The Chicago Fire’s second match of the season against the Philadelphia Union is right around the corner! After an opening day draw against NYCFC, the Fire will travel to Chester to take on the defending Eastern Conference champions. To get to know the Fire’s opponent a little bit better, we spoke with Joe Lister, from Brotherly Game.
The Fire and the Union met twice last season, with each team claiming victory on home soil. How have the Union changed since their last meeting with the Fire, and how prepared are they to make another run to MLS Cup?
The nice thing about the 2022 offseason for Philly is that all of the players on its starting XI returned. The Union lost some bench pieces (Cory Burke being the most notable), but nothing completely game-changing. However, Philadelphia has added some depth. They’ve added Joaquin Torres and Andrés Perea to the attack and Damion Lowe to the backline, which has helped the team with the number of competitions that it’s facing (see: Champions League in San Salvador on Tuesday night).
Jim Curtin doesn’t like to use substitutes much, but he’ll have to this season. The nice thing is, he has a very nice bench that he can call upon when needed.
The Union have one win and one loss in MLS so far, defeating Columbus 4-1 but dropping a 2-0 loss in Miami. How did they look in those matches, and how will they approach this game against the Fire?
Shaky to start, that’s for sure. The Crew came out swinging on matchday one, controlling possession and looking like the much better side in the opening 15 minutes. However, all the credit to Jim Curtin in that matchup, he recognized the issue and switched the team around. By the second half, the game was going Philly’s way, and the rest is history.
The Miami loss was interesting. Of course, the second goal by Robert Taylor in that match was a stunner that was impossible for even Andre Blake to save. However, the first goal by Corentin Jean was more of a lapse in defense. I’m inclined to believe that the Union was already thinking ahead to its CCL bout with Alianza that would come in three days, but other than that, the loss was shocking. However, if there’s one thing that the Union has shown us in years past, it’s that losses don’t turn into skids.
Against the Fire, I feel that the Union will want to play a more aggressive game. Theoretically, if they can get a goal or two early, they can kill any chances that Chicago generates from there. The Union gave up goals when they allowed their previous opponents to control the match, the fastest way to three points is to kill any chance of that.
Philly had the quirk of playing a CONCACAF Champions League game in El Salvador on Tuesday. How will the midweek matchup at Cusclatlán impact the Union heading into the match?
Honestly, I think that the second leg against Alianza will impact the Union in MLS play much more than the first. Philadelphia rotated heavily (a difference in eight starters), so freshness isn’t really that much of a concern coming off the El Salvador trip. That being said, I do think that Curtin will rotate the squad a bit in preparation for the matchup at home against Alianza. After a 0-0 draw on the road, the Union will need to close things out at home, and it’ll want its best on the pitch to do so.
Jack Elliott and Kai Wagner have played all 270 minutes of the season this far, so you may want to look for them to get swapped out.
Which players should Fire fans keep a particular eye on this Saturday?
Obviously, Andre Blake is always a show-stopper in goal. On the attack, look out for Julián Carranza and Daniel Gazdag. They both have two goals on the season, and have looked decent to start (even if Gazdag was silent against Inter Miami). Fans can also look for Kai Wagner, if he plays. He went the full 90 minutes in San Salvador, and may be called to do so again against Chicago and Alianza in the second leg. The truth is, Wagner is so good and his replacement, Matt Real, is such a steep drop-off that Curtin is hesitant to take him out. Wagner’s endurance will be a key part of the match.