|Matchup||Chicago Fire (2-6-5, 11 pts.) at Philadelphia Union (6-4-5, 23 pts.)|
|Date||Wednesday, June 22 • 6 p.m. CT|
|Location||Chester, Pa. • Talen Energy Stadium|
|TV||CSN Chicago Plus (Pregame: 5:30 p.m. CT)|
|Radio||97.5 FM Poder (Spanish)|
|Fire Field Vision||Watch Now|
Following a last-minute road defeat in Colorado, the Chicago Fire resume MLS play with a trip to Philadelphia to take on the Eastern Conference-leading Union at Talen Energy Stadium. Coverage on CSN Chicago Plus begins at 5:30 p.m. CT with kickoff to follow at 6 p.m. CT. The Union are sitting on 23 points in 15 games played, which includes an undefeated 5-0-2 mark at Talen Energy Stadium. Below are five storylines to keep an eye on as the Fire head eastward.
The Fire won’t have much time to catch their breath coming off Saturday night’s trip to Colorado. Veljko Paunovic’s men took a 2-1 loss to the Rapids courtesy of an 89th minute Marco Pappa game-winner in Commerce City.
Colorado got on the board first when designated player Kevin Doyle polished off an opportunity created by midfielder Dillon Powers just outside the 18-yard box in the 57th minute. The Fire would equalize late on the strength of homegrown forward Joey Calistri’s first professional goal, a cool finish in the box in the 81st minute on a link up from David Accam and Rodrigo Ramos.
Pappa’s last gasp goal, however, would limit the celebration and steal a result from the Paunovic’s squad. After last Wednesday’s 120-minute penalty kick victory over NASL side Indy Eleven in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup tournament, the Men In Red now face the prospect of three matches crammed into a seven-day window when they kick off in Chester on Wednesday night.
A Few Cracks in the Bell
After a 15-day break from competition in conjunction with the MLS hiatus for Copa America Centenario, the Fire were thrust into an immediate test of their stamina and depth.
The aforementioned match against Indy Eleven served as more than merely a toe dip back into competitive play. The sides battled into extra time and ended regulation knotted at 1-1. Heroics from goalkeeper Matt Lampson and a cool finish from forward David Accam on the final spot attempt helped seal a 4-3 penalty kick victory and advance the Fire into the tournament’s Round of 16 against the Columbus Crew.
After the Indy Eleven match, Paunovic inserted five different starters into his lineup in Commerce City four nights later. With the combination of overall workload and a minor brush with the injury bug, he’ll face similar rotation decisions when he lines up his team against the Union on Wednesday.
“The rotations sometimes are necessary, sometimes it’s because that’s what we need,” he said. “That’s how we believe we can win all our games. I’m very, very happy with the response of our guys on that side, that I can rely always on them when we need to make some changes.”
A Declaration of Independence
Paunovic’s Fire have already faced his former team twice this season, the first a 4-2 preseason victory in Florida and the second a 1-0 victory in blizzard-like conditions at Toyota Park on April 2. However, Wednesday’s clash at Talen Energy Stadium marks the first time he’ll return to the City of Brotherly Love as an opponent of the team that introduced him to Major League Soccer.
“I was very happy in Philadelphia and I’m very grateful to Philly for giving me that opportunity to play my last season as a soccer player,” he said. “It was a great experience. I was treated very well by them. I still have a lot of friends there who are texting me at this point and asking if we have time to meet.”
The 38-year-old capped a lengthy international playing career with a stint in Philadelphia as a member of the Union in 2011. He appeared 17 times and netted three goals for the club in that span, including a goal against Chicago in a match that finished a 1-1 draw. For this go-around, however, Paunovic’s colors are clear.
“Now, it’s a different situation. I wish Philly all the best but of course now we are in a different spot and we are defending different interests. It’s going to be very important for me to prove again that we had a very good time there, but now in front of us is a competition.”
The Union enter Wednesday’s match on the heels of a 3-2 loss to New York City FC at Yankee Stadium Saturday, a match that ended Philly's eight-match unbeaten streak in MLS play. It also happened to be Philadelphia's first match without the services of French central midfielder Vincent Nogueira, who announced his sudden and permanent departure from the club due to personal health issues.
Without Nogueira patrolling the space in front of Philly's back line, the Union felt the heat from all three of NYCFC’s designated players, as Frank Lampard and David Villa put the visitors down two goals before Andrea Pirlo extended the lead with a signature free kick in the 50th minute. The Union clawed back on the strength of a Roland Alberg penalty kick and a late own goal courtesy of NYCFC’s Frederic Brillant, but the match would finish 3-2.
The loss marked Philadelphia’s first since their April 16th visit to Seattle, and the Union, like Chicago, are nursing significant injuries of their own with Maurice Edu out longterm and prolific striker CJ Sapong (five goals in 2016) questionable with an ankle injury. Still, Philly remains atop the Eastern Conference standings with 23 points from 15 games played in 2016, and on Wednesday will attempt to avoid their first back-to-back losses of the season.
It’s Always Sunny
The Fire carry a seven-match unbeaten streak (3-0-4) against Philadelphia into Wednesday night, having not lost to the Union since a 1-0 loss at then-PPL Park on May 18, 2013. Longtime Fire standout and current Union head coach Jim Curtin has yet to defeat his former side in five attempts (0-2-3). The series between these two clubs remains mostly even, however, with the Fire having a slight 6-5-5 advantage head-to-head all-time.