Well that certainly was a huge result, wasn't it? Namoff's early header holds up, and United's fragile defense posts its second consecutive league shutout. Let's skip the niceties of a formal introduction and leap right into the talking points...
* Beware the diamond, Tommy. Sure, the assorted punditry of the blogosphere has been calling for a 4-4-2 to shore things up at the back, but Tommy finally transitioned the Champions' League experiment to MLS. Sadly, he didn't get it right from the start. The narrow diamond was weak because it left Benny trying to hold down a flank on little more than grit, and Simms covering the acres in behind Gomez and Fred. Still, despite looking shaky defensively in this alignment, we did get the opener, though it did come from a set play. That said, we weren't playing particularly well. Did anybody else notice Benny stumbling into crossing positions like he didn't expect to be that open? Been a while since we carried a wide attacking threat, eh?
* Tommy gets it right, Part I. Of course, he didn't get to it immediately. When I saw Quaranta pull back (on 25 minutes) onto the right flank and Benny shifted inside, I thought, "Holy crap! Tommy saw the problem and addressed it!" Then I saw that Emilio was stranded up top, and I thought, "Jumpin' Jeebus, Tommy! You're packing it in with a 4-5-1 on a one-goal lead with over an hour to go? AAAARRRRRRGGGGHHH!" Fortunately, Tommy recognized that we were inviting too much pressure with Emilio unable to close down the entire Chicago back line, and Gomez pushed forward. Give the man a cigar!
* Tommy gets it right, Part II. I'll hold my hand up here and say I was wrong. In my notes, I said that our counter was toothless, allowing too much Chicago pressure to build and numbers to get forward. I wondered if a speed threat might keep them more honest before I realized we had no speed on the bench (Shipalane left at home, Khumalo in the leper colony). What I didn't want to see was the low-energy possession of Moreno. But I was wrong. Moreno's introduction (combined with the Fire starting to run out of gas) started a series of sustained periods of possession that often ended in chances or half-chances for United, and proved that we can play our quick-touch, short possession game without six in midfield.
* Tommy gets it right (eventually), Part III. Pardon my lack of fact-checking, but did we have anybody on the bench that could have spelled Benny? Szetela didn't travel, DiRaimondo is in Richmond, Jacobson home with an injury. McTavish maybe? Whatever the case, the old warrior somehow found his second wind (we'll get to Benny in a moment), but Tommy made the next best change he could by spelling the wings (Fred and Quaranta), who were running out of steam. That said, I think he could have made the Wallace for Fred move a bit earlier. I also would have been tempted to leave Quaranta on and put Pontius up top for Emilio, but Emilio seemed to have more left in the tank than Quaranta and we needed the energy defensively to close down crossers.
* Benny the paradox. You see, there were times when I got a tear in my eye seeing Benny charging around out there, making timely bursts from midfield to create scoring chances in the second half, hustling back on defense after gasping for breath just minutes before...but then there were the negatives. And I hate to bring them up because I love him so much as a player, but...he's not just a step slower than everybody else on the field, he's at least two to three steps behind. This was a huge problem when he was playing in wide midfield, less so when he was in the middle, but it still nearly cost us on a couple of occasions. Also, he committed two egregious Soccer 101 passing errors, nearly gifting the Fire a chance with an errant back-pass (though he did clean it up himself) and later putting a clearance from the endline back through the middle on the ground. The coach (and defender!) in me just about lost my mind when he hit that ball, and my "Jeeeeeesus, Benny!" shout may have woken my sleeping wife and child. Oops.
* Four's a crowd. I got a little smile on my face every time Jakovic was able to step into a passing lane or challenge an attacker without fear of leaving gaps behind him. He looked so much more comfortable, and my smile got even broader when he strode out of defense in possession, even making attacking runs, knowing that he had cover. Perhaps it's just my Oranje crush, but watching a technical defender push out like that...You just wonder why it took this long to finally make the change. And then you wonder if it'll stick.
* Wicks is a psycho. What the hell was up with him attacking his own guys in stoppage time? Yell your lungs out man, but lay off the shirt-grabbing. And questions again were raised about his communication when James put that late cross (barely) out instead of leaving it...
* Fred played his best game in a long while, but you have to wonder...with all those slick little touches he has in tight space, why the hell can't he manage a decent first touch in and around the box?
* Too many fouls in dangerous spots. Sure, I like the playoff intensity we brought to this game, but when one of the world's great set-piece specialists is lined up against you, don't give away stupid fouls in and around the box...please?
So a huge result for DC United, and particularly for Tommy Soehn. Of course, we'll have to temper that a bit (do we have to?) by saying that Chicago were playing with a makeshift defense, missing McBride, and they've generally been pretty lame at home. That said, Soehn had the team playing with ferocity and in a shape that (eventually) seemed to suit them. The question becomes: now that we've won the "must win" match, can we carry that momentum forward and solidify our playoff position? And, of course, will Tommy be tempted to return to 3-5-2 at home? We shall see. But let's not worry tonight. Tonight we celebrate!