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Preview: Philadelphia Union at Chicago Fire

Photo: Daniel Gajdamowicz

Game time: Wednesday, 9:00pm ET

TV: Comcast SportsNet

This midweek fixture could not come at a better time for a Union team desperately trying to put a poor showing against Colorado—their first home loss of the season—in the rear view mirror. In a struggling and unfocused Chicago Fire, they have found the perfect opportunity to come away with a valuable three points on the road.

The signing of 35-year-old-Mexican midfielder Pavel Pardo has been the talk of the Windy City and both Pardo and fellow new signing Sebastian Grazzini are reported to be making their debuts tonight. The question is whether either of them starts—Pardo admits to not feeling ready to play as he has not seen action since the close of the Mexican Primera and the only time Grazzini has had since the conclusion of the Argentinian Primera is 35 minutes in the Fire’s recent friendly against Manchester United. The move to include both players smacks of desperation from the struggling Fire, but, starting or not, the Union will do well to negate the experience both bring by challenging their lack of fitness and familiarity with their teammates. Especially considering that Marco Pappa is likely to be excluded from Frank Klopas’ starting XI.

Regardless of who plays in the middle of the Fire’s midfield, this will be no simple task for the Union, who swap Colorado’s Omar Cummings and Sanna Nyassi for the similarly speedy pair of Dominic Oduro and Patrick Nyarko. With Sheanon Williams suspended for the trip to Chicago, the Farfan brothers will man the outside back positions and their defensive abilities will receive a thorough examination.

The misfiring Union attack could receive a boost if Roger Torres earns a spot in the starting lineup. With Kyle Nakazawa out of form, the time is right for Peter Nowak to call on Torres following impressive showings against Everton and Real Madrid before nearly single-handedly pulling the Union back against Colorado this past Friday. Chicago’s lack of a top-notch midfield creator should allow Brian Carroll to comfortably boss the middle of the field, leaving the confident, in-form Torres to carve open a Chicago defense that will be missing regular centerback Yamith Cuesta due to red card suspension. Klopas has two options: Croatian Josip Mikulic, who has made only seven appearances this season, or new signing Dan Gargan, who just joined the club from Toronto. Whatever the choice, the veteran Corey Gibbs will be expected to shoulder the responsibility to help out and clean up.

With the much publicized departure of Carlos Ruiz, all eyes will be firmly set on Danny Mwanga and Sebastien Le Toux, with Union fans hoping that they can rediscover the chemistry that led to a combined 21 goals and 15 assists in 2010.

Key Matchups

Michael Farfan vs. Patrick Nyarko

Nyarko is lightning quick, but there is a reason that he still has not scored this season. Michael Farfan must join the attack early and often, taking the game to him at every opportunity. If the Union man can become a part of the offense and pin Nyarko back, Chicago will struggle to get anything out of their left winger, because unlike Cummings or Nyassi who have excellent creativity and skill on the ball, Nyarko’s influence begins and ends with his ability to use his speed to get in behind a defense.

Sebastien Le Toux vs. Josip Mikulic

With Corey Gibbs likely gravitating to Danny Mwanga in an effort to use his physicality to throw off the young Union striker, Sebastien Le Toux will match up against second choice centerback Josip Mikulic, who remains inexperienced in MLS. While both strikers must show more aggression and desire to attack the goal, Le Toux’s workrate will inevitably allow him to get behind Mikulic. The only question remaining is whether he can finish those chances once he gets there, especially considering the excellent athleticism of Chicago’s 22 year-old goalkeeper, Sean Johnson.

Probable starters (download game guide)

Philadelphia: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper: Faryd Mondragon

Defenders: Gabriel Farfan, Danny Califf, Carlos Valdes, Michael Farfan

Midfielders: Justin Mapp, Roger Torres, Brian Carroll, Keon Daniel

Forwards: Sebastien Le Toux, Danny Mwanga

Chicago: 4-4-2

Goalkeeper: Sean Johnson

Defenders: Gonzalo Segares, Corey Gibbs, Josip Mikulic, Jalil Anibaba

Midfielders: Patrick Nyarko, Logan Pause, Daniel Paladini, Corben Bone

Forwards: Dominic Oduro, Cristian Nazarit

Injuries and suspensions

Philadelphia – QUESTIONABLE: FW Levi Houapeu (L ankle strain); SUSPENDED: DF Sheanon Williams (red card)

Chicago – OUT: DF Steven Kinney (R Achilles repair); MF Marko Maric (L deltoid sprain); QUESTIONABLE: FW Gabriel Ferrari (R ankle sprain); SUSPENDED: DF Yamith Cuesta (red card)


Union 2–0 Fire. Oduro may be dangerous, but with a midfield so devoid of creativity, he may never see the ball. Second half appearances by Pardo and Grazzini will lack cohesion and are unlikely to be effective given the lack of chemistry with their teammates. The Union should come out of the locker room with a chip on their shoulder, keen to remind MLS of their qualities. Brian Carroll must take charge early and send a message that there is no way through for the Fire. Both Farfan brothers will meet the challenge and will help the team both keep a high line and stretch the field with Roger Torres pulling the strings. Tonight could be the night that dare we say it, both strikers score a goal.


  1. Are we seriously starting Le Toux still? We can’t even praise his “intangibles” like we have been for the whole season; in recent games Le Toux has single handedly destroyed attacks with his bad decisions, bad passes,bad touches and bad runs.
    What will it take for Jack Mac to start again? He has looked fine recently and the last time he started with Mwanga it was a good partnership till he was subbed out at halftime (for some reason).

  2. Torres scored on Friday. No way he starts.

  3. I’d rather Richter start over Marfan. I don’t like Michael’s defensive instincts in contrast to Gabe (and I’ve believed that since their duel debut). He can get up the field obviously, but that makes him better for Mapp’s or Torres’ subbing. Easiest demonstration of that is when he charged in too close to Oduro and got burned. Don’t want the to happen twice.

    • I’d like to see Richter start at right back too…he looked great in the Everton game and he’s a big kid. I can’t see anyone on the Fire bossing him around. Nowak should give Marfan the start at right mid over Mapp. Marfan is a good offensive threat and doesn’t come with Mapp’s defensive liabilities.

  4. We should definitely shut the fire out. I expect both strikers (#9 and #10) to score against the bottom dwelling fire. I like your starting line up but I would prefer Paunovic (if 100%) over Torres to start. Curious who if we need one will be our super sub tonight…will Mac step up?

  5. I predict Oduro will run circles around Farfan. I think we’re really going to miss Harvey and Williams tonight, and possibly Ruiz. I hope I’m proven wrong…

  6. Anyone see tonight’s lineup yet…essentially starting 5 center mids

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