Match previews / Union

Preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Chicago Fire

Game time: Saturday, 6 p.m.

TV: Fox Soccer Channel

Two of Major League Soccer’s most maddening teams face off Saturday when the Chicago Fire visit Philadelphia Union.

Chicago (6-7-8) is one of the league’s most talented teams, and they’ve only gotten more talented with the midseason acquisitions of Nery Castillo, Freddie Ljungberg and Gonzalo Segares. They have enough good midfielders to fill two starting lineups. Yet they made the stunning decision to jettison their starting goalkeeper right before opening day, and after a slow start, the team’s new acquisitions are still gelling. On paper, they should be one of the league’s best teams, like they were last year. In reality, they’re still figuring each other out and fighting for the 8th and final playoff spot.

The Union (5-11-6) are on a three-game unbeaten streak (counting a friendly win), but they come in with a sense of lingering frustration after one of their best defensive efforts of the year was wasted when goalkeeper Chris Seitz let in a soft goal on a routine free kick. They remain the league’s only team without a clean sheet and are on track to set a record for futility in that regard, and after last week’s otherwise strong defensive effort, the calls for Seitz’s replacement have become too loud (and justified) to ignore anymore. Making matters worse, the Union have several starters banged up and potentially out for the game. On the flip side, midfielder Justin Mapp has been in fine form, and in Chicago, he’ll face the team that traded him earlier this year.

If you’re not sure about attending this game, take note that this could be one of the year’s most entertaining at PPL Park– provided it’s nothing like the last time they played. Chicago has too much talent to ignore, and as a bonus, you get to see Brian McBride play the only game he’ll ever play in Chester.

Probable starters


Goalkeeper: Chris Seitz

Defenders: Jordan Harvey, Juan Diego Gonzalez, Danny Califf, Michael Orozco Fiscal

Midfielders: Justin Mapp, Stefani Miglioranzi, Amobi Okugo, Shea Salinas

Forwards: Danny Mwanga, Sebastien Le Toux


Goalkeeper: Sean Johnson

Defenders: Gonzalo Segares, Wilman Conde, C.J. Brown, Steven Kinney

Midfielders: Patrick Nyarko, Freddie Ljungberg, John Thorrington, Marco Pappa, Nery Castillo

Forwards: Brian McBride

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia: OUT: DF Toni Stahl (R ankle strain); DOUBTFUL: DF Juan Diego González (L groin strain); DF Michael Orozco Fiscal (L hamstring strain); MF Eduardo Coudet (R calf strain); QUESTIONABLE: MF Andrew Jacobson (R foot contusion); PROBABLE: DF Shea Salinas (L fibula fracture); MF Fred (R groin strain).

Chicago: None reported.


Philadelphia defense vs. Chicago attackers

At this point, it’s all on Seitz, unless Union manager Peter Nowak says enough with that and puts in backup Brad Knighton. The whole back line played well last week, a marked change from a recent stretch that had seen fullbacks Jordan Harvey and Michael Orozco Fiscal struggle. Both fared well, as did center backs Juan Diego Gonzalez and Danny Califf. Califf took a lot of heat for a miscue that cost a goal against D.C. United, but he’s been excellent for most of the year. Gonzalez has been a solid partner since signing this summer. However, both he and Orozco are listed as questionable with injuries. Cristian Arrieta and Shea Salinas could replace them.

For Chicago, McBride is the big name, but his effectiveness has faded in this, his last season. He has four goals this year. To some degree, it’s not all his fault, as Chicago has played some 4-5-1 this year and has parked the bus at times in front of goal, playing 10 men behind the ball and doing little else. Collins John was supposed to be a big addition for this team, but he’s only gotten seven starts, with three goals to his name. Nery Castillo could start at forward or on the wing. It’s clear head coach Carlos de los Cobos is still figuring out where to fit all the pieces, as can be seen by the unit’s flipping between formations. (It’ll probably be a 4-5-1 this weekend that plays like a 4-2-3-1.) If they ever get it right, this team could be dangerous.

Edge: Even

Philadelphia midfield vs. Chicago midfield

Your guess is as good as mine for who starts in either midfield.

Chicago has so many talented midfielders that they can’t all fit on the pitch at once. Ljungberg has been good since coming over from Seattle, so expect him to start. Marco Pappa has been one of the league’s best this season, and he should play on the wing. John Thorrington was this team’s glue last year, and now he’s finally back after missing most of the year with an injury. Logan Pause and Baggio Husidic have been starting all year, as has super quick Patrick Nyarko, who gave the Union fits on the left wing the last time they played, at least until Salinas replaced Cristian Arrieta there in the second half and shut Nyarko down. But now the midfield’s packed.

Philadelphia remains a team with too many holding midfielders and not enough who can attack, but they get one of the latter back this weekend as Salinas could return from a fractured fibula. Salinas is unlikely to start — and if he does, it could be at right back — but he’s listed as probable and should play. Mapp has been terrific lately, easily the Union’s most dangerous midfielder. Amobi Okugo started last week and played well, and Stefani Miglioranzi is likely to start at holding midfield as well. Eduardo Coudet has been injured since he was taken out in the New England game, and he may not play. Likewise, Andrew Jacobson is also on the injury report. Roger Torres could get a start after playing well since his own return from injury.

Edge: Chicago

Philadelphia attackers vs. Chicago defense

Sebastien Le Toux is awesome. Danny Mwanga is awesome sometimes. Jack McInerney is awesome when he plays, which isn’t enough. Alejandro Moreno was awesome until he got hurt early this year and has been subpar since. They get no service when Nowak plays too many holding midfielders at once, which he does nearly every game. That pretty much sums up the Union attack.

Chicago’s been bolstered by the return of Gonzalo Segares, who was one of the league’s best left backs before leaving for the Cyprus league earlier this year. Now he’s back, and it makes this back line very good again. Wilman Conde is an excellent center back, and C.J. Brown is a good partner. Rookie Steven Kinney has been starting at right back lately, and I won’t pretend to know anything of value about him. Rookie goalie Sean Johnson has been playing well since replacing fellow youngster Andrew Dykstra in goal, but he’s still a rookie.

Edge: Even

Individual match-up to watch

Shea Salinas vs. the bench

Yeah, aren’t we clever … But with the Union’s injury list stacked, we really want to see him return to play.


2-2 draw. But honestly, I have no clue how this one’s going to play out because we don’t know who will actually play. We have no idea what the starting midfields for either team will look like, and half the Union back line is injured.

(Photo: Nicolae Stoian)


  1. Terrible news to see Fred is probably…

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