For the 2nd time this season the Philadelphia Union travel to Toyota Park to take on the Chicago Fire (8:30 EST, CSN Philly, MLS Live). People will be dancing and smiling and men will be selling ice cream. Those of you that are old enough or old school enough to know the song reference can dig it. Yes you can.
There was little dancing or smiling by the Union in the first meeting. There was really just a big exhale. In April the Union relinquished a late lead when substitute Juan Luis Anangono tied the match in the 86th minute, and then escaped with a 2-2 draw when Zac MacMath saved a Mike Magee penalty kick. It was not a game for the faint of heart.
Now more than halfway through the season the Union and Fire are both looking to make a run to the playoffs. The Union, in 6th position, have a three point lead on the Fire with 22 points, but the Fire have three games in hand. It's vital the Union get the three points here as three points the other way would give the Fire a strong upper hand. A draw merely puts them at the mercy of the Fire's future fixtures.
Who Wants the Ball?
Since Jim Curtin has taken the helm, the Union have shown actual distaste for ball possession. And it's working well. In all four MLS matches the Union have possessed the ball 43% or less of the time but have still come away with 7 points. The Union possessed the ball just 37% of the time against Colorado and for 75 minutes they looked the clearly better side. They continued to show that form against the Red Bulls despite possessing the ball just 40% of the match. The counter part of the new bunker and counter strategy has been effective as the Union have scored 10 goals in the 4 matches. However, the bunker part still needs some work. The Union have conceded 7 goals in the 4 matches and all of them have come while being tied or ahead, which are times when defense should be at its most intense.
The Fire play a similar brand of ball. They have possessed the ball just 44.6% this season and just 37% of the time in their last two matches. To get a clue about who will look to control the ball for this match we need to look just three matches back. The Fire took on Toronto FC, the pre-eminent counter attacking team in MLS. The Fire controlled the ball 62% of the time in that match at home and earned a 1-1 draw. Expect the Union to concede the ball for a 5th straight game and for the Fire to take it.
What to Expect from the Fire
The Fire boast last season's Most Valuable Player, Mike Magee. However, the magic has been lacking from the star forward this season as he has only put across 5 goals. The team has been scoring by committee with rookie standout Harrison Shipp leading the way with 6 goals (on just 23 shots) from the midfield.
That scoring committee does not include the defense, and the Union would be wise to keep it that way. A Fire defender has not scored a goal since March nor have they registered an assist since early May. The Union might be wise to force the defense to be the ones linking in the final offensive third as that has not been their strong suit.
The Fire defense, anchored by Bakary Soumare and John Kennedy Hurtado, will definitely concede goals. They have allowed 1.63 goals per match at home this year.
What to Expect from the Union
The Union just can't seem to get their A team all starting at once. Just when the red cards get cleared up, Cristian Maidana, the Union's most effective offensive weapon, goes down with a hamstring injury. Fred filled in admirably on Wednesday but doesn't provide the flair or precision going forward that Maidana does. Fred will likely get the start along with Cruz, Le Toux and Casey, who have been effective at the top of the formation.
Okugo and Lahoud come back from their red card suspensions against the Fire, but with Nogueira fit, expect Lahoud to return to the bench. Okugo and Nogueira will make for an interesting defensive midfield combination, one that can get forward, hold the ball and disrupt the opponent's possession. They could be the anchor to a great but very different midfield than the one the Union fans saw earlier in the season.
The defense was more sound without Fabinho against the Red Bulls. Expect Williams and Gaddis to stay at fullback and expect White and Edu to man the center of the defense. White took a small step backward in his second start so perhaps we see Curtin test out Berry, but my bet is that White gets another look.
Expect more of the same from the Union because it's working, and the Union need to keep the people talking and smiling.
Here's the expected lineup
Williams -- Edu -- White--Gaddis
The Union will continue their run of form and pull off a 2-1 win at Toyota Park and there will be
A real celebration
Waiting for us all
If we want it, really want it