Wednesday, October 31, 2007

United See Hope in Return Home

With the ending of his first regular season in the MLS, Luciano Emilio, and his recently awarded Golden Boot award for most regular season goals, has proven that he is the league’s premier goal scorer. All that he has accomplished this year however, - 20 goals and 16 United wins, both tops in the league - will mean nothing when the Chicago Fire come to RFK stadium, on November 1st, for the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The Fire currently lead the two-game aggregate goal series 1-0 and look to continue what has been nothing less than dominance over the United side in their last 6 playoff meetings.

In their previous six meetings, which include five wins and one draw, the Fire have scored 11 goals while keeping United scoreless over that stretch. In the their first meeting of the 2007 semifinal match, the dynamic United squad, without leading scorer Emilio and veteran star Jamie Moreno, were unable to mount any sort of threat on a good Chicago defense. Only two shots were managed on goal, both coming off the foot of midfielder-playing-forward Christian Gomez. Gomez was repeatedly caught offsides and winger Ben Olsen and midfielder Clyde Simms were unable to help transition the ball effectively to forwards Gomez and Guy-Rolande Kpene. Fred, the exciting Brazilian newcomer, was also thoroughly contained. With the mediocre team effort behind them, Emilio and United looks to Thursday’s return to RFK as a chance to prove that they can win beyond the regular season.

Being one goal down going into Thursday’s second leg game means United have put themselves in a must win situation. Even with the pressure of having to win, the United squad and coach Tom Soehn feel a certain confidence that can only come from a healthy team and a home field advantage. Both Emilio and Moreno will be starting after being used as subs in the last game due to ankle injuries. This should greatly reduce the pressure on an aging Gomez and allow him to excel in his play-making role. The return of the two forwards should also distract the Chicago defense from keying in on wingers Fred and Olsen, allowing both these major impact players to feed balls and create more opportunities on goal. Moreno, no longer seen as a real scoring threat, plays a vital role in ball control, pacing the United attack and the general speed of the game. Look to Moreno, assuming he is fit, to control the ball in the middle as much as possible.

With United having a full side available for this game and RFK stadium being “blacked out” by its loud and boisterous fans, there is no reason why they should not come away with a win. This is a defining moment for a United side that has played excellent all season long and to walk away with anything less than a win would be a huge disappointment. Look for this game to be rough, hard-fought, and infused with energy not displayed by United this month.

- The Phoenix

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