The Chicago Fire came into Subaru Park on Saturday evening on a five-match unbeaten run that included wins over Charlotte, Vancouver, Seattle, and Toronto. Their scorching hot form was living up to their name. However, the Union were bound and determined not to let Chicago extend their streak of unbeaten matches – especially after they were beaten 1-0 by Chicago in the reverse fixture on June 29.
Early on, however, it looked like Chicago may jump on the Union just like they did at Soldier Field. In the early moments of the match, Fire midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri was fluid in his movement all over the pitch, especially on his favored left flank alongside forward Chris Mueller. In the match in June, Mueller and Shaqiri terrorized the Union’s backline all night before Mueller eventually dealt the fatal blow. And in the first 15 minutes of Saturday’s match, it seemed like a rerun of the two teams’ earlier match. Aside from a Mikael Uhre chance in the 9th minute, the Union were on the back foot.
Enter Daniel Gazdag. In the 16th minute, against the run of play, the Union went on a swift counterattack that saw Mikael Uhre ping a ball into the feet of Julian Carranza, who then slotted a through ball into the feet of Gazdag – and that’s when the magic began. The Hungarian talisman cut the ball back, leaving his defender on the floor in shambles, and then executed an exquisite chip over new Chelsea signing Gabriel “Gaga” Slonina’s right shoulder to put the Union in front early. Then, the flood gates opened. After Gazdag’s goal, the Union ramped up their pressure, and – following a Slonina mistake off of a corner – Jack Elliott displayed his soccer IQ as he tapped the Union into a 2-0 lead before the half.
To start the second half, the Union were again on the back foot. Chicago came out of the break firing, and in the 49th minute, Shaqiri and Mueller linked up to cut the Union lead to 2-1. Philadelphians were surely getting flashbacks of that late June night when the same connection dispatched them in Chicago. However, the difference between June 29 and this Saturday was the response of Jim Curtin’s men. Instead of falling into the Fire’s mind games of making chippy tackles and barking after the whistle, the Union went on the attack. And in the 53rd minute, Gazdag played a through ball into Mikael Uhre, who was stopped by Gaga Slonina, only for Julian Carranza to come into the fold and chip the ball into the back of the net to restore the Union’s two-goal lead.
Cory Burke came on late in the match and tacked on a fourth goal off of an Olivier Mbaizo assist to put the match to bed. Mbaizo was dangerous down the right wing all night, and had a few crosses earlier in the match that should have been slotted home.
But the real story of the night was the defensive adjustments Curtin made since the last match against Chicago. Implementing Jack McGlynn and Alejandro Bedoya a bit deeper in the midfield defensively closed down space for Shaqiri all night long. And while he was able to break free and slot an assist to Chris Mueller, Jim Curtin had to feel good about the defensive shift from his midfield.
The Union play next against FC Dallas on Wednesday, August 17, as they will try to extend their lead at the top of the Eastern Conference standings.