DC United defeat Chicago Fire to boost MLS playoff hopes

DC United’s playoff prospects improved on Saturday night with a stunning 4-0 win over Chicago that not only ended a three-game losing streak but also bid Wayne Rooney’s side for the last postseason spot in MLS’s Eastern Conference brought the top.

In dire need of points early in the season, United built up a three-goal lead in the first half. Christian Benteke scored for the first time in almost three months, 21-year-old Ted Ku-DiPietro continued his breakthrough and a bizarre own goal all but secured victory at Audi Field. Benteke scored in added time in the second half as United celebrated their highest-scoring game of the year.

“That was a result that we needed,” Rooney said. “We know it’s up to us to continue to perform as well as we did tonight and win games. Where we are, tonight’s game will give us a lot of confidence.”

DC (9-12-6, 33 points) rose to ninth place, a point ahead of Chicago (8-11-8) and two points behind No. 8 Montreal (11-14-2) with seven games remaining. Three others are also in the running.

Aside from climbing up the table – and improving their hopes of qualifying for the post-season for the first time in four years – United have had to play well after a series of uninspiring performances. From the start they acted with renewed energy and determination, orchestrated by new playmaker Gabriel Pirani. United also made progress at Audi Field, where they were among the worst home sides in MLS with a 4-4-4 record going into Saturday.

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Ahead of the game, Rooney stressed the importance of starting strong against an opponent playing on Wednesday.

Benteke, the $4.25 million-a-year United forward, had played eight straight league games and 11 total without scoring. But in the ninth minute Mateusz Klich played a flawless long ball from midfield. Benteke chested the ball down in the box, parried the ball past defender Rafael Czichos and then slammed an eight-yard throw.

“If you don’t score for a couple of games it can be frustrating,” he said. “But I was just thinking about doing the right thing. When you do the right thing, it leads to goals.”

Benteke was the moderator in the 20th minute. With his back to goal, he blocked Cristian Dájome’s long ball with his chest. With two defenders occupied, Benteke put the ball into a gaping channel, allowing the hard-working Ku-DiPietro to score his fifth goal of the season.

Captain Steven Birnbaum called Ku-DiPietro a “field dumper for us”. His runs back and his creativity in the penalty area were great for us.”

In the 40th minute, the strikers combined again, Benteke prepared Ku-DiPietro, who stormed into the penalty area. Chicago defenseman Carlos Terán smashed Ku-DiPietro from behind for a penalty. But in the process, the falling Terán accidentally hit the ball with each foot, resulting in an own goal.

United lost track in the second half but were not punished for it. In stoppage time, Benteke added his tenth goal of the year by easily placing a cross from Chris Durkin.

DC goaltender Alex Bono started the regular season for the second time, replacing Tyler Miller, who is sidelined for four to six weeks with a rib injury. Bono, a freshman MLS veteran in Washington, made a 38th-minute save on Kei Kamara’s dangerous shot and saved a deflected shot in the 75th minute.

“We have to get a lot of wins on the home stretch,” said Bono. “It was a good start for us and should give us confidence until the final stretch to continue.”

Here’s what else you should know about United’s win:

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Kristian Fletcher, an 18-year-old attacker in his first full professional season, has been loaned to Swansea City for the English Second Division Championship until December 31, people familiar with the deal said. (United and Swansea have the same owners.) The Bowie native and Landon School graduate played ten regular season games for DC, starting once and providing two assists.

Three international missions

United’s two full-backs, Éric Davis and Andy Najar, and substitute striker José Fajardo have been called up for international duty and will miss next Saturday’s home game against the San Jose Earthquakes.

Davis and Fajardo will travel with Panama for the Concacaf Nations League games against Martinique and Guatemala, while Najar will travel to Honduras for the Nations League games against Jamaica and Grenada.

MLS has five games scheduled in this FIFA window, a period when top division teams around the world typically take a break.

Citing salary caps, Rooney said United were unlikely to sign any free agents before the September 13 MLS squad deadline. (The transfer and trade window closed on August 2nd.)

Rooney wanted to win back midfielder Ravel Morrison, who had last trained with the club. “He was brilliant,” Rooney said. The club dropped Morrison from the squad earlier in the year and bought out his guaranteed $850,000 contract this summer.

According to a person familiar with the situation, United were also in talks with Ghana World Cup forward Andre Ayew and Jesse Lingard, the former Manchester United winger who was seeking a guaranteed long-term deal.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2023/09/02/dc-united-chicago-fire/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=wp_homepage DC United defeat Chicago Fire to boost MLS playoff hopes

Ian Walker

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