As we come to the start of August, I feel strangely good about the Fire, but I feel bad that I feel good. I agreed almost completely with everything Patrick McCraney’s editorial said (The running out of patience post is almost a rite of passage for Hot Time staff. I think my version of the article was in 2015, congratulations on reaching this milestone, Patrick) However, I still feel good about the way this team plays. Maybe it’s because they show that they can play attractive and sometimes beautiful football often enough that we know that if they can get it right at center back or striker, the engine room is capable of winning trophies. Their central midfield talent is truly some of the league's best. Luka Stojanovic would start anywhere in the league. Álvaro Medrán is playing like he knows Luka is right behind him, ready to take his spot. And Gastón Giménez is confident and comfortable in his role.
Maybe it’s fatigue at being angry all the time or Stockholm Syndrome of some time. Maybe everything I just said is an illusion. But I don’t think so. There’s enough here quality here to not give up hope. The hard part is trusting everyone around the players to step up and recognize what is and isn’t working.
That’s the struggle.
Chicago Fire all-time MLS record vs Philadelphia Union: 9W-6D-12L, 40 GF / 44 GA, 32 pts out of 75
Chicago Fire away MLS record vs Philidelphia Union: 0W-2D-4L, 16 GF / 24 GA, 2 pts out of 33
Philadelphia finds themselves on the struggle bus... for the Union. Since the chaotic 3-3 draw with the Fire in June, they’re 1-2-2 with the loss coming against Orlando City and Nashville and the win coming against DC United. They've been weak to quick combination play and direct attacking movements and can be had playing off the shoulder of both center-backs... if you can stay onside.
So, here’s the thing, aside from the botch in the opening two minutes, the defense largely played well against TFC. So I’m inclined to leave the lineup alone. The one concern I have is Wyatt Omsberg and where he is mentally. Sometimes he’s great and other times he’s making the mistake that gives up a goal, but I would want to avoid Francisco Calvo if he’s available after the Gold Cup because of his poor form, so Omsberg gets the start over him and Kapppelhof, who’s lost a step and is starting to look old.
In attack, while Fabian Herbers has been okay, I think Medrán, Giménez, and Frankowski are the midfield 3 that gives you the best opportunity to win. Alongside that, Chinonso Offor has been outperforming Robert Berić in half as many minutes, so he should get the start alongside Aliseda up top.
Keys To The Match
Watch For The Counter: Since the switch to the back 3, the Fire really hasn’t gotten beat by offensive sets. When they’re able to get set and have teams try to play possession football around them, they do a pretty good job. Where they get killed is when they’re made to run toward their own goal or after a turnover. They need to be better at preventing those kinds of things by either ending every offensive movement with a shot that goes out of play somewhere or by not committing too many resources forward on the attack.
The wingbacks need to play a bit more conservatively and not get caught upfield, or when up they need to repress once the possession changes teams to put pressure on the Philly defense so they can turn the ball back over like they were successful in doing to Toronto.
Finish Chances: The literal only reason they didn’t score more goals was Alex Bono had the best game of his life. Unfortunately, they might be facing one of the best goalkeepers in the league in Andre Blake if he’s back from the Gold Cup. They must get the ball past whoever the goalkeeper is on Sunday. Granted, they probably won’t generate as many shots off as they did against TFC, but even if they only get 13 or 14 shots, the good looks have to go into the back of the net. To paraphrase Ozzie Guillen, “You don’t score no goals, you don’t win the ballgame.”
How To Watch
If the Fire comes in and plays to their full potential, they’re going to win the game. The question is on whether or not that’s going to happen. Odds are they’ll play well and lose it a few times. I’m going to guess a 2-2 draw.