Fire beat D.C. United to gain ground in MLS standings

Chasing a playoff spot, the Fire have to remain mindful of the coronavirus.

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The Fire’s CJ Sapong celebrates his goal Sunday night.

The Fire’s CJ Sapong celebrates his goal Sunday night.

Courtesy of the Fire

Like other sports teams in 2020, the Fire have to focus on avoiding COVID-19 while doing their job.

The importance of both isn’t lost on the Fire, who beat woeful D.C. United 2-1 on Sunday night thanks to first-half goals from CJ Sapong and Boris Sekulic. The result moves the Fire into ninth place in the Eastern Conference, which will send 10 teams to this year’s playoffs.

“It was a very, very tough game,” Fire coach Raphael Wicky said. “I expected it not to be very pretty, and that’s why I’m very happy with the result and with the way the team fought themselves into the game and fought until the end. These are important games to win.”

The Fire are dealing with another important opponent.

The coronavirus isn’t in decline. Beyond the recent developments in the White House and the world at large, COVID-19 continues to alter the sports landscape. The NFL schedule has been ripped up, and the MLB playoffs are being played in neutral-site bubbles to follow the lead of the NBA, NHL and WNBA.

In MLS, the Colorado Rapids haven’t played since Sept. 23. The Fire also have experienced the impact of the pandemic firsthand: They were forced to switch groups in the MLS is Back tournament after outbreaks sent Nashville SC and FC Dallas home, and they had a positive test of their own in August.

Unfortunately, that means the Fire have had numerous brushes with the pandemic and are aware of how to handle it properly. The warnings haven’t fallen on deaf ears, and Wicky said reminders are needed frequently.

“Everyone, including me, needs the reminders often [or] all the time because it’s human that sometimes you think, ‘OK, I’m hanging out with my family, I’m hanging out with my teammates, and I can be a little less [careful],’ but that’s not the case,” he said. “All of us need the reminder. We’re trying to do that. So far, we were very disciplined, and we’re lucky, but it’s something we have to get used to.

“It’s not, OK, we have to do it for two more weeks, for three more weeks. Right now, it’s the normal life, and we have to be disciplined and take this virus [seriously]. So far, the team is good.”

Questions also have been raised about the Fire’s game Wednesday at Minnesota United after United’s game Sunday was postponed following positive tests by two MNUFC players. The Fire-Minnesota United game is still scheduled, and MNUFC is due to be tested again Monday and Tuesday.

Sekulic, whose goal was his first with the Fire (5-8-4, 19 points), echoed Wicky’s comments about the pandemic. The topic is discussed with the coaching staff and the club’s medical team, and the message is clear.

“We need all the players,” Sekulic said. “We were lucky that we didn’t have some big problems in our team, and I hope that it will stay like this until the end.”

NOTES: The Fire made a series of lineup changes Sunday. Defender Wyatt Omsberg replaced captain Francisco Calvo (suspension for yellow-card accumulation) in the starting 11. Przemyslaw Frankowski, Sapong and Micheal Azira started instead of Ignacio Aliseda, Djordje Mihailovic and Brandt Bronico, respectively. Mihailovic and Bronico were not medically cleared.

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