Summer is here and DC United is hitting the road.
The Black and Red will not return home to what has been the very friendly confines of RFK Stadium until July 26 and begins a stretch of four road games in two weeks Wednesday in Chicago.
With its win on Sunday against New England, United enjoys a seven-point cushion on the second place Revolution. The secure standing at the top of the Eastern Conference is even though United, through injury and schedule management, has used 17 different starting lineups in 18 league games.
Included in United’s latest congested stretch is a round of 16 U.S. Open Cup match at Philadelphia on June 30. After Wednesday’s game in Chicago, United will travel to a match on Saturday in Toronto. It will briefly come home for its Cup meeting with the Union before having to head west and face Seattle on July 3.
Chicago is in last place in the Eastern Conference on 14 points and is trying to end a three-game losing streak. At the end of May the Fire crafted an impressive 3-0 shutout of Montreal, but its current slide started with a 3-1 loss to United at RFK, continued when it blew a lead in 3-2 loss to Orlando, and bottomed out in 2-0 shutout loss to New England.
- Better start. DC United has become the master escape artist of MLS with a 5-4-1 record when it concedes the first goal. Without question it is a positive that United has been able to wiggle out of so many jams and still get points, but the challenge of playing from behind will be greater on the road especially against a Chicago team desperate for points.
- A goal for Nick De Leon. It is fair to say United is a better team when Nick De Leon is in the lineup. It was great to see him score in the Open Cup last week in Pittsburgh, but he has not scored in league play since last July. On Sunday, De Leon earned his third assist of the season when he connected with Fabian Espindola who provided the cross on Chris Rolfe’s goal. De Leon’s work rate is exceptional and now he just needs the reward of a goal.
- The Halsti impact. Look for Finnish international Markus Halsti to start in the center of midfield with Davy Arnaud sidelined by yellow card accumulation. In his time so far with United he has displayed vision on offense and steel on defense that will be needed against Chicago.
- Beware of the wounded Fire. It is a positive for Chicago that Mike Magee is back after missing nine months with hip and knee injuries. On the negative side, a back injury likely will keep midfielder Shaun Maloney out for two to three weeks and David Accam is dealing with a slight hamstring injury. Maloney and Accam have given life to the Fire’s offense and will be missed. Still Magee is back in the equation and Kennedy Igboananike and Harrison Shipp remain attacking threats.