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The Waiting Was the Hardest Part: Chicago Fire vs. Philadelphia Union Preview

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After an extended break, the Chicago Fire return to the pitch to take on a new and improved Philadelphia Union side.

Bald Bro Nick LaBrocca keeps the Crew off his back during March 19's snorefest
Bald Bro Nick LaBrocca keeps the Crew off his back during March 19's snorefest
Matt Marton-USA TODAY Sports

After being on break last week (or last two weeks if you want to forget about that Columbus Crew snore-fest) the Chicago Fire return to the pitch today against the Philadelphia Union. The match at Toyota Park begins at 4 p.m. on CSN Chicago.

Lingering Questions:

How will the break impact the Men in Red?

Going into the break, the defense that entered this season with so many questions seemed to be clicking. The back four gave up only one goal in the past two matches, while keeping the chances for the opposition to less than ulcer-inducing levels. One can hope that the time off allows the unit to continue to gel.

Can the Fire’s offense show up without Accam?

Sadly, that defense will likely need to gel to give the club a chance, as the offense looked like a group who were confused on the basic ideas and principles of soccer. Against the Crew, the team managed four shots, with just one on goal. Our own Trevor Moore argued that it is not time to revolt about the offense, though patience may be a flickering thing if the offense continues to look toothless.

A lot of the offensive issues can be accredited to a lack of speedster David Accam. Unfortunately, head Coach Veljko Paunovic has said that Accam is doubtful for today’s game due to a lingering knee injury. Saturday could be another long, unfruitful day for the offense.

How much will Matt Polster be able to contribute?

The young defender has continued to be one of the bright spots for the Fire and has cemented his place as a key regular in the starting XI. He’s also made himself a regular for the U.S.A’s U-23, and this week was no vacation for him. Polster played all 90 minutes in both U-23 World Cup Qualifiers against Colombia. After thousands of miles of travel and playing a game in oppressive heat of South America, it’s tough to for any person to be able to recover in just a few short days. Polster has returned to camp, though it remains to be seen if Pauno will push him any further.

The Opponent:

Remember that preseason when the Fire went gangbusters through the competition to finish undefeated? Good times all around. Included in that glorious display of power was a high-offensive 4-2 takedown of the Philadelphia Union.

Just to highlight how meaningless the offseason is, the Union have followed their 2-2-2 preseason record by winning two of their three regular season matches. Those wins include a 2-1 result against the defending Eastern Conference champions at Columbus and a 3-0 blowout of playoff regulars New England Revolution. Their one loss was a respectable 2-0 result in the season opener in Frisco against MLS Cup favorites FC Dallas.

Their two wins could have asterisk placed next to them due to the Crew’s slow start and because the Union has a man advantage for most of the match against the Revolution. But for a club that has had a Fire-like run of irrelevancy, the Union will take the points.

Like the Fire, the Union have been in flux after several years of disappointment on the field and growing anger from fans. While still early, the building blocks have worked so far for embattled head Coach Jim Curtin.

After more than a year of the Union’s goalkeeping situation becoming a favorite running joke among MLS fans, Jamaican national Andre Blake has received praise from his teammates and coaches and locked down the goalkeeper position for the immediate future.

The rest of the club has been Curtin taking advantage of their hodgepodge of MLS veterans and youngsters where pressure seems to be water off a duck’s back. Speaking of pressure, it’s been the Union’s MO this season, as they’ve played a defensive style that absorbs pressure before hitting teams with an so-far effective attack in the final third. Even without Maurice Edu, the Union have pulled out three impressive results with a mixture of grit, determination and a bit of the old #DevilMagic.

When all else fails, the Union can bring on Sebastian Le Toux, a potential frontrunner if one were to poll Fire fans on their least-favorite players in the world.

Betting Line and Predictions:

Betbrain.com has the probabilities as follows: A 45 percent change for a Chicago Fire win, Philadelphia Union with a 27 percent chance of a win, and a 28 percent chance for a draw. Unlike that first preseason match against the Union, the Fire will be without David Accam. The Ghanaian scored a brace in that match, and his presence is likely to be sorely felt by the Fire. It’s a concern, but one cannot help but feel that the Union are more than the sum of their pieces and one wonders whether they can continue their early start. With three of the next four matches at home, it’s time for the Fire to reestablish Toyota Park as a fortress and start raking up some points.

As an eternal optimist, I think that starts today, and the Fire squeak by with a 1-0 win. What are your thoughts and predictions? Leave a comment below!