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Match #21 Preview: Philadelphia Union Vs. Chicago Fire


Setting: Sunday, August 12 at PPL Park in Chester; kickoff scheduled for 7:08:00 PM Eastern

Broadcast Information: Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia (JP Dellacamera, Bob Rigby), with coverage beginning at 6:30 PM Eastern with a pre-game show, and SportsRadio 610 WIP (Tony Limarzi, Peter Pappas) / Galavisión nationally / ESPN Deportes 97.5 FM (Oscar Guzman) in Chicago / MLS Live, Direct Kick (Canada only; CSN Philadelphia feed)

Chicago's Record: 10-7-5 (35 points, fifth in East)

Chicago's Last Match: W, 2-1 vs. Toronto

Philadelphia vs. Chicago This Season: 0-1-0 (Philadelphia 0 @ Chicago 1 on March 24)

For the Chicago Perspective, Visit Hot Time In Old Town

A week after suffering defeat at the hands of the Montreal Impact, the Philadelphia Union face another team just above them in the standings, as they host the Chicago Fire at PPL Park tomorrow night. Entering play on Saturday, the Fire sit in the fifth and final postseason spot in the Eastern Conference, twelve points clear of the Union, who have playoff aspirations of their own, albeit having played two more matches than Philadelphia. It is Chicago that the Union have been gunning for over the last two months, since John Hackworth was promoted from his assistant position, and they have a chance to put a direct dent in their distance from the Fire in the standings. This is yet another "must-win" for the Union. They've been playing in "must-win" scenarios for about eight weeks now, but especially after a loss, Philadelphia really cannot afford to take less than three points against the team in the exact spot they're trying to chase.

For their part, the Fire are doing what they need to do to stay in playoff position. A 2-2-2 record in their last six isn't particularly staggering, but those two draws came on the road at Houston and San Jose, with the wins coming against Vancouver and Toronto. It's been a vast improvement in all ways for the Fire this season, who secured their tenth win last week -- something they haven't done since the 2009 season -- with twelve matches still to go in the regular season. The interesting thing when looking at the raw team statistics, though, is that the vastly improved record has come despite the team being on pace to score and concede roughly the same number of goals as last season. As the saying goes, timing is everything. And so is the ability to close out matches. Indeed, nine of their ten wins have been by one goal. The Fire have given up just three goals in the final fifteen minutes of their matches this season (compare that to nine for the Union). The Fire's ability to hold a lead has been strong and sustained throughout the entire season, with a record of 6-0-1 when scoring first and 4-0-1 when leading at the half. Their scoring is well distributed, too, though perhaps a little bit too much. Scoring has been something of an issue for Chicago, who, like the Union, are averaging just over one goal scored per match. Team leaders Marco Pappa (six goals, three assists) and Dominic Oduro (five goals, two assists) are the two to watch, though the latter is frustratingly prone to creating terrific chances only to miss the target in the end. Patrick Nyarko (two goals, four assists), who plays slightly withdrawn, is someone else to watch. Sean Johnson has had a somewhat inconsistent season in goal for the Fire, but has played well over the last couple of months. He's been someone to watch from a U.S. national team perspective since he got to MLS a couple of years ago, and continues to be one of the go-to young goalkeepers in the U.S. system.

The Union will be without top striker Jack McInerney due to the red card from last week in Montreal. McInerney's been the key for the Union over the last two months along with Michael Farfan, so his absence is hardly insignificant, but the starting slot left open by McInerney's suspension presents an opportunity for someone like Chandler Hoffman, now back from injury. Or perhaps the super-sub Antoine Hoppenot will get his second MLS start. Either way, without McInerney, John Hackworth has to hope that all systems are firing -- including someone like Sheanon Williams making runs up from right back -- otherwise it's going to be another frustrating 90 minutes for the Union, with few real chances created, and even fewer capitalized on. The midfield is going to need to provide better service than they did last week in Montreal, and if Freddy Adu gets another start a little bit in front of midfield, he's going to need to make better runs. Zac MacMath and the backline have continued to do their jobs just fine, and cannot let Pappa get behind them. Bakary Soumare continues to make it clear that he's ready to start, but a permanent central defender spot remains his to win, and Amobi Okugo's to lose, though he may get a start tomorrow evening if Carlos Valdes is on international duty.

Projected starters, injury reports, and assorted match notes after the jump...

Likely starters:

Philadelphia: MacMath; G. Farfan, Valdes/Soumare, Okugo, Williams; Carroll, Lahoud, M. Farfan; Adu, Pajoy, Hoppenot

Chicago: Johnson; Segares, Berry, Friedrich, Anibaba; Pardo, Pause; Rolfe, Pappa, Nyarko; Oduro

Injury updates:

For Philadelphia, Krystian Witkowski remains out due to concussion symptoms. Antoine Hoppenot is "questionable" due to a nasal bone fracture suffered from Nelson Rivas's headbutt last week in Montreal, but by all indications will be available. Michael Farfan (left foot contusion) and Jimmy McLaughlin (left shoulder sprain) are also "questionable". Bakary Soumare (right knee menisectomy recovery) is "probable". Jack McInerney is unavailable due to red card suspension, and Carlos Valdes, Gabriel Gomez, and Keon Daniel may or may not be available for the Union. All three have been officially called up by their respective national teams, but the travel plans for them are at this point unclear.

For Chicago, Cory Gibbs (right knee meniscus repair) is unavailable.

Of note:

  • Fotis Bazakos is listed as tomorrow's match referee. In just seven career MLS matches, the brother of fellow MLS referee Elias Bakazos has called an average of 23.7 fouls per match, handed out an average of 1.9 yellow cards per match, has yet to give a red card, and has awarded two penalty kicks.
  • Gabriel Gomez, Michael Farfan, Dan Gargan, and Gonzalo Segares are one yellow card away from receiving automatic one-match disciplinary suspensions for yellow card accumulation.
  • Fire designated player Sherjill MacDonald is slowly being worked into the system, making his home debut last week against Toronto. There's a chance McDonald will start, but even by his own admission, his fitness isn't at a good enough level to sustain him for more than 45 minutes or so. If he doesn't get a start, look for the Dutch striker to come on as a second half sub.
  • Marco Pappa recorded seven shots last week against Toronto, a team high for 2012. As a team, the Fire recorded 22 shots, also a season high.
  • Philadelphia native and Chestnut Hill Academy graduate Dan Gargan traveled with the Fire to Philadelphia. He's been bugged by injury all season, but has been playing through the pain. He didn't start last week against Toronto, and is not a lock to play tomorrow, but hopefully he can see some minutes tomorrow.
The Union have another "must-win" in front of them, while the Fire go for their fourth road win of the season. If you're heading down to PPL Park tomorrow night, enjoy the match, otherwise, we hope you can join us for a gamethread!