Setting: Wednesday, October 3 at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill.; kickoff scheduled for 8:36:30 PM Eastern
Broadcast Information: The Comcast Network (JP Dellacamera, Bob Rigby), with coverage beginning at 8:00 PM Eastern with a pre-game show / NBC Chicago Nonstop (Dan Kelly, Evan Whitfield), ESPN Deportes Radio 97.5 (Oscar Guzman) in Chicago / MLS Direct Kick, MatchDay Live (NBC Chicago Nonstop feed)
Chicago's Record: 16-9-5 (53 points, third in East)
Chicago's Last MLS Match: L, 2-0 at Sporting KC
For the Chicago Perspective, Visit Hot Time In Old Town
Just five matches remain for the Philadelphia Union, and now, officially, none of them will matter. The team will miss the playoffs for the second time in its three year history. They continue to play a tough schedule, and find themselves in situations where they can play spoiler to playoff hopefuls and playoff probables. The Chicago Fire fall in the latter category, five points ahead of #6 Columbus with a match in hand on the two teams above them and three teams below them. It's a terrific position to be in: though they haven't mathematically secured a postseason spot, it's essentially sitting there for them, and they would have to absolutely collapse and have Columbus end the season on a tear to even be concerned about it. The Fire had a four match winning streak broken at Sporting Kansas City this past Friday, and have won seven of their last nine (7-2-0). They're absolutely going to want three points against Philadelphia tomorrow, however, with trips to New York and New England directly ahead and a date with D.C. United to finish the season.
For a team who has been on a remarkable tear and is all but assured a spot in the postseason, the Fire are really quite balanced in scoring. Chris Rolfe has eight goals and two assists, and Patrick Nyarko has three goals and seven assists, but everyone else has five goals or fewer and four assists or fewer. Dominic Oduro has burned Philadelphia a couple of times before, and it's interesting to watch whether the Fire coaching staff again decides to start the match with Oduro on the bench so he can come in as a supersub in the second half. Fire coach Frank Klopas will not be on the bench tomorrow; he was ejected on Friday in Kansas City and received a commensurate one-match suspension. Chicago will also be without the services of Gonzalo Segares, who also received a red card in second half stoppage time on Friday. The Fire don't really have a ton of defensive depth, so it could present something of a weak spot, but the consensus seems to be that Dan Gargan will probably slot over into the Segares's fullback spot.
When a team well out of playoff position is playing out the final portion of its schedule, there always seems to be a certain lack of continuity in terms of rhythm and flow. In April, May, and June, there was a blur of matches (generally ending poorly for Philadelphia) that all seemed to blend together. But these final matches in the 2012 season seem more like they're each in a vacuum. And that may not be such a bad thing, given the Union's frustration at a late, heartbreaking goal that shouldn't have counted. John Hackworth has to do what he can to ensure that his players remain positive, even in the face of adversity that, frankly, is pointless given the standings. Josue Martinez has been a bright spot for Philadelphia over the past few weeks, and even Roger Torres has gotten his chance, albeit a very small one. Martinez had been seen throughout most of this season as a long-term project, with tangible talent that was too raw to see playing time. Right now, Martinez is earning his playing time, which is probably the first good news of any kind that the Union front office has seen in a while.
Philadelphia: MacMath; Gaddis, Valdes, Okugo, Williams; Gomez, Carroll, Lahoud; McInerney, Hoppenot, Martinez
Chicago: Johnson; Gargan, Berry, Friedrich, Anibaba; Bone, Paladini, Pause, Fernandez; MacDonald, Rolfe
For Philadelphia, Bakary Soumare (right knee menisectomy recovery) and Krystian Witkowski (concussion symptoms) are unavailable. You have to feel for Witkowski, who appeared to finally be over his early season concussion, but has apparently had some symptoms return. Freddy Adu (left quad strain) is "doubtful". Gabriel Farfan (right ankle contusion and right hamstring strain) and Danny Cruz (left big toe sesamoid fracture) are "questionable". Keon Daniel (right knee contusion) and Michael Farfan (right foot contusion) are "probable".
- Abbey Okulaja is listed as tomorrow's match referee. In 116 career MLS matches, Okulaja has called an average of 26.6 fouls per match, handed out an average of 3.2 yellow cards per match, given a total of 19 red cards, and has awarded a total of 26 penalty kicks.
- Gabriel Gomez, Pavel Pardo, and Sheanon Williams are one yellow card away from receiving an automatic one-match disciplinary suspension for yellow card accumulation.
- For this installation of "this week in awkward moments", we take you to Toyota Park, where Fire will celebrate their 15th anniversary starting tomorrow night. Among those expected to be in attendance to see the Fire host the Union is one Peter Nowak. You know, the guy who was fired by Philadelphia in June, and then took the team to court? Here's a Chicago Fire promotional poster for tomorrow with Nowak on it. Yeah... umm...
- We've mentioned that Chicago is 7-2-0 in their last nine. It's probably important to note that both of those losses came on the road. In other words, Chicago's been unbeatable at home basically this entire season.
- To further back up this statement, Chicago is 11-2-2 at home this season. Out of a total of 45 possible home points, they have 35. Dominating.
- Some in Chicago have felt that the Fire's success in any given match can be determined by seeing who scores first. For Philadelphia, yes, there's an obvious correlation: the Union are 7-3-1 when scoring first, and a very poor 1-12-2 when conceding first. But the Fire are 9-0-1 when scoring first and a pretty impressive 7-9-2 when conceding first. Of course scoring first is better, but just because the Fire concede first doesn't mean they're out of it by any means.
- Despite all of their success over the last couple of months, the Fire have had real trouble shutting teams down. They haven't shut a team out in 11 matches. Even the Union are only four matches away from their last shutout (0-0 draw in New England). So, theoretically, the Union should be able to get their one goal tomorrow.
- Philadelphia's Zac MacMath faced a season-high eleven shots and made a season-high eight saves last week at Columbus.