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Match Recap: Chicago Fire beat the Philadelphia Union 1-0 in windy Florida friendly

Fans got their first look at the 2017 Union as they laced up against the Fire in a friendly matinee.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

The Chicago Fire brought the wind with them and swept away the Union with a 1-0 victory in Florida. The lone goal came in the 56th minute when a cross by Nemanja Nikolic found the head of Michael de Leeuw. John McCarthy was able to swat away the close range attempt but de Leeuw followed up with an easy goal. The Union had more attempts at the target on the day but failed to challenge the keeper as Chicago locked down the defense late and came up with the win.

The Union starting lineup was a mix of expected starters and top backups, in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation:

Both teams tested out high pressure in the opening minutes and due to the wind teams were reticent to avert the pressure with long passes, resulting in a battle in the middle third. Things opened up around the 15th minute. A poor dummy by Alejandro Bedoya resulted in a breakaway for the Fire, but an easy goal by Nikolic was called offside. The Union might have had the better of the play the rest of the half, but neither side really threatened.

The story of the first half was the first glimpse of Jay Simpson, who showed flashes of a new look at the forward position this year. On multiple occasions he showed the ability in the box to create space with the ball and a willingness to take chances. He also dropped deep and was the target on a number of pushes forward.

The second half was a revolving door of subs, most of which transpired at the 62nd minute. Here's how the lineup finished:

For my money, Marcus Epps showed the best in the half, especially for a rookie. He showed a strong cutback move to the left and was otherwise disruptive on offense and defense. Adam Najem and Derrick Jones also looked solid with their moments on the ball.

Here are a few overall observations on the match from myself and the staff:

  • It was very windy, blowing across the pitch from left to right.
  • It was good to see the Union play soccer again!
  • Ilson Jr and Keegan Rosenberry had good interplay on the right in the first half - sometimes with Bedoya - and most of the chances came from that trio.
  • Fabian Herbers and Fabinho failed to create much on the left side.
  • Simpson showed a wide range of skills even though his three first half shots missed the target.
  • We might see a lot more of the Oguchi Onyewu / Richie Marquez partnership then we could have imagined a week ago.
  • John Rossi: Aside from that dummy that nearly led to a Chicago goal in the first half, Bedoya's passing was very good.
  • John Rossi: Herbers looked strong and confident on the ball in the first half. On the other side of the field, Ilson Jr seems fit, which should be very scary to the rest of the league. Only one will start, but they both impressed today.
  • John Rossi: Simpson's got a nice shot on him and he seems adept at getting into dangerous positions. Sapong's major deficiency was his refusal to even try to get behind the opposing defense. It's refreshing to have a forward who is willing to toe the line and get on the ball in the box.
  • Eugene Rupinski: The Union look better than they did in last year's preseason. You can tell the talent is there, but there were plenty of times balls were sent to where someone should have been but wasn't and timing was just off. If they look like this next month it'll be concerning. Right now it's par for the course.
  • Eugene Rupinski: I have a feeling we will see much more of the intricate one-touch passing we saw at times from the Union last season.
  • John Rossi: I'll give him a slight pass because it's only February 9th, but Creavalle's passing was atrocious. This isn't a revelation, but if an injury presses him into service I fear for what it will mean for the entire team. With Edu's injury history and a lack of natural defensive midfielders, Creavalle will probably earn a non-zero number of starts, which is way too many. This was clear before today, but watching him squander move after move in the first half made me pray for Mo Edu's legs.
  • Colin Campbell: The standouts for me as far as newcomers go are Simpson and Epps. Simpson was able to get in behind defensive lines and make an attempt on goal and had some close shots. Epps played really well, came back for balls that he had to and had a brilliant 2v1 at one point to set up a cross. Obviously this team is still training and gelling, it's only February 9th. I'm really optimistic about this team, it feels like they have all the right parts.