Match previews / Union

Preview: Philadelphia Union at Chicago Fire

Game time: Saturday, 8:30 p.m.

TV: 6ABC

Philadelphia Union (2-5-1) pay a visit to the Chicago Fire (2-3-4) on Saturday in the latest stop on the Union national tour, on which they play nine of their first 11 games on the road. They picked up their first road win last Saturday against Houston and come in with all sorts of momentum, as their attack clicked last week better than it has in their existence. Contributions from Shea Salinas and Danny Mwanga seem to have made this a new team, and there’s a lot of optimism going into Saturday’s match.

Meanwhile, Chicago is a team in flux that looks very different from the dominant squad of last year. They have lost several key starters who were among the best in Major League Soccer last year, including defender Gonzalo Segares, forward Chris Rolfe, goalkeeper Jon Busch, and midfielder Cuauhtémoc Blanco, the latter being the best success story of all the league’s designated players. The Fire have a new head coach in Carlos de los Cobos and several new starters, and the ride has been bumpy so far. The question is whether the Union will make it a little bumpier.

Probable starters

Philadelphia

Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz

Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Michael Orozco, Danny Califf, Cristian Arrieta

Midfielders: Fred, Stefani Miglioranzi, Kyle Nakazawa, Shea Salinas

Forwards: Sebastien Le Toux, Alejandro Moreno

Chicago

Goalkeeper: Andrew Dykstra

Defenders: Krzysztof Krol, Dasan Robinson, Wilman Conde, C.J. Brown

Midfielders:  Justin Mapp, Baggio Husidic, Peter Lowry, Julio Martinez

Forwards: Brian McBride, Collins John

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia: none

Chicago: OUT: FW Calen Carr (R quad strain); MF John Thorrington (L quad strain); DF Tim Ward (L calf strain); PROBABLE: DF C.J. Brown (bilateral quad soreness); FW Brian McBride (R groin strain).

Match-ups

Philadelphia defense vs. Chicago forwards

Chicago’s forwards should be their strength, but the attack is still coming together with so many key new components. Collins John is still settling in after arriving from Europe, but former U.S. international Brian McBride remains as steady as ever, with four goals so far this year. Most of the midfield starters are new, so they’ve yet to gel with the forwards in the same way that Blanco did.  Having McBride as the ultimate target man helps everyone.

The Union’s defense played their most mistake-free game of the season last week. Yes, they gave up two goals, but both were on set pieces. Center back Danny Califf ran the defense well, while  fellow center back Michael Orozco looked good alongside him. Left back Jordan Harvey has been the steadiest of the back five all season, and while he isn’t the attacking threat that right back Cristian Arrieta is, Harvey doesn’t get in the habit of giving up goals. As for Arrieta, he’s been shaky in recent games, but he continues to show moments of the spectacular that justify his place in the lineup. Add to that the fact that goalkeeper Chris Seitz is finally settling down, and you have a defense that is finally starting to look like it could eventually be as good as we thought it could.

Edge: Even

Philadelphia midfield vs. Chicago midfield

We’re not going to even mention Shea Salinas here. We’re not going to talk about how drastically the insertion of a pacy winger remade the Union attack. We won’t rehash the need for width, which was lacking without Salinas in the lineup due to the presence of four natural center midfielders in the four starting positions. In fact, we won’t even talk about Fred still not having taken a shot all season. We’ve said all that before. We’ll just say that … Stefani Miglioranzi and Kyle Nakazawa are looking decent in the holding midfield roles, with Nakazawa’s free kicks continuing to keep him in the lineup.

Chicago’s Justin Mapp has long been the guy to watch for Chicago on the left wing, tantalizing observers for years with his unfulfilled potential. He’s off the national team radar for now, but he still shows signs of being worth it now and again. The rest of the midfield is in flux. John Thorrington is injured and out for the game. Marco Pappa, with two goals and four assists this year, has somehow found his way to the bench. Instead, the Fire have been going with a couple of young guys that, to be honest, few outside Chicago know anything about. Julio Martinez is listed as a probable starter, but Mike Banner could get back on the field in his place. Will it matter? Maybe not.

Edge: Philadelphia

Philadelphia forwards vs.  Chicago defense

Sebastien Le Toux, Alejandro Moreno and Danny Mwanga are beginning to look like a solid trio for the Union. Moreno’s work rate hasn’t netted him goals, but it’s created them for his teammates. Le Toux continues to benefit with runs off Moreno’s passes, and he’s the league leaders in goals scored. Mwanga has his confidence running high after two game-winning stoppage time goals, and nothing helps a striker like confidence.

Chicago has one of the league’s best center back tandems in C.J. Brown and Wilman Conde, the latter of whom was an all-star last year. Whatever other changes have come to this team, they’ve been solid. Goalkeeper Andrew Dykstra has had some growing pains in his first season and is no Jon Busch. The fullbacks? Eh.

Edge: Even

Individual match-up to watch

Brian McBride vs. Danny Califf

McBride is as reliable as they come, and his strength and positioning will need to be matched by the Union’s bruising center back. Both are good in the air, and winning headers could determine the score. After all, both goals given up last week by the Union came off headers from set pieces.

What to expect

The Union attack is beginning to gel, and Salinas and Mwanga have made it more threatening for a full 90 minutes. Look for a close game that, again, could be determined by the Union’s defensive mistakes or lack thereof. Road games are tough though, and Toyota Park is one of the league’s best venues.

Prediction

The Union win 2-1.

One Comment

  1. Eli Pearlman-Storch says:

    UNION!!

    I hope Novak doesn’t get greedy and give Mwanga a start. Let him watch the first 45 and the work rate of moreno and le toux, and then once everyone’s tired, let him bang home a bunch of goals. It’s working, stick with it

    Is there any talk of the UNION filling out their roster any time soon? if any of our back 4 go down, we are screwed.

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