The Fire host the Philadelphia Union at Soldier Field on Saturday as they look for revenge against the team that handed them their only loss on the season. In the month since, the Fire have played well even if they’ve struggled to cash in on opportunities to get wins; while the Union have failed to win a MLS match, losing three times and drawing once as they’ve juggled MLS and CONCACAF Champions League play, including a game on Wednesday that saw the team roll out most of their best XI.
The Fire will look to continue their undefeated streak at home and show that their strong play against the Union a month ago was no fluke (while getting some revenge in the process), while the Union will look to get their season back on track against a Fire team that granted the team one of the two wins they’ve had this season.
All time: 10-7-14, 43GF, 46GA, (37 pts out of 93)
Last Match: March 11 2023: Chicago Fire 0 – 1 Philadelphia Union at Subaru Park
The Union battled Liga MX side Atlas to a 2-2 draw on Wednesday at Estadio Jalisco, advancing the team to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinal on goal differential. Outside of CONCACAF play, however, the team has struggled, losing to Cincinnati last week, drawing Sporting KC, and posting losses to Orlando and Montréal – due to a late tying goal by Chinoso Offor and a stoppage-time winner by Rommel Quioto as the Union were down to 10 men, in a game that in had echoes of the Union’s match against the Fire the week prior.
The Fire are undefeated since returning from Philadelphia, defeating Minnesota last week courtesy of a Kei Kamara brace in the first half. The team did concede a goal, halving their lead, but managed to hold on to the victory. Prior to that, the team had a 0-0 draw against DC, an away win against Inter Miami, and a draw against high-powered Cincinnati at home.
What a difference a month can make. When the Fire played the Union on March 11, the expectations were that the Union would pick up where they left off in 2022 and find themselves firmly affixed to at the top of the Eastern Conference standings, while the Fire were expected to struggle to get results. Since then, the Fire have been undefeated while the the Union have managed only a single draw alongside three losses.
The Union’s win against the Fire – their most recent MLS victory – came by the narrowest of margins, off of a 90’ goal while the Fire had been playing with 10 men for almost the entirety of the second half. Even though the Fire didn’t get the result they wanted, they played very well against the Union, controlling most of the play and getting the better chances while both teams were at full strength.
Tempers flared between the two teams in Chester, PA, as referee Guido Gonzales Jr. struggled to keep control of the match, with a total of 29 fouls and 11 cards shown between the two teams, so expect a heated battle.
Tactics and Projected Starting Lineups
Injury Report: All players available
Ex-Fire player and current Union Head Coach Jim Curtin has been switching his team’s tactics and formations in the month since they played the Fire, partly out of necessity as the team has had to balance league and regional play.
While it’s easy to say that the team’s results speak for themselves and they should return to the 4-1-2-1-2 they previously favored, tired legs and the need to manage minutes will likely force Curtin’s hand.
As such, don’t be surprised if some of the Union’s bigger names like Alejandro Bedoya, Dániel Gazdag, and Julián Carranza aren’t in their starting XI, though Curtin will likely call them off the bench if needed.
The Union have largely relied on their starting defenders through both league and CCL matches
, something they’ll likely continue against the Fire. That makes a formation like a 5-3-2 –not too dissimilar to what the Fire rolled out in Philadelphia – a strong possibility for the Union, giving the team defensive shape while giving the team plenty of passing options through the midfield, giving the team the opportunity to control possession (great for tired legs), and push up on the attack quickly (not great for tired legs, but a good way to get goals).
Out: Victor Bezerra
Questionable: Xherdan Shaqiri, Jairo Torres, Federico Navarro
A day of reckoning is coming for Ezra Hendrickson’s lineup, as he’ll soon have to decide what to do with a fully healthy lineup, trying to find a way to integrate Xherdan Shaqiri, the league’s second-highest-paid player into the XI while Brian Gutiérrez has played extremely well in the spot Shaqiri vacated. That day, however, may very well be a week off: Although Shaqiri and Jairo Torres will likely be available, both have been injury-prone, and Hendrickson will likely want to ease them back before committing them as starters.
Even though the team rolled out a 3-5-2 against the Union last time, don’t expect a repeat of that formation; instead, Hendrickson will likely keep the team in a 4-2-3-1: The attacking midfield trio of Mueller, Gutiérrez, and Haile-Selassie have played too well together to break up, and it’s hard to see how they can be accommodated in a 5-3-2 unless playing someone wildly out of position. What’s more, since that match against Philadelphia, Kamara has emerged as a reliable target striker, and the team now has another credible backup available off the bench in Georgios Koutsias.
If he’s available, Federico Navarro should start alongside Gaston Giménez in the defensive midfield – which has the notable side benefit of keeping Fabian Herbers on the bench to start after he drew two yellows in the last match against Philadelphia, forcing the Fire to play down a man for most of the second half.
Miguel Ángel Navarro, Rafael Czichos, Carlos Terán, and Arnaud Souquet should all start on the back line ahead of Chris Brady. With Shaqiri and Torres likely available off the bench and five subs available, the team has ample opportunity to adjust players or tactics if needed, and even though the FIre will likely start off in their traditional 4-2-3-1, don’t be surprised if they end the match in a different shape.
Fire Keys to Victory
- Keep cool heads: The match in Philadelphia was a disciplinary nightmare for the Fire, with the team receiving six yellow cards and closing the game out down to 9 men. Some of this was down to a referee that seemed disinterested in controlling tensions on both sides, but the Union may well try to bait the Fire into poor decisions. They simply can’t let that happen, and the team would do well to remember – if they’re trying to serve up revenge, they need to keep cool heads.
- Make ‘em run: Even though the Union have one of the deeper benches in MLS, they’ve relied extensively on the same defenders and their attacking players have all played a ton of minutes in the past month. If the Fire can control possession and make the Union run, they should be able to take advantage of a fatigued Union team.
- Keep Blake Busy: Andre Blake has been one of the best showstoppers in the league for years. His positioning is typically excellent and he’s athletic. The best counter to that is to simply get more shots on target to keep him busy, as even if a shot doesn’t go in, it can result in second chances that just might.
The Union are focused on CCL, and following an impressive but taxing result in Guadalajara, they will have a bit of a hangover. With Navarro back, the Fire will be much more secure in midfield and will find a way to win.
Prediction: Fire 1-0 Union
“This is what you get. This is what you get when you mess with us.” Normally I’d be incredibly pessimistic about a game like this, but Philly just put a lot into their CCL game, Kamara and Guti are working really well together with help on the way in the midfield, and we’re hearing guys like Brady talking about “revenge”. We’re gonna have some of the same issues as before, I’m not sure if they actually will hold a clean sheet, but I want to bet on a win this week.
Prediction: Fire 3-0 Union
The Fire continue their run of form and redeem themselves after the disappointing loss to Philly in March.
Prediction: Fire 2-1 Union
Philadelphia have been a dysfunctional version of their past self, and are putting a clear emphasis on the CCL. With the Fire seemingly getting in some kind of groove, it is highly possible the Fire take three points from Philadelphia that they should have gotten earlier in the season.
Prediction: Fire 2-0 Union
Blake is good but the Union will be tired and are clearly focused more on the Champions League than they are on MLS play at this point. For the first time in a long time, the Fire have players clicking on offense and good options on the bench.
Prediction: Fire 2-0 Union
Trap game we’re gonna lose.
Prediction: Fire 0-2 Union
Match Information and How to Watch
Date and Time: Saturday, April 15, 2023, 7:30PM CT
Location: Soldier Field, Chicago, IL
Forecast: 66’ expected at kick-off, with 85% humidity, winds S at 12-18mph and 80% cloud cover with a slight chance of precipitation.
TV: Apple TV – MLS Season Pass