Photo by ISIphotos.com
By AVI CREDITOR
The Chicago Fire followed the blueprint D.C. United opponents have succeeded with to a tee. Go ahead in the 80th minute; secure first win of the season.
For the third consecutive week D.C. United yielded a tie-breaking goal in the 80th minute to a winless opponent, as Marco Pappa's blast from just inside the penalty area snapped a scoreless tie. Brian McBride, a 76th-minute substitute, added an insurance goal nine minutes later, and the Fire walked out of RFK Stadium as 2-0 victors Saturday night.
"We felt like we played well in the first half and that it was a matter of time," said Patrick Nyarko, who set up Pappa's goal by controlling the ball deep into D.C. territory before sending the penultimate pass in the goal-scoring sequence. "We've been playing well since the beginning of the season, but we weren't getting the results. We emphasized patience (Saturday), and we achieved the results we needed."
The Fire (1-2-1) achieved the same results as New England and Philadelphia against D.C. United (0-4). Against the Revolution, D.C. yielded a tie-breaking goal to Kenny Mansally in the 80th minute and another Mansally tally in the 82nd to drop its home opener. Against the Union, D.C. yielded Sebastien Le Toux's third goal of the match on an 80th-minute free kick that snapped a 2-2 deadlock.
Nyarko, who had to take a step off the pitch after colliding with Rodney Wallace minutes before the game-changing sequence, returned and immediately took control of the ball by weaving up the right flank. He was able to get to the end-line before sailing a ball to the top of the penalty area, where McBride and Pappa both stood about two yards apart from each other, both unmarked.
"I put up my head, and my two teammates were wide open, and those were the only options for me," Nyarko said. "I just hit the ball as hard as I could, and what a great finish by Marco."
Nyarko's pass found McBride, who deftly rolled a back-heel-touch to Pappa. The Guatemalan tucked a laser of a shot under the crossbar for his second goal in as many weeks.
As important as Nyarko and Pappa were to the victory, neither's performance was a crucial as McBride's. The veteran, unaccustomed to coming off the bench, made an impact as soon as he entered by firing a shot on frame in the 77th minute. His assist on the game-winner was sublime, and his 89th-minute header off a long free kick from goalie Andrew Dykstra displayed his savvy.
"I heard the goalie (Troy Perkins) was talking, so I knew where he was, and I was just trying to put it on goal – nothing spectacular," McBride said. "I didn't pick out the corner or anything, but I did know where the goalie was and made sure I didn't put it right at him."
Not bad for a 14-minute shift.
"The most important thing is that Brian's a great professional," Chicago coach Carlos de los Cobos said. "He has a great attitude, and when he goes in helps the team so much, not only with scoring the goal but with his collective play."
The Fire experimented with a 4-5-1 formation to take advantage of United's inexperience down the center of the pitch. D.C. was shorthanded at centerback as starters Dejan Jakovic (red card suspension) and Juan Manuel Pena (hamstring injury) missed the match. Academy-product Andy Najar paired with Kurt Morsink at central midfield.
Midfielders Nyarko, Pappa and Justin Mapp did well, at times, in support of target-striker Collins John, but United was able to thwart most of their opportunities.
"It's a different look, showing different teams different looks so we don't become predictable," Nyarko said. "We set out to control the midfield, and it worked for the most part of the game. I'm not anticipating this kind of system going on for a long time, because we play well in the 4-4-2, I think it was just giving a different team a different look."
United's experience with its different look had mixed results. Santino Quaranta returned to the right flank and looked at home. Chris Pontius moved back to left midfield, but he hardly got a chance to impress as he had to exit in the 39th minute with a hamstring strain.
Striker Danny Allsopp improved on past performances but still couldn't find the goal, and Jaime Moreno dropped back into the midfield to counter Chicago's shape. Najar flashed moments of skill, but there's only so much that can be expected from a 17-year-old whose hardest test until going up against the likes of Wilman Conde was a high school academic exam.
"The width in our attack was something we haven't had in the first three games, and we had it in the first half," D.C. coach Curt Onalfo said. "Going into half I felt that there was some decent things to build on as we went into the second half, but then we shoot ourselves in the foot at the end of the game."
With four losses to start the season, D.C. matched its franchise "record" that was set in the league's inaugural year. Though that team went on to win MLS Cup, there is hardly an iota of that vibe circulating around the team's locker room.
United was shut out for the third time in four games, and it still hasn't faced a team with a victory at the time of the match. The new-faces-in-different-positions excuse isn't viable anymore, and the team's lack of confidence is noticeable everywhere from between the pipes to the attacking third of the field.
"I don't know what it is," Quaranta said. "We don't have that killer instinct, and we have to take a look at that and see what's going on. "We've been together long enough now. We're professionals, and it's just not good enough. We'll see how it goes."