Match previews / Union

Match preview: Union at Fire

What: Union at Chicago Fire

Where: Toyota Park, Chicago

When: 8:30pm ET

TV: Comcast Network

Late season acquisitions Sebastian Grazzini and Pavel Pardo returned early dividends for Chicago last season, and they are already making their mark in 2012.

What Chicago wants to do

Grazzini set up Dominic Oduro in the Fire’s season opening tie with Montreal, and his coach says the playmaker will be good to go on Saturday against the Union. Grazzini and winger-cum-drifter Marco Pappa must be influential for Chicago to beat Philadelphia on Saturday. Pappa was largely absent against Montreal, and it took the poor finishing of an expansion team to earn the Fire a point in a match where they were mostly on the back foot.

Pappa is a game-changer when he wants to be, and he will join the strikers in testing whatever makeshift back line the Union throw together. There is an eerie consensus that Chris Albright will remain in the starting lineup on Saturday. Albright’s error on Sunday led to a goal, but he was hardly worse than anyone else.

Zoom test

Speed, however, is the clear red flag raised by an Albright-Lopez duo on the outside. Chicago’s strikers are fast and if Grazzini is given any space he will find them. Dom Oduro abused Michael Farfan when these teams met in Philly last year, and if he gets involved early the Union are in trouble.

Though they possess talented passers and a pair of burners up front, the Fire remain limited offensively. If Pappa can be kept out of things, Grazzini will be forced to run the show alone. Mexican holding midfielder Pardo and converted left back Logan Pause would prefer to stay at home, and Chicago put a pitiable eight crosses into the box against Montreal. Forcing the Fire into wide positions is essential to fixing the Union’s early season defensive woes.

What the Union need to do

The Fire are in the odd position of having their most athletic defenders in the center of their back line. Jalil Anibaba and Cory Gibbs can run with Danny Mwanga, and Anibaba can certainly bang with Pajoy. So while the Union may not be able to use their athleticism to break through the back, they can certainly use their creative midfield to pull apart a defense that lacks strong organization.

Roger Torres and Michael Farfan are certainly capable of finding the key pass through the defense, but they will have to separate from Pardo to find the time to let runs develop in front of them. This means midfield movement will have to be both constant and, gulp, smart.

Organized movement has been a flaw in the Philadelphia attack for, oh, over two years now. The team must make a concerted effort to get Farfan and Torres the ball in space so they can pull Pardo out of position, forcing Anibaba and Gibbs to either follow Mwanga on his back checks or leave the striker in space and try to stop him on the dribble.

Another essential element of the Union attack is triangles on the wings. Dan Gargan and Gonzalo Segares are not making All-Star bids any time soon; if the Union can force a center back to help wide, there is no dominant force in the Chicago team to clear the box. In other words, the Union might actually be able to score from a cross (provided Pajoy’s shooting percentage rises a few percentage points).

What Peter Nowak needs to do

Nowak needs to put his ego aside and field his most confident lineup. Nobody can deny that Cristhian Hernandez has a bright future, but this is the time for a veteran, possession-oriented lineup. Gabriel Gomez needs to be in possession in the opponent’s half for once, Michael Farfan needs to have the freedom to drift wide and take defenders on, and Keon Daniel needs to be on the field.

And, finally, the Union need to play like they don’t have a stern coach looking over their shoulder. Nothing saps the creativity from a player like the feeling that any poor touch could be their last. There is no clearer evidence of low confidence than hesitation in front of goal, and that hesitancy has been the most consistent part of Philly’s game this year.



  • GK: Tornaghi
  • DEF: Gargan, Anibaba, Gibbs, Segares
  • MID: Pause, Pardo, Grazzini, Pappa
  • FWD: Oduro, Nyarko


  • GK: MacMath
  • DEF: Albright, Valdes, Lopez
  • MID: Marfan, Gomez, Carroll, Torres, Daniel
  • FWD: Mwanga, McInerney



  • OUT: Kinney (tendonitis)


  • PROBABLE: Marfan/Garfan (R quad strains), Albright (groin), Martinez (L foot contusion)

International absences


  • Johnson (Olympic qualifying)


  • Okugo, Adu, Williams (Olympic qualifying)


  1. Ed Farnsworth says:

    I wonder how many teams other than the Union have two road home openers in the first three games of the season.

    • 4 including the Union, interestingly all Eastern conference teams: NJPC (@FCD, @RSL); Revs (@SJ, @KC); Montreal (@VAN, @Crew)

      In case you’re interested…

      I noticed that, of the last 6 expansion teams, Western conference teams (SEA, POR, VAN) have started the season at home 7 out of 8 times; Eastern conference teams (TOR, PHI, MTL) have started on the road 10 out of 10 times.

      I also noted that, of the 45 First Kick matches since 2007, Western conference teams opened at home for 32 matches, or 71%.

      The reasons I got from the guys on ExtraTime Radio were climate and better attendance/atmosphere in West. Thoughts?

      • Ed Farnsworth says:

        Yes, I was interested – that’s why I asked – Thanks for looking it up.

        So far as the rest goes, I would be curious to know 1.)how many of those 32 First Kick matches since 2007 involved West teams playing East teams and 2.) how many were won by West teams, lost, drawn.

        My thoughts on the ExtraTime Radio explanations? They are crap. Better atmosphere? As opposed to what? Better climate? If climate must always drive where games are played, why play outdoors at all?

        Thanks again for the info!

  2. Are Marfan/Garfan like Tomax and Xamot? If one gets injured the other gets injured too?

  3. Toronto looks terrible without Frings, losing 3-0 to SJ. Sounds like they need a stable veteran defender to hodl down the fort, or maybe a veteran CDM presence!?!?
    Califf and Carrol to TFC for Plata!!!

  4. McMohansky says:

    It is quite irresponsible of the coach to not bring in an experienced CB in the offseason. If Califf’s recovery from knee surgery is the reason he’s out, and also limited upon return, the Union are severely handicapped. 3 in the back is awful, especially when Lopez and Albright are slow and easily pushed around.

  5. You should replace nowak. I really did notice hesitation last game. Never considered it could be due in part to nowak. Macmath and The back line worrt me with out williams and califf. The midfield and the offense i am confident in. They just need to get used to each other and the chemistry will come which will bring pajoys confidence and accuracy.

  6. MikeRSoccer says:

    If he seriously uses a 3 back line against a quick flank oriented Chicago attack then he really is an idiot.

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