not much. Ignacio Aliseda has been injured this season and despite playing every minute this season, I cannot find a single thing to say about Gaston Gimenez. Gimenez has been completely invisible in each match, a word you don’t want to hear used to describe one of your highest paid players.

As for the third Designated Player, that’s Robert Beric. Beric came into this season as the go-to striker for the team. In fact, he was really the only striker, as the only other player who is recognized as a striker on the team is Chinonso Offor, who is being played out on the wing right now. Beric has come under fire this season for an alleged poor performance, especially when compared to previous striker Nemanja Nikolic. The Nikolic comparisons are pointless, but there is something to the under-performance.

While it is a questionable metric, xG is a good indicator of how likely a player or team is to score and it accumulates throughout the season. An xG that is lower than the actual goals scored means that you’re over-performing expectations. A higher xG means that you’re under-performing. With an xG of 2.5 and only scoring a single goal, there’s gotta be some mild concern over the way Beric handles himself in front of the note. And taking anecdotal evidence into account of his missing multiple open look shots over the past few games, Beric needs to prove he’s worth the money and the slot. That means scoring goals.

Young in All the Wrong Ways

One of the big things that the Chicago Fire want to express right now is that they are a young and developing team. This team needs to gel, develop, and build together. That’s what they say, that’s why fans need to be patient. But actually looking at the data, this is a massive lie. The average age of the players who have started each game is a little under 30 and when you widen the net to players who have just made an appearance in every game it only lowers to about 28. In fact, players 28 and older on the squad account for a 61% share of all the minutes played by the team. Only 12% belong to players 23 and under, with Chinonso Offor pulling most of the weight there.

It’s one thing to be a team that says they want to win now and playing older players. It’s another when you are a team claiming to have a focus on youth and actively avoid utilizing youth. Much of the bench and the general squad are below 23, but they are not being given the opportunity to get match experience. There’s something to be said about not throwing the kids in at the deep end, but if there are no other options then you take the chance to see if guys like Alex Monis, Javier Casas, and Andre Reynolds sink or swim. If you can’t win, then give the season some sort of meaning by letting the kids develop on the pitch instead of stashing them away.

Struggle Match

To be perfectly honest, both the Chicago Fire and DC United are limping into this game. I have gone on in length about the Fire’s troubles, but DC has been smacked around by the San Jose Earthquakes and Columbus Crew over the past couple weeks. In a vacuum, this is a winnable game for the Fire.

The problem is that the Chicago Fire don’t win the winnable games. At least not this Fire team. Any game given to them as a “must win” or an “easy match” is going to end up as a disappointment. They can surprise you and perform against one of the top teams in the league, but if they see another team’s weakness they will immediately show their own.

What does that mean about this match? If DC United can’t figure out how to win and the Chicago Fire can’t figure out how to win, then both teams are truly at the most emotionally exhausting impasse.

Projected XI

Chicago Fire (4-3-3): Bobby Shuttleworth; Boris Sekulic, Johan Kappelhof, Francisco Calvo, Jonathon Bornstein; Gaston Gimenez, Luka Stojanovic, Alvaro Medran; Przemyslaw Frankowski, Robert Beric, Elliot Collier

DC United (5-4-1): Chris Seitz; Joseph Mora, Tony Alfaro, Frederic Brillant, Brendan Hines-Ike, Julian Gressel; Yamil Asad, Junior Moreno, Edison Flores, Russel Canouse; Ola Kamara

How To Watch

Thursday, May 13th, 7:00 PM CDT; At Audi Field in Washington, DC, on WGN or online through the Chicago Fire website