The Philadelphia Union are in a good position in the Eastern Conference. They got their Gold Cup players back, they are in 4th place in the Eastern Conference, they are only two points out of first place and are four points ahead of sixth place, and are playing a team they have already beaten 1-0 twice this year.
But the Chicago Fire a bit of a changed team since the Union last played them. To talk about that more, I asked three questions to Sean Spence of Hot Time In Old Town. My questions and his answers are below. To read my answers to his questions, check out this post at Hot Time In Old Town
TBG: The Philadelphia Union played the Fire twice in a row in May and each time the Union won 1-0. What changes, if any, do you expect Frank Klopas to make heading into the 3rd match against the Union this season?
HTIOT: The Fire are a massively changed side since that pair of forlorn 1-0 losses. Of course you sold us Bakary Soumare, which stabilized our defensive line - since that match, we've started the same four defenders week-in, week-out, except for one game where our left back Gonzalo Segares was suspended. Soumare is the player you knew - physically imposing and proud, but prone to infuriating mental mistakes. The addition of Soumare moved Jalil Anibaba to right back, and while he's not a world-beater there, at least you don't have Wells Thompson to kick around any more.
We've also just signed an Ecuadorian striker, Juan Luis Anangono. If his paperwork goes through, expect to see at least a cameo from our latest No. 9.
Of course, the single biggest change in the team since late May is the addition of Mike Magee, about whom more below. Suffice to say the addition of Magee has made Chicago much more difficult to defend.
TBG: 2). Who would you say is the most valuable player on the Fire thus far this season?
HTIOT: If this Fire team makes the playoffs, it's hard to imagine a scenario where Mike Magee isn't a finalist for league MVP. I will go further: If Chicago makes the playoffs, Magee should win the award. Period.
Traded to a team in a total funk, Magee's passion, commitment and intelligence have worked a special bit of alchemy. Watch how Magee relates to his teammates on Saturday - his is the mind at the center of the motion, talking about runs, demanding responsibility, praising effort and skill. And he and Rolfe make a difficult pair to defend up top, as I wrote about a week ago.
As a Chicago kid who asked to come home, ‘Magic Mike' is one of the real feel-good stories in the league this year. He is our MVP.
TBG: 3). Where do you think the fire can best take advantage of the Union?
When the teams played earlier this year, you saw Patrick Nyarko starting as a forward - an experiment worth trying, since our Dutch DP striker apparently spent the offseason getting to know Chicago's vibrant restaurant culture. Tomorrow night you will see Nyarko in his preferred role, on the outside, probably torturing your left back all evening. Nyarko's bag of tricks is unconventional, and few MLS defenders can cope with him in his current form.
Sheanon Williams offers something going forward, and his long throws are epic. The way Nyarko is playing, though, he's going to have his hands full. And unlike last time - when striker-Nyarko was left with the task of trying to dribble through the entire defense - he'll have the runs of Magee and Rolfe to pick out, which is a much more comfortable fit for him.
TBG: Lastly, give me a projected Fire starting XI and a final score prediction.Ah, predictions. Good lord.
HTIOT: Score: Fire win this one 3-1. Goals for Rolfe (twice) and Magee; Jack Mac for the home guys.
Lineup prediction: I cannot see Frank Klopas altering his formula much at the moment; he, like Hackworth, seems to run the same lineup and tactic out there until long after it's clear it's not working - and that's not the case here. Chicago is playing fairly well and won't rock the boat, so ...
CF97 (4-4-2): Sean Johnson; Gonzalo Segares, Bakary Soumare, Austin Berry, Jalil Anibaba; Dilly Duka, Jeff Larentowicz, Daniel Paladini, Patrick Nyarko; Chris Rolfe, Mike Magee.
Subs: Paolo Tornaghi, Shaun Francis, Logan Pause, Alex, Joel Lindpere, Juan Luis Anangono, Quincy Amarikwa.
TBG: Thanks to Sean for taking the time out of his day to answer our questions. Make sure you check out Hot Time In Old Town for more on the Chicago Fire.