Two weeks ago the Fire hosted Minnesota, which entered without a win on the road and with the lowest point total in Major League Soccer.
The Loons left Toyota Park with a win.
On Saturday, the Fire host another one of the worst teams in the standings in D.C. United. Like Minnesota, D.C. added some key players in the summer and has been playing better of late. The Fire will be hoping to avoid a similar mistake, especially with Atlanta closing the gap for third place after walloping Dallas and New England by a combined 10 goals in the first two games at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
The Fire (13-9-6, 45 points) host D.C. (8-16-4, 28 points) on CSN+ (channel finder) with coverage beginning at 7 p.m. The Fire already beat United 1-0 at RFK Stadium on May 20, but midseason reinforcements have changed D.C.
“I don’t think it matters at this point,” midfielder Dax McCarty said about the previous win against D.C. “They’re a totally different team now, probably four or five new players in that are playing for them. I think they’ve gotten a lot of really good results lately. I think they’ve tightened up at the back. Defensively they’re a lot better.“
D.C. added U.S. national team player Paul Arriola, Hungarian Zoltan Stieber and Russell Canouse to its midfield in August. In the five games since Arriola’s arrival, United is 3-2, including a three-game winning streak that was snapped with a 2-1 home loss to Orlando last week.
“I know they’re coming off a poor result against Orlando, but before that they had won three games in a row and all by the same scoreline of 1-0 so that shows you that they’ve kind of got that defensive discipline that I think D.C. has kind of been known for the past couple years,” McCarty said. “They’re going to be hard to break down. They’re going to come in here and try to frustrate us and try to slow the game down… We’re coming off the positive performance (a 1-1 tie against the New York Red Bulls), now we just need to turn those performances into wins again.”
Both teams will be missing players due to injury. Former Fire winger Patrick Nyarko will not return to Toyota Park because he is out with a concussion. Defender Sean Franklin will also miss for D.C. due to yellow card accumulation.
Michael de Leeuw will miss the game for the Fire from yellow cards as well. Juninho will also be out due to a left knee injury.
Joao Meira could return from his calf injury. The Portuguese defender has been out for a month and was still limited in training this week, but was training with the group.
The bigger injury question is Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Fire’s German midfielder only stretched and jogged at training on Tuesday, but did begin kicking the ball on Wednesday. With Juninho already out, having Schweinsteiger return will be of more importance.
Regardless of who plays, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic preached urgency as a key factor with only six games remaining in the regular season.
“I think this point of the season, everyone sees every next game as a final and I think we’re going to have a very, very tough opponent, who did good summer signings and reinforced them so they had a good winning streak before the last game,” Paunovic said. “Obviously their confidence is better so it’s going to be for us, a tough, tough game, but the guys are ready and the guys are aware of the urgency.”
Chicago Fire vs. D.C. United
Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.
TV: CSN+ (channel finder)
When: Coverage begins at 7 p.m. on Saturday
Records: Fire (13-9-6, 45 points), D.C. (8-16-4, 28 points)