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Making Do: Chicago Fire vs Philadelphia Union, MLS Week 20 Preview

The Fire will be looking to get three points and a better position in the playoff race tonight against Philadelphia

MLS: Chicago Fire at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Through little fault of the players’, every game seems to feel more like a slog than the last. Even without the middling results that have left the Fire just on the wrong side of the red line in the Eastern Conference, things aren’t going great. Between the #Free101 protests, Aleksandar Katai’s contract limbo (which was only resolved today), and yet another major transfer target slipping through the club’s fingers, a seemingly inexorable malaise has fallen over this team and the fans. At this point it feels like making the playoffs won’t really fix anything— all the structural, institutional problems will still be here in November regardless of whether we’re still playing soccer or not.

But making the playoffs is still the team’s job. The Fire have to try and string enough points together between now and late October to get a postseason berth. The Union are rivals for one of those few remaining spots, so the team has to try and put a plan together to beat them. And we, the fans, have to give them whatever support we can muster. (Or are allowed to muster, given the circumstances.)

But it’s all starting to feel a bit beside the point now, isn’t it?

Chicago Fire all-time MLS record vs Philadelphia Union: 8W-5D-7L, 30 GF / 28 GA, 29 pts out of 60

Chicago Fire home MLS record vs Philadelphia Union: 6W-3D-2L, 16 GF / 11 GA, 21 pts out of 33

Previously On...

One win in their last three. And their last five, for that matter. We can take ‘em. But it’ll still require work.

Suggested Lineup

Sanchez; Corrales, Lillard, Campbell, Vincent; Schweinsteiger, McCarty, Bronico; Katai, Campos, Nikolic

As I’m writing this (late Tuesday night), Johan Kappelhof is listed as Questionable on the league injury report. The nature of the injury is unspecified, but is presumably related to the car crash he survived last week. I didn’t include him in my suggested lineup for this reason, but needless to say, if he’s fit and able to play he should be given the chance.

Keys To The Match

Score! First!: I know I keep beating this drum but the results speak for themselves. When the Fire score first, they tend to get points. They have to get that first goal early— a slow start can bite them in the arse, like it did against Vancouver and in too many other games this season. Come out swinging, grab the early lead, set the tone.

Louder For The People In The Back: There’s no gentle way to put this so I’ll just come out with it. The backline on Saturday? Was terrible. The absolute worst. Brandon Vincent spent half the game sprawled out on the turf, the centrerback pairing didn’t communicate, and the outside backs were frequently overwhelmed. This required Richard Sanchez to step up and perform some superheroics to keep the Fire in the game— which, uh, he could not manage. Sanchez has been steadily improving since his disastrous start to the season, but if your gameplan depends on him bailing you out, you’re gonna have a bad time. The defense needs to sort their shit out, and fast.

Dočkal Procedures: The Union haven’t been playing all that well this season, but when they have, midfielder Bořek Dočkal has usually been a big reason why. He scored a goal against us when Philly beat us in late May and tallied a brace in their last win, the 4-0 over Vancouver. So, dude’s a problem. The Fire are going to have to find ways to shut him down. If they can do that, they should at least manage to get on equal footing.

How To Watch

Television: N/A

Streaming: ESPN+

Final Thoughts

Can the Fire make up some ground in the playoff race? Let us know in the comments below!