One team fighting to maintain their playoff position will battle another who are simply looking to stay alive in the postseason race as DC United play host to the Chicago Fire on Wednesday at Audi Field in the US capital.
The Black-and-Red moved into sixth place in the Eastern Conference of MLS thanks to a 1-1 draw with the New York Red Bulls, while the Fire fell further behind in the playoff chase after dropping a 2-0 decision to Sporting Kansas City.
Saturday was not the prettiest of points earned by DC United, but at this stage of the season, Hernan Losada will take them any way that he can get them, and, in the end, it was a valuable point for his side, who are currently only one point above Atlanta United in the playoff picture.
Many would consider DC to be quite fortunate to be able to collect a result against the Red Bulls as the referee controversially ruled that Sean Nealis's hand was in an unnatural position when the ball struck him late in the first half, giving DC a penalty after a VAR check late in the first half on Saturday.
A week after putting on one of their most complete performances of the regular season, beating the Philadelphia Union 3-1, Losada was left disappointed by his side's performance at Red Bulls Arena in a sloppy game that lacked fluidity on both sides and where chances were few and far between.
The Black-and-Red put themselves behind the eight-ball early, trailing after only five minutes against New York, as DC have had their share of struggles when conceding in the opening stages of a match as they can rarely get into any sort of rhythm.
As they prepare to play three games in 10 days beginning on Wednesday, there is not a lot of time for them to try and to fix the errors that they made in their last encounter, but they will need to be a lot sharper mentally and physically than they were the last time they had a short break in between games when they fell 3-2 to the New England Revolution only three days after getting crushed 5-2 by Nashville SC.
The last time they welcomed the Fire to Audi Field in the middle of May, chances were at premium mainly because their pass accuracy was at less than 70%, and yet they were still able to come away with a 1-0 win.
They have not won a regular-season series against Chicago since the 2018 campaign, and the last time that they were beaten by the Fire on their home field goes back to 2017.
At this point of their MLS campaign, it is hard to see a path to the postseason for Raphael Wicky and his Chicago Fire.
On Saturday, they were asleep from the opening whistle, which is a recipe for disaster when you are playing the second-highest scoring team in the league.
Trailing by two goals after only six minutes of play will not win you many matches, and with only 11 fixtures remaining and eight points to make up, not to mention having five teams to catch, the window of opportunity is closing quickly for this side.
With the playoffs still an outside possibility, you would think that the Fire would be pulling out all the stops and playing with a sense of urgency, but we have rarely seen that from this team in recent games.
These next two matches against DC United and CF Montreal may as well be must-wins for Chicago, who have only won once away from home this year.
While it certainly looks bleak for them at the moment, the teams directly above them (the Red Bulls and the Columbus Crew) are in a tailspin right now, so if they can win these next two fixtures, their chances of making it to the postseason could look a whole lot better.
Ola Kamara scored his 13th goal of the year on Saturday and his second in his last two games, while Jon Kempin made his sixth consecutive start in goal, stopping two of the three shots that he faced, and Drew Skundrich made his first start for the Black-and-Red since August 18.
Brendan Hines-Ike remains out with a hip injury, Adrien Perez has a foot issue, Chris Odoi-Atsem has a quad problem, Nigel Robertha is questionable with a groin injury and Bill Hamid continues to be hampered by hamstring difficulties.
Chicago keeper Bobby Shuttleworth had a forgettable outing on Saturday, allowing a long-range effort from Jose Mauri to squeak through his legs after only four minutes and then parrying a Daniel Salloi shot straight to Johnny Russell for a tap-in.
Luka Stojanovic was one of the few Fire players who showed a strong desire and passion last weekend, ripping a shot off the crossbar in the 58th minute and narrowly missing on a header late in the match as the back three of Jonathan Bornstein, Mauricio Pineda and Carlos Teran allowed KC a ton of space in attack.
DC United possible starting lineup:
Kempin; Paredes, Alfaro, Birnbaum, Pines; Reyna, Asad, Felipe; Arriola, Kamara, Yow
Chicago Fire possible starting lineup:
Shuttleworth; Offor, Pineda, Sekulic, Kappelhof; Stojanovic, Medran, Herbers; Ivanov, Collier, Beric
We say: DC United 2-1 Chicago Fire
Since the beginning of June, DC have only suffered one defeat at Audi Field, and they are playing a side who look rattled at the moment, especially away from home, which is ideal for the Black-and-Red, who know that they need to keep earning points to remain in a playoff position.
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