The Fire travel to Philadelphia for their first road match of the season, coming off a season-opening draw vs NYCFC last Saturday. Last week’s point came at a cost to the Fire, as the team lost three starters to injury, two of whom will be unavailable for this match. The Union are coming off of a loss to Inter Miami in their last league game and a midweek draw to Alianza FC in El Salvador in the CONCACAF Champions League.
For insight into what to expect from Philadelphia from a Union perspective, check out Alex Calabrese’s interview with Joe Lister from the Brotherly Game.
All time: 10-7-13, 43GF, 45GA, (37 pts out of 90)
Last Match: August 13 2022: Chicago Fire 1 – 4 Philadelphia Union at Subaru Park
The Union lost 2-0 in Ft. Lauderdale last Saturday to Inter Miami in their second game of the season before traveling to El Salvador midweek for a 0-0 draw against Alianza FC in their opening match of the CONCACAF Champions League. In their home opener against the Columbus Crew, the team won 4-1 in a game that was largely one-sided after the opening minutes.
Fabian Herbers came off the bench to score a game-tying goal and salvage a point for the Fire in their season opener at Soldier Field last week. New Fire addition Maren Haile-Selassie appeared to score in a goal that was ruled offside, but NYCFC also tested Spencer Richey and found the woodwork. One thing you can say for the Fire is that little if anything went according to plan in that match, as Fire Head Coach Ezra Hendrickson was forced to go to the bench in just the 14’ of the game, bringing on Mauricio Pineda for an injured Federico Navarro.
The Fire travel to Philadelphia looking to accomplish two things that haven’t happened since September 3, 2021: Hand the Union a regular-season defeat at home and a second consecutive loss. The Union – the league’s highest-scoring team in 2022 – will be looking to find their way to the back of the net after being shut out in two games across all competitions and return to winning in the midst of CONCACAF Champions League Competition.
The Union are scheduled to play four competitive matches in 10 days between last week’s loss to Inter Miami and next Tuesday’s second-leg match against Alianza FC. That is now a must-win game for the Union courtesy of the away-goals rule as a heavily-rotated squad was unable to score against the home team in El Salvador. With all of their starting XI returning from last season – a rarity in MLS, particularly for strong teams – the team has the weight of expectations on them after a heartbreaking MLS Cup loss to LAFC in the final seconds of extra time.
Subaru Park has been a fortress for the Union, who were undefeated throughout the 2022 MLS season in front of their home fans, and the team will be looking to continue that through 2023. The Fire were handed a lopsided defeat by the Union the last time they visited, but did manage to give the Union one of their 5 regular season losses when they visited Chicago, and managed a draw in their only visit to Chester, PA during the 2021 season.
The Fire currently have two former Union players in their roster in Kacper Przybyłko and Fabian Herbers, while longtime Union Head Coach Jim Curtin spent almost all of his playing career with the Fire, winning two US Open Cups and one Supporter’s Shield in the process.
Tactics and Projected Starting Lineups
Injury Report: All players available
Although Jim Curtin heavily rotated the his starting XI for their midweek game in El Salvador, four players – defenders Kai Wagner, Jack Elliot, Damion Lowe and GK Andre Blake – went the full 90 in both of the matches that the Union have played in the past week. Despite starting with a rotated squad, Curtin went to his bench and gave players like Dániel Gazdag, Alejandro Bedoya, and Julián Carranza minutes as he sought to secure the away win on Wednesday.
Expect all of those players to start on Saturday against the Fire, as Curtin will want to reestablish the team’s dominance at home. Expect all of those players above to start again on Saturday, as Curtin has often been a creature of habit and clearly believes in those players, with a hope to putting the match away early and letting him rest any tired legs before next Tuesday’s match.
The Union are tactically flexible – sometimes morphing the shape at halftime, or even in-game – but typically line up with a back four behind a midfield diamond with two strikers up top. The formation is alternatively listed as a 4-3-1-2 or a 4-1-2-1-2, and the team does show some variation both between matches and at different phases of the game. However it’s listed, the shape is defensively sound while also giving Philadelphia’s midfielders multiple passing options, and on attack and allows the Union to dominate through the center part of the pitch.
Out: Justin Reynolds, Federico Navarro; Jairo Torres
Expect Hendrickson to maintain the 4-2-3-1 against Philadelphia, even though injuries will force changes to the Starting XI. After his strong outing against NYCFC, Herbers has earned a start, and he should be motivated for another good performance against his former team, though he’s likely to feature in a defensive midfield role, replacing the injured Jairo Torres. Versatility is one way to ensure a long career in this league, this may be the next transition for Herbers, who came from Philadelphia as a striker before being utilized as a winger. Giménez may well come in as a planned sub in the second half as Hendrickson eases him back into minutes from injury and since Herbers’s game is strongest when he knows he won’t have to go 90.
Kei Kamara should get the start at striker – he changed the tone and tenor of the Fire offense when he came off the bench last matchday and Przybyłko did not have a strong outing last week – even given time, space, and multiple passing options, he was unable to generate a shot on target last Saturday. Hendrickson has confirmed that Brady will get his first start of the season.
While the Union have played well in their normal 4-3-1-2 shape, it sacrifices strength at the wings for the center of the pitch. While that means that Herbers and likely Pineda will likely have their hands full, it may give Muller and Gutiérrez space to attack on offense. The Fire’s best hope is for Shaqiri to do a great job giving them service out wide.
Fire Keys to Victory
- Defend with XI: The Fire were able to put together a number of clean sheets in front of Slonina last year by making defense an all-hands-on-deck affair. Adopting that approach in front of Brady is a must if the team expects a result against a team with the Union’s firepower, particularly in the middle of the pitch where the two defensive midfielders will have their hands full.
- Win battles wide: Philadelphia’s shape is strongest in the middle. The Fire have long believed that they’ve got talent and ability on the wings, and many Fire fans believe strongly in the talent of local products Chris Mueller and Brian Gutiérrez. They’ll have to have great games against Philly for the team to get chances.
- Great games from experienced talent: The Fire have two highly talented and experienced offensive players likely to start in Shaqiri and Kamara. For the team to get goals past the talented Andre Blake, both players will have to have very strong games and work to bring out the best in the younger players around them.
Alex Calabrese: I have a difficult time seeing the Fire winning this one on the road at one of the hardest places to play in the league. The Union tend to aggressively pack the midfield, and without Fede Navarro, I think the Fire will be dominated in the middle of the park.
Union 2-0 Fire
John Carrollo: “I just waited for the morning without doing anything, alone on my bed, while drinking a cup of soup.” The Fire bring out the stupid in Philly, but can you really see this going any other way without a complete collapse from the home team? Kamara bungles one in late.
Union 3-1 Fire
Christian Hirschboeck: Although Philly haven’t been perfect in their last two matches, that’s still two more games than we’ve played. That being said, Philly will hit the ground running, and it will be difficult to stop them given our injuries. I expect them to dominate most of the game, and if we do score, I believe that Philly will one-up us and score another shortly after because we are the Fire, after all.
Union 3-1 Fire
Tim Hotze: The Union have been the best team in the league the past few years in no small part because of how good they are at home. The Fire are short on starters, and the Union have far more games under their belt than the Fire at this point.
Union 3-1 Fire
Matt Shabelman: Cause Philly.
Union 2-1 Fire
Match Information and How to Watch
Date and Time: Saturday, March 11, 2023, 6:30 PM CT
Location: Subaru Park, Chester, PA
Forecast: 42’ expected at kick-off, with 67% humidity, winds NW at 9-17mph and 90% cloud cover and almost no chance of precipitation. Rain and possible snow expected in the morning, which could provide for slick conditions.
TV: MLS Season Pass on Apple TV