Match previews

Match preview: Chicago Fire vs. Philadelphia Union

Photo: Earl Gardner

Who: Philadelphia Union (8th in the East, 21 points, 6-3-9) vs. Chicago Fire (7th in the East, 23 points, 6-5-8)
What: 2018 regular season game
Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, IL.
When: Saturday, July 11 at 8:30 pm
Watch: PHL17, ESPN+
Whistle: Ismail Elfath; Kathryn Nesbitt, Apolinar Mariscal; Rubiel Vazquez; Silviu Petrescu

Wednesday sees a midweek game with two mid-table teams battling for a playoff spot midseason. Should Chicago Fire emerge victorious, they will leap frog Montreal Impact into the sixth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference standings. Should Philadelphia Union take three points from Toyota Park, they will be tied with Montreal at 24 points-a-piece.

Scouting report: Chicago Fire

Projected Chicago Fire Starting XI

This is not the Chicago Fire of last season, but they’re getting there. After starting the year off slow, Chicago went undefeated through all of June, riding a five-match unbeaten streak until their loss to Vancouver Whitecaps. Nemanja Nikolic on the other hand, started the season off looking like a back-to-back Golden Boot winner, only to hit a slump midseason. That slump may be over, however. Nikolic has scored in his last two appearances.

Nikolic and winger Aleksandar Katai both have eight goals, and Chicago’s midfield is strong both offensively and defensively. If the Union take their center away, Chicago can still push the ball to the wings and bring it back in quite well. With Nikolic averaging 1.6 shots over his last five games, Andre Blake will most certainly have to put some work in.

  • Injury report: OUT: Djordje Mihailovic (M – right ACL surgery), Michael de Leeuw (F – left ACL surgery), Matt Polster (D – MCL surgery), Patrick McLain (GK – hamstring injury), Luis Solignac (F – left quad injury); QUESTIONABLE: Drew Conner (D – right calf injury)
  • Suspended: None
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

Well, it’s July. That means the Union are heading for Slumpsville – or at least that’s what some fans think. While C.J. Sapong has caught a lot of heat for his failure to finish and David Accam has been kept off the field, other aspects of the team have been coming together. With each game that passes, the midfield trio of Medunjanin, Bedoya, and Dockal fall more in sync, creating more opportunities. Auston Trusty seems to have plateaued a bit (although he was already playing at a rather high level), but Mark McKenzie continues to improve.

Still, the fans are right. Sapong needs to score. He can contribute to the high press all game – and yes, that is key – but his primary role is to score goals. Chicago have scored in every match since May 12, averaging 1.8 goals over their last 5 matches. With the Union’s young backline subject to giving up goals, the Union will need to generate some offense.

  • Injury report: Josh Yaro (D, concussion)
  • Suspended:  None.
Key matchup: Andre Blake vs. Nemanja Nikolic and Aleksandar Katai

It’s been said already, but Nikolic scores goals. Last year’s golden boot winner has two goals in his last two matches and two shots in three of his last five. Aleksandar Katai, meanwhile, has racked up an impressive 62 shots this season. Auston Trusty and Mark McKenzie may be able to limit those numbers, but it’s safe to say that Nikolic and Katai will see an opportunity at least once. But while Nikolic scores goals, Blake stops them. Third in MLS with 67 saves, Blake is perhaps the best pure shot-stopper in the league. It will be interesting to see who will come out the hero for his side.

Player to watch: C.J. Sapong

It’s such a sports writing taboo (such xG (expected goals)a sports writing taboo), but… Sapong is due. It really is true though. Forget the fact that the Union’s single season record holder for goals scored has only two goals on the season. What should catch everyone’s eye is that Sapong’s falls somewhere around 6.57. That’s not too far behind Nemanja Nikolic and far ahead of Aleksandar Katai. Chicago have given up six goals in their last three matches. If Sapong is going to turn his season around, now would be the perfect time.

Prediction: Philadelphia Union 1 – 1 Chicago Fire

Both teams will be fighting hard for that last playoff spot. Chicago is solid at home, but they haven’t been phenomenal at keeping the ball out of the net. A Nikolic or Katai goal is likely, but so is a Union goal – from whomever it may come.

3 Comments

  1. Zizouisgod says:

    Ryan – Gantar is the ref for Wed

  2. “What should catch everyone’s eye is that Sapong’s falls somewhere around 6.57”

    Maybe all that means is we are capable of creating good chances but our Striker isn’t capable of converting them?

  3. Sapong should not start another game this year. If the Union fail to make some deal to trade Accam and Sapong or go out on the open market and get a DP striker soon, the season is over.

    Burke is still the best option until they get help. Curtin is just insane for staying with Sapong.

    Accam still has trade value to someone who needs outside speed. He can not be kept here any longer.

    They are stuck with Simpson until the end of the year. The ownership is just awful and Ernie is not saying anything about making a move for a forward. So Sad.

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