By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 16, 2008
The rivalry between D.C. United and the Chicago Fire took root 10 years ago at the MLS Cup. It intensified in subsequent seasons with a series of playoff meetings -- one marred by a spitting incident -- and spilled over with a scuffle and an alleged head-butt on a suburban field last month.
Tonight the Eastern Conference adversaries will meet again outside Chicago, and although United's players say they have good intentions, the teams' recent history suggests another edgy encounter.
"I would hope that it stays within the competition, but when you feel something cheap is going their way, you give a little bit back to them," United defender Marc Burch said. "That's how soccer has always been. You don't go out to play dirty, but if you feel they are playing dirty, then you give them a little something to think about."
Burch was involved in the latest dust-up, during a U.S. Open Cup quarterfinal July 8 at Maryland SoccerPlex in Montgomery County, and received a red card for shoving Cuauhtémoc Blanco, who forcibly tried to recover the ball from United's Clyde Simms. Blanco was also ejected, and when an operations official tried to escort him to the locker room from the bench area, Blanco allegedly made contact with his head.
Without specifying what the Mexican star had done, the U.S. Soccer Federation suspended him from the Open Cup for at least two years. Blanco was also fined $7,500 by MLS.
"I feel like he always gets away with a few things -- little dives, little elbows, a little stepping on feet," Burch said. "If he starts doing that, that's the type of game it is going to turn into. We hope it's a soccer game."
As far as Simms is concerned, it's in the past.
"I don't have any hard feelings," said Simms, who, at the time, had scratches on his face from the incident. "I haven't even thought about the previous game. Both teams respect each other a lot. The crowds get into it and that brings out the intensity a little bit. It makes it fun."
There was also trouble June 7 at Toyota Park. United's Marcelo Gallardo appeared to thrust his head at Brandon Prideaux after the two got tangled up. Both were ejected. United's Bryan Namoff was sent off later in the game for a second yellow card.
Besides the red cards, the game is seared in United's memory because of the way it ended -- with Luciano Emilio scoring late for a 2-1 victory, D.C.'s only road win of the season.
"It was a game in which the desire, the competitiveness, the energy were fantastic," United Coach Tom Soehn said. "The competitiveness is what gets you through games like that. It was, by far, one of our best efforts of the year."
United's success on the road did not continue, however. After playing 10 consecutive games at home, United (8-9-1) reverted to its dodgy form away from RFK Stadium with a 4-1 loss to New York last Sunday.
"We are making mistakes, and that is still an issue for me," Soehn said. "Whether it is a lack of concentration or an inability to come up with a play, it has to be better."
If they continue, Chicago is sure to take advantage. The Fire is 3-0-4 in its last seven league matches and just added U.S. national team veteran Brian McBride, who likely will make his debut tonight after returning from the Olympics.
As for the possibility of more trouble between the teams, Soehn said, "We know what we have to do to win and I'm not concerned about any of the shenanigans that go along with it."
United Notes: Liberian goalkeeper Louis Crayton, who signed with the club last week, received his work visa and is eligible to play tonight. To make room on the senior roster, midfielder Joe Vide was moved to the developmental roster and rookie midfielder Dan Stratford was waived. Stratford, a London native, made five league appearances and one start. . . . Midfielder Gallardo (sports hernia) and defender Gonzalo Peralta (hamstring) did not travel with the team.