PLAYING WITH FIRE

October 25, 2007 |

Generally, I’m not one for speculation, which doesn’t bode well for a sports writer considering half of what you do is speculate, but here it is, speculation ahead of the MLS Cup 2007 Eastern Conference playoffs between DC United and the Chicago Fire.
What is probably paramount in everyone’s mind is the loss last week to lowly Columbus ending their 13-game unbeaten streak. But ex-United and current US U20 Head Coach Thomas Rongen said it best. DC United almost needed that last loss to put them back on track. Now the pressure is off, and it provided a huge wake-up call losing to a team that was very beatable, and worse yet in the fortress that is RFK. If anything, it shakes off the late-season cobwebs and helps focus on the prize again.
The Fire is a team to be reckoned with, especially in the double-elimination format of the MLS Cup competition. Chicago has given the boys in black something to think about in the past. In fact, as recently as August 13th, if not for Perkins 9-save performance it might well have been the Chicago outfit that ended United’s unbeaten streak at RFK. And this is also the same team that hammered DC 4-0 on their own hallowed turf in the RFK leg of the 2005 MLS Cup Eastern Conference playoff.
Good news though, it looks like Jaime Moreno will play tonight. As a United fan, this is a huge sigh of relief. Jaime is, not like, United’s rabbit foot. An MLS all-time leading goal scorer rabbit foot. But more than just goals, this talismanic striker and captain brings a sense of confidence and supreme calm to his squad. When he is on the pitch, anything is possible. Christian Gomez clicks, Luciano Emilio whirrs and the whole team buzzes.
But the same minor ankle sprain that hasn’t ruled Jaime out is probably going to sideline Golden Boot top scorer Emilio. This puts Guy-Roland Kpene and his newly-fitted blond locks back in the spot light. No, he still hasn’t scored, but he’s come close and he’s hungry. Tonight might well be his night – and no bigger welcome to the league moment could it be.
Of course the Mexican Cuauhtemoc Blanco will provide some hair loss for Tom Soehn and his boys in Chicago. He’s as dangerous as he is old. The wily striker has a knack for popping up when he is most needed and most unwanted.
Make no mistake, the Fire is a tough outfit that has turned a fairly average season around. But Chicago Fire goalkeeper, Matt Pickens might have been smoking one of his socks when he said that “they fear us” ahead of tonight’s game. As I often watch Soehn patrolling the sideline, looking for a head to rip off or a heinie to chew, I can honestly say the only thing the United players fear is him and not a team named after a city-wide conflagration.
My hope is they don’t go into Chicago looking for a draw. I’d like to see them take it to Chicago and squeeze out a win. United has it in them. They are only one of 3 teams to take six wins away from home, so they can do it. But again, the playoffs are a whole different kettle of fish.
A whole host of puns come to mind, like “let’s hope we don’t get burned again” or maybe “this is a fire we can put out” and worse yet “let’s hope we don’t feel the heat too much.” So I’ll avoid all of those until the final result and just say, DC UNITED!

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