The Black-and-Red have two games remaining on their home stand before hitting the road again, the first is tonight as they host the Chicago Fire. DC won the first of the three home games last Saturday against the Union, rallying for a 2-1 victory after surrendering another early goal.
The Fire started the season a bit slow, but they have been playing well as of late. Coming off a 3-0 win over the Montreal Impact last weekend, inching closer to .500, but if the playoffs started today they would be the sixth and final seed.
As a member of DC United, Chris Rolfe has yet to play against his former team. He spent seven seasons with the Fire and that streak will continue as he is not eligible to participate in tonight’s contest. Suspended for one game, Rolfe commented on the situation yesterday. “I’m disappointed not to be able to play against Chicago this weekend. With the timeline, I think the team needs all of us. It probably wasn’t the smartest decision by me.”
He’s played an integral role for DC this year, as the premier play-maker and one of the scoring leaders. Fortunately for the home side, he didn’t factor heavily into their plans for Chicago. Coach Olsen agreed with the notion that Rolfe would have been coming off the bench if he saw any action if the rotation with him and Arnaud during this hectic stretch stayed true.
United won’t be the only team missing a key playmaker as Shaun Maloney won’t be available for the Fire due to his national team obligations (Scotland). Both Olsen and Rolfe raved about the Fire’s youngsters in Harry Shipp and Matt Polster. Olsen saying “Shipp continues to be a real player in this league. They’re getting the most out of the youngster in the middle Polster.”
While Chicago’s record doesn’t scare anyone, it’s not a great indicator for the type of team they are. They’re a feisty, athletic bunch that is not going to go down easily.
“They find ways to stay in games. They have a great ability to counter, they have good team speed.” – Olsen
They’re athletic, kind of all over the place. I think they’re a little unorganized, but that can play to their favor as well.They have some quality, I think Harry (Shipp) is a very good player. I think he provides a lot for them and probably their dangerous player.” – Rolfe
As Rolfe stated, the fact that they are unorganized is dangerous. It could really help the Fire against an extremely disciplined defensive team like DC, the unpredictable nature could play a huge role in this game. Especially that speed, the Portland game proved that a side with great speed can cause trouble for the Black-and-Red. It’ll be interesting to see if United learned anything from that contest that can be used against the Fire.
The home side has good depth on the roster, especially at midfield. While Rolfe will be missed, DC has more than capable players to step in. More importantly, they could be getting their one ‘true’ forward on the roster back on the field. Fabian Espindola may be eligible to play against Chicago, he’s recovered well enough to either start of contribute off of the bench tonight. When asked about the health of Fabi and Luis Silva, Olsen responded “Fabi is further along than Silva. Both had very good days of high intensity training.” A couple of minutes later, he went even further when he said “There’s definitely a chance you could see Fabi, whether he’s starting or coming off the bench. I’ve yet to decide.”
The possible return of Espindola would be a great boost to a side that has struggled to finish in the attacking third. They were most dangerous in the two games he played when he got off of his six game suspension. Giving DC a much needed ‘finisher’ mentality up front, getting him back could really change them as a team.
Olsen was disappointed in the suspension of Rolfe, but definitely backed his player. “I push these guys emotionally to play with fire and sometimes it spills over. Again, in particular to this stretch, we need bodies so it’s disappointing.” At the team’s disposal are a plethora of options in Halsti, Coria, Arrieta, Aguilar, and DeLeon.
With the hectic schedule, two games ago there was a noticeable omission in the starting 11. Bobby Boswell didn’t start as Birnbaum and Opare played their first game together. As most have come to find out, the Black-and-Red have not one, but three starting caliber centre backs. Olsen was asked about that yesterday when addressing the media:
“I feel like there’s good chemistry with any of the pairing of the three centre backs. That’s a rare luxury to have as a coach in this league, I’m going to exploit it.”- Olsen
While that does help with the current schedule and rest needed, a decision must be made once things calm down a bit. Until that date, it’ll be interesting to see how that rotation plays out. “I think at some point, when things slow down, there will be a partnership that we’ll probably stick with if we’re on a week-to-week basis. As we’ve had to manage all these games, it’s a little bit of a different scenario now, as opposed to maybe a month from now when we get on that week-to-week schedule.” Like several other position groups on the roster, it’s a good problem to have.
As for now, the Black-and-Red is focused on facing the Chicago Fire tonight. A result would continue to cushion that first place lead DC has in the Eastern Conference.
CONCAFF Champions League
The draw for the 2015-2016 tournament took place Monday night and DC is in a familiar spot as they landed in Group H. They’ll be playing Montego Bay United FC and Arabe Unido in the Group Stage. Olsen commented on the time in the schedule in which the group stage will be played and how it helps in the long run. “We’re excited to be in it. I think the guys enjoy being a part of international soccer, especially the guys that aren’t on national teams. This is their taiste of international soccer, I think that they embrace that and it gives me an opportunity to use a lot of guys. Get guys who aren’t getting a lot of games that time, action. I think in the end you’re better for that.”