The Fire are back at home on Wednesday night after a tough trip to Texas to take on first place Philadelphia Union and the Fire’s former All-Star Jim Curtin.
Philly are coming off a pulsating, dramatic, 2-1 win over NYCFC that leap frogged them into first place in the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, the Fire are looking to make it back-to-back wins at home following their 1-0 win over D.C. United at Soldier Field two weeks ago.
Here’s what to look for in the Gerber Collision and Glass Scouting Report…
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER
When it comes to player development and boasting one of the better academies in MLS, Philly has developed a clear identity under Curtin in his nine-year tenure as head coach. Their tactical philosophy, though, is only as recent as 2019. They made the decision to buy into the 4-4-2 diamond, and it has paid some serious dividends and gives teams in MLS a totally different look than they’re used to seeing.
This formation - both in attack and defense - allows them to extend pressure further up the field and make life difficult for the opposition in possession. When they win the ball back, they have two options up top to either find feet or go direct over the top. New Designated Player Mikael Uhre and Julian Carranza have proven to be a formidable pair, with Corey Burke providing a spark off the bench. Sergio Santos hasn’t played in a game since May 29, and has been dealing with some green card/paperwork issues. He hasn’t been available for selection despite making eight starts and 11 appearances before the international break.
The ability to press in wider positions on the field, paired with two great centerbacks in Jack Elliot and Jakob Glesnes, has helped the Union to the best defense in the league right now. They’ve only conceded 12 goals in 16 games, and have only lost once this year (Toronto FC).
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that they also sport 2x MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, Andre Blake, in between the sticks as well. Blake has helped Philly register six clean sheets on the year so far.
José Martinez sits at the bottom of the diamond and is one of the best defensive midfielders in the league. He covers an incredible amount of ground, is clean on the ball, and is a master of the dark arts.
Daniel Gazdag is at the top of the diamond and, in my opinion, is one of the most effective players in MLS. He’s a fantastic two-way footballer. He already has seven goals and two assists from the No. 10 position, and even scored a goal against Gareth Southgate’s England when Hungary trounced the Three Lions last month, 4-0.
Leon Flach and Alejandro Bedoya are on either side of the diamond. Both put in the defensive work in addition in being able to combine, and are extremely disciplined.
Nathan Harriel is another Philly homegrown who has really blossomed in the organization. I remember covering him with the Bethlehem Steel when he was just 17 years old, and he’s now a reliable, gritty fullback in this league at 21. Kai Wagner is the left fullback and is one of the best at his position in MLS. He is a good defender, great going forward, and his delivery from wide positions is delectable.
Philadelphia is one of the best teams in Major League Soccer. They are balanced, well-coached and have some match-winners on the field as well.
The good news for the Fire is that the Union played on Sunday in a wildly dramatic, emotionally/physically taxing affair against a very good NYCFC team. When the Fire and Philadelphia met last year, Curtin rotated a few pieces amid a similar mid-week/weekend work load.
The Fire need to continue to take maximum points at home given some of the results earlier in the season. They are starting a stretch where they are playing the next four of five at Soldier Field.
Philly will let you have the ball at times so they can employ their press and win the ball back in dangerous spots. They did this with NYCFC, and were very direct on the counter. It paid off. They looked dangerous, but can be exposed to long spells of possession. They can be broken down if you remain disciplined and have the creativity to do so.
This is a massive test, and could be the type of game to turn a season around if the Fire are to slay the beast of the East. Ezra’s boys will need to be disciplined in possession and take care of the ball. This has been the message from the coaching staff for most of the season but it is IMPERATIVE against a team as ruthless as Philadelphia to be balanced and focused with the ball. Gastón Giménez will need to be playing his sweet Argentine tune, and dictate the tempo to force Philly to chase and expend energy on the defensive side of the ball. Meanwhile, Federico Navarro will have to put in a herculean shift to deal with the likes of Daniel Gazdag and company.
We are FINALLY back on WGN and CF97 Live for this one, so Tony and I will talk to you guys at 7 p.m. CT on Wednesday night. VAMOS!