Match previews

Match preview: Philadelphia Union vs. Chicago Fire

Photo: Earl Gardner

Who: Philadelphia Union (1st place, 36 points, 10-6-6) vs. Chicago Fire (10th place, 23 points, 5-9-8)
What: 2019 regular season game
Where: Talen Energy Stadium, Chester, Pennsylvania
When: Saturday, July 20th, 7:30 p.m.
Watch: PHL17, ESPN+
Whistle: Referee: Rubiel Vazquez, Assistant Referees: Jeremy Kieso, Andrew Bigelow, 4th Official: Jon Freemon, VAR: Kevin Terry Jr.

After a disappointing result at Salt Lake last time out, the Philadelphia Union look to bounce back against Eastern Conference foe Chicago Fire. The Union were slightly shorthanded last weekend, with Jamiro Monteiro, Ilsinho and Kai Wagner all missing due to injury. Ilsinho and Wagner look set to return to action this weekend, while Monteiro is still a possibility after suffering a sprained ankle two-and-a-half weeks ago.

The Union, with just a one-point cushion on top of the Eastern Conference after D.C. United’s win last night, need to find a result against a struggling Chicago side looking for answers. Every point counts now as the Union look to hold off D.C. and Atlanta United while looking to host a playoff match in Philly.

Scouting report: Chicago Fire 

The Chicago Fire have been struggling recently, there’s no hiding that. The month of July has been a rollercoaster for them, which started off with a 5-1 rout of Atlanta United. Then their struggles became more apparent. After a 1-0 road loss to Sporting KC, the Fire then lost 2-1 to last place FC Cincinnati at home. Looking to rebound, the Fire played the Columbus Crew Wednesday night at home, which ended in a disappointing draw for the home side. If you’re the Union, you hope that the Fire team that lost to Cincinnati shows up, and not the one who handed Atlanta a 5-1 humiliation.

For the casual MLS fan, one of the few well-known Fire players is Bastian Schweinsteiger. The 34-year-old German doesn’t have the legs he used to, as the star midfielder now lines up as a centerback most games. The other is Dax McCarty, the longtime Red Bulls midfielder and sporadic US national team player. The 32-year-old is still effective in running the Chicago midfield, especially with Schweinsteiger behind him. A name familiar to all Union fans is C.J. Sapong, who makes his return to Talen. After being traded in the preseason, Sapong has re-found his goal scoring form. The 30-year-old already has nine goals this season, scoring Chicago’s second on Wednesday night.

With their aging stars, Chicago also has other dangerous weapons and options. Djordje Mihailovic, a 20 year old American who has been linked with moves abroad, runs the attack for Chicago. After returning from the Gold Cup, Mihailovic scored a great volley Wednesday night for Chicago’s first, and his third goal of the season. Nicolas Gaitan has also been very dangerous for the Fire this season. After joining the team in March, Gaitan has notched four goals and eight assists in his first MLS season.

A tired Chicago side with many unanswered questions spells a winnable game for the Union. They should be weary to not overlook Chicago’s place in the standings, especially with the weapons Chicago has available in their attack.

Injury report:
OUT: None
Suspension report: None
Scouting report: Philadelphia Union

The Union will most likely have to fare another week without Jamiro Monteiro in the midfield. It will be interesting to see if Jim Curtin makes any switches, with Brenden Aaronson struggling last match on the left side of midfield. Andrew Wooten will likely play a part again, but could see his first start in this match.  Kai Wagner is listed as questionable on the injury report, opening the door for a possible Matt Real or RJ Allen start.

It will be interesting to see who Curtin picks as his starting strikers. Will we continue to see the pairing of Fafa Picault and Kacper Przybylko, or see Andrew Wooten start? Either way, Przybylko should continue to start as he is the team’s best finisher. While also listed as questionable, Ilsinho should be able to provide a spark off the bench for the Union, something they have been lacking in previous matches. Anthony Fontana should also feature off the bench, or even start, after a strong showing against Reading United Tuesday night.

After being saved by a late Przybylko goal 2 weeks ago against Orlando, the Union will look to get back on track at home. Already earning 20 points at home this season, the Union will look to attack a weaker Chicago side and should be disappointed with anything other than 3 points.

Injury report

OUT: Matt Freese (GK), Sergio Santos (F), Olivier Mbaizo (D), Jamiro Monteiro (M)

QUESTIONABLE: Ilsinho (M), Michee Ngalina (F), Warren Creavalle (M), Kai Wagner (D)

Suspension report: None
Key matchup: Aaronson/Fontana vs. Dax McCarty

Depending on who starts this match — I think it’ll be Aaronson but wouldn’t be shocked if Fontana starts — we have to see how they handle the Chicago attack and Dax McCarty. While they cannot make up for Monterio’s defensive ability, they should watch the runs of McCarty and his defensive positioning to find a way through the Chicago defense.

Player to watch: Andrew Wooten

Will this be the first real test for Andrew Wooten? Will Union fans get to see how he meshes with the other strikers and the Union midfield? Curtin said himself that he doesn’t want to rush Wooten into anything, but after being shutout last weekend, it may be time for Wooten.

Przybylko is in good form and Picault is always dangerous with his speed, but you need more than two guys. Sergio Santos is out with an ankle injury and has not impressed. A third option off the bench is what Philly needs right now.

Is that third option Picault or Wooten? Your guess is as good as mine.

Prediction: Philadelphia 3-1 Chicago Fire

All put together, this is a game the Philadelphia Union should win at home. Yes, they have been struggling with injuries, but top teams can get past those. The Union failed to do that on the road against Salt Lake. It will be concerning if they do again at home against Chicago. It’s time for the depth we’ve all talked about to finally prove its worth and get a result at home.

They’ll need to win to keep the lead in the Eastern Conference.


  1. John Ling says:

    “Every point counts now as the Union look to hold off D.C. United and Atlanta United while looking to host their first-ever playoff match in Philly.”
    FYI, Sean: the Union hosted a playoff game in 2011.

  2. Kevin Ehrgott says:

    Read through this preview to find out at the end it was written by none other than Sean Griswold. Well written, I’ll be at the game tonight!

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