After some much needed rest and relaxation, the Chicago Fire return to action Saturday night against the Philadelphia Union at Toyota Park. Despite Veljko Paunovic’s midweek comments about the playoffs being the team’s ultimate goal this season, realists can just look forward to the Fire continuing to play an exciting, attacking style they have shown off sporadically in the past few weeks.
With nine points separating the Fire from the last playoff spot, the club may be better just aiming to play spoilers this weekend against a Philadelphia Union side that’s won three of their past four matches and looking for three points to launch them to the second seed in the conference standings. The match begins at 7:30 p.m. and airs on CSN Chicago Plus.
We’ve covered the Union twice already this season, yet the trade deadline saw Jim Curtin’s side add a few big names while parting ways with some familiar faces. The big acquisition was Nantes’ attacking midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who according to our friends at Brotherly Game, has helped to stabilize a position that’s been a weakness this season. Thankfully for the Fire, Bedoya is currently on national team duties with the USA and will not play Saturday.
The other big acquisition was New England’s Charlie Davies, who is still working his way back after missing several months and will likely be a late sub for tomorrow's action.
The Union have proven tough to contain, as their 47 goals scored in 27 matches can attest. A lot of credit for that goes toward the seasoned veterans on the team mixed with Curtin’s willingness to embrace the youth movement, with an assortment of players like Josh Yaro, Fabian Herbers, Andre Blake and Roland Alberg making a huge impact this season. In a story fitting for a city like Philly, the bunch of ragtag scrappers have come together and punched above their weight against all competition (prepare for more strained Rocky/boxing metaphors later). The Union’s high pressure style that keeps possession on the opponent’s side of the field should be no new surprise to a Fire team that ranks dead last in the league in possession. When they do concede possession, the recent backfield pairing of Yaro and Fabinho has shown a decent ability to prevent opponent’s from getting too many looks at goal, and Blake has continued to do his part to stabilize the Union’s goalkeeping position (luckily for the Fire, Blake is also on international duty and it will be John McCarthy getting his first regular season start this year).
To borrow a phrase from a friend, the Union have developed a bit of a bumslayer reputation this season, turning into Little Mac when they face weaker teams on the schedule before turning into Glass Joe once they face stiffer competition. The Union have just four wins in 14 matches against playoff teams from both leagues, with two of those wins coming against a mediocre DC United team clinging to the last spot in the east. Against everyone else, they’re 2-5-5 on the season.
Unfortunately for the Fire, having the fewest points in the league, by definition, makes one a bum.
Anyone with eyes could see during last week’s match against Montreal that the Fire desperately needed some rest after playing 3 matches in six days. The week off should do the team good, and they’ll be playing at home, where the Fire have not lost in 11 matches across all competition. In the Union, they’ll be facing a team not at full strength, but desperate to strengthen their playoff positioning ahead of a particularly brutal end of the schedule. Both teams should be pushing numbers forward as often as possible, and I’m seeing the teams leave out of Toyota Park with a 3-3 draw.
What are your thoughts and predictions? Leave a comment below?