HTitOT: The addition of Maurice Edu has clearly made the Union very difficult to play against - how has he changed things, in your eyes?
tBG: Edu has been a godsend - a real stabilizing force in the midfield. Last season, the Union's midfield was atrocious. This year, that weakness has become a strength with the addition of Edu, ex- Sochaux captain Vincent Noguiera, and ex-Atlante and ex-Rangers (Argentina) midfielder Cristian Maidana. These three - and Edu especially - bring an air of leadership and experience that benefits the club as a whole - not just the midfield.
HTitOT: Under Hackworth, Philadelphia have always been organized, but tend to lack a creative spark going forward. Who in a Union kit is most likely to provide ideas to crack a cohesive defense?
tBG: The Union will live and die by the ability of the midfield to get service to Jack McInerney. They have four very dangerous starters in Noguiera, Maidana, Edu, and Sebastien Le Toux as well as Leo Fernandes, who has been primarily used as a sub. If I were Frank Yallop, I'd tell the Fire defense to focus mostly on Edu, since Hackworth likes using a deep lying midfielder as the pivot for the offense. Don't lose sight of the others though - they can all burn a defender if they aren't vigilant.
HTitOT: How's Austin Berry doing? We were all sad to see him go.
tBG: Berry has been great for us when he's played. He did pick up an injury during the home opener against New England Revolution, so he hasn't played in the past few matches. Aaron Wheeler - a converted forward - has been serviceable in Berry's absence, and there is speculation that he might replace Berry as Hackworth's preferred starter at center back. I think most fans are eagerly awaiting Berry's return to the Starting XI though.
Starting XI prediction (4-2-3-1): Zac MacMath; Fabinho, Amobi Okugo, Aaron Wheeler, Ray Gaddis; Brian Carroll, Maurice Edu; Cristian Maidana, Vincent Noguiera, Sebastien Le Toux; Jack McInerney
Game prediction: The Union haven't been in the best form lately, but then again neither have the Fire. The Union have historically matched up well against Chicago, so I think they'll get the points with a 2-1 win.
And they ask us ...
tBG: Chicago has started the season a rather shocking 0-1-3. What is the reason for the slow start?
HTitOT: Obviously, there's been a bit of a transition to Yallop's way of playing, and it's not gone perfectly smoothly. The opener against Chivas was moribund until the insertion of Benji Joya and Quincy Amarikwa woke the team up. The next two games were draws in which the Fire had the better of play - a familiar scenario for Philadelphia supporters under Hackworth! In short, the play has been better than the results. We are trying to remember this is a long season.
tBG: When the Union had Bakary Soumare, he played in only a handful of games - ostensibly due to injuries. How has he been for Chicago since returning to the Fire lineup?
HTitOT: Frank Yallop is a big believer in Bakary Soumare. The giant Malian, freed from worry by the tracking work of center back partner Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, is encouraged to rove forward aggressively, especially against modern single-striker sets. He's looked a different player in 2014. In fact, it was likely his imperious form in preseason which made Austin Berry expendable once the Fire felt the salary cap pinch.
tBG: Union fans are all familiar with Mike Magee, Baky Soumare, and Sean Johnson. Who else should we be paying attention to, and why?
HTitOT: The big news for Fire fans in this early season is that the team is building through youth, so the new names-to-know on the Fire are also new to the league. Harrison Shipp is a Fire homegrown player who led Notre Dame to the College Cup last year; he's something a bit different in this league, a domestic trequartista, a schemer whose incisive service and clever use of space have added unpredictability to Chicago going forward. Benji Joya is a former USA U20 World Cup captain; he's seen time on the wings due to injuries, but his best position is as an all-action two-way central midfielder.
Starting XI prediction (4-4-2): Sean Johnson; Greg Cochrane, Bakary Soumare, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado, Lovel Palmer; Harrison Shipp, Jeff Larentowicz (c), Alex, Patrick Nyarko; Mike Magee, Quincy Amarikwa.
Game prediction: 2-1 Fire in a hard-fought, unlovely game.