|Matchup||Chicago Fire (5-3-3, 18 pts.) vs. D.C. United (3-5-2, 11 pts.)|
|Date||Saturday, May 20 • 3:00 p.m. CT|
|Location||Washington, D.C. • RFK Stadium|
|TV||UniMas, Facebook Live (streaming info)|
|Spanish Radio||Univision América 1200 (WRTO)|
|MLS Match Preview||Projected lineups, injuries, and more|
The Chicago Fire are back on the road this weekend looking for their third win in an eight days with a clash against D.C. United at RFK Stadium (3 pm CT, UniMas and Facebook Live). It's been a dominant week for the Fire, who blanked reigning champions Seattle as well as the Colorado Rapids by a combined score of 7-1 in a span of five days. The challenge is then to keep that momentum rolling by securing a coveted away victory against a United side that have struggled at RFK as of late. Ahead of Saturday's Eastern Conference contest, here are a few key facts, faces and figures to keep in mind:
Key number: 0
It has been a difficult couple weeks for the Fire's upcoming opponents, to say the least. Following a surprise 3-1 victory away at Atlanta FC on April 30, D.C. looked forward to a three-match home stand to keep that momentum going. Now, with two of those three matches behind them, things haven't gone as planned. Head coach Ben Olsen's men have scored zero goals over the last 180+ minutes in a 1-0 loss to Montreal followed by a 4-0 loss to Philadelphia last weekend. The defeat to Philadelphia also saw midfielder and leading scorer Luciano Acosta ejected for a red card offense, meaning he'll sit when the Fire kick things off at RFK on Saturday. How D.C. gets its attack going against a stout Fire defense will be worth watching.
Matchup to watch: Nemanja Nikolic vs. Bobby Boswell and Kofi Opare
Nikolic is the man of the hour after scoring his ninth and 10th goals of the season against Colorado on Wednesday, a brace that shot him two clear of Houston's Erick "Cubo" Torres at the top of the MLS Golden Boot standings. Nikolic has now scored six goals in his last four matches, and nine in his last seven. He'll be salivating over a chance to go up against a D.C. defensive unit whose 18 goals allowed is the most in the Eastern Conference. It'll be up to the United central tandem of Boswell and Opare to attempt to slow down the league's hottest striker.
One Big Question: Can the Fire replicate their performances away from home?
As referenced earlier, the team's last two performances at home -- a 4-1 win over Seattle and 3-0 mid-week victory against Colorado -- turned heads both in Chicago and around the league. Toyota Park has evolved into a fortress under Paunovic, who has his side unbeaten in 21 of their last 22 matches at home dating back to last season. The next step in this team's evolution remains finding the ability to consistently get the job done on the road. They should have all the confidence in the world after their performances this week, and can send a message on Saturday with a victory over an enigmatic D.C. team.
It will be interesting to see what if any changes Veljko Paunovic feels compelled to make during a somewhat crowded stretch of matches. Past performances by the likes of Nikolic, David Accam, Luis Solignac and Bastian Schweinsteiger seem to make them auto-selections for a Fire side looking to collect all three points against a sluggish D.C. side, but a tough matchup against pacy FC Dallas looms Thursday at Toyota Park. Meanwhile, are the ever-steady Dax McCarty, Brandon Vincent and Joao Meira -- all of whom have played every minute in 2017 -- in need of a brief respite to keep them fresh for a long season? Veljko Paunovic will let us in on the answers with his lineup reveal on Saturday.
Quote of the Week:
What else is there to say? Any doubts about Nikolic's intent when he arrived stateside this offseason should be strongly reconsidered.
Fire Field Vision powered by NovaCare:
From the media guide:
- The Fire hold a 18-22-15 regular season record against D.C. United including an 8-15-5 record in matches played on the road. Chicago will be eager to end United's current unbeaten streak in the all-time series, which stands at nine (5-0-4). Last season's visit to RFK Stadium was a forgettable one for the Men In Red, ending in 6-2 defeat with Patrick Mullins recording a hat trick against a Fire side reduced to 10 men early on.
- Chicago's most recent win over D.C. came at RFK Stadium on Oct. 4, 2013.
- Midfielder Dax McCarty spent the first half of the 2011 season with D.C. United, tallying two assists in 13 matches before being traded to the Red Bulls in June.
- D.C. United midfielder Patrick Nyarko began his professional career with the Fire in 2008. Over the course of eight seasons, Nyarko appeared in 196 regular season matches for the Men in Red. The Ghanaian midfielder has not played for D.C. since April 8 and remains out for Saturday due to a hamstring injury.
- Currently serving as an assistant coach for D.C., Zach Thornton spent a majority of his playing career with the Fire. From 1998 to 2006, Thornton won the 1998 MLS Cup and the 2000, 2003 and 2006 Lamar Hunt Open Cups with the Fire.