Could the hex be broken? Did the Fire trade in their DC United voodoo doll for a bald Matt Reis one so that they could mysteriously dominate the Revs with the same choke-hold that they've used to disable United for so long? Or does the Vdub symbol ward off the evil eye? Is Blanco a karma suck that has removed the Fire's power over us?
Whatever the case, United strolled into Toyota Park for the second time this year, and for the second time this year, they emerged with all three points. After last week's embarassment of a performance against Red Bulls, this win was a much needed tonic heading into the stretch run. So let's hit those talking points . . .
* Crayton for the win. Not a bad debut for our keeper from the Bong Mines. He came out to neutralize a couple of through balls, made one big save to spare defensive blushes, and generally looked comfortable handling crosses, a sight that might help erase some of those images of Wells flapping at the cross that resulted in the Red Bulls' second last week. The most encouraging sign for me though was that he was screaming at his defenders (with specific instructions on marking) after he parried Rolfe's chance--not something you would have expected from the demoted Wells. Crayton did have one uncomfortable moment when he spilled a cross under heavy contact, but (miracle of miracles) Burch was well placed on the line to clear . . .
* Which was a moment that highlights a pretty solid outing from the defense, given that we were playing Burch in the middle again, a spot where he's had some forgettable performances of late. Still, there was a shifting of the gears that seemed to take place in my head during this match. Rather than dreading the inevitable moment of madness from the United defense that would lead to Chicago sticking one in the net, I was expecting a big play from Blanco or McBride to do the dirty deed. That's a massive psychological shift--when you worry about the other team having to do something, rather than your own defense tossing up the mandatory brain-fart. And a special shoutout goes to Quaranta for sticking his body in the way of McBride's attempted half-bike--nice to see so much commitment from the kid as we move deep into the season. I'll admit that I was more or less expecting his newfound drive to have petered out by now.
* The one worry on the defensive end was the outbreak of yellow fever. The team does have a little more quality depth than we had just a month or so ago, but it's still not enough to ride out the potential suspension-fest that might occur if we keep racking up the cards at the pace we did last night.
* The post giveth, and the post taketh away. The frames at Toyota park were kind enough to push a curling Blanco effort high, but if they were just a half-inch or so thinner, Fred's low, placed effort after a lovely team move would have sealed the deal in the second half. It was a beautiful move that had my wife calling out to see if I was okay (I'll admit, my groan was a bit dramatic ;-), when the ball bounced clear.
* Yet even though he failed to knock that one home, Fred did get the game winner. And what an odd game winner for DC United. On a corner? With the head? By Fred? Weird on all counts, particularly the slack Chicago marking that gave Fred the golden opportunity that I know more than a few of you were expecting him to blow completely. That makes it three of our last four goals coming via cranial redirection. Isn't that one of the seven signs of the Apocalypse?
No doubt about it, this was a huge win for United. After the Debacle in the Swamp, the Black-and-Red have claimed a spot in the Open Cup final and won away to one of the hottest teams in the league. A shutout with the new, more experienced keeper in net is a positive sign, as was the general control with which United played, allowing the Fire just two shots that were on target.
Still, let's not get carried away. Chicago have struggled a bit at home and have dropped results against crappier sides than us. Also, they were struggling to penetrate the Revs until Reis' brain (and arms) went AWOL last week. Though United was in control early, applying high pressure and maintaining possession, as the game wore on we sat back a bit, and the Fire started whipping dangerous balls into the box. Those are balls that maybe connect with McBride's noggin in a month or so when he's in tune with his new team.
Here's hoping we can do to the Rev's first team midweek what we did to their reserves in the Open Cup last week.