Wednesday wasn’t the start to this four-game home stand that the Fire anticipated, but there are still a lot of points left on the table in a Summer schedule that features eight of the next 10 games at Soldier Field. Up next are the reigning Supporters Shield winners, the Philadelphia Union, who are riding a seven-match unbeaten streak entering the weekend.
The Fire are looking for sweet revenge, as the Union snuck out of Soldier Field with a 2-0 win last time they visited the Lakefront on May 8.
Here’s what to look for heading into Saturday’s match…
DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER…
Like some other teams around the league (The New York Red Bulls, Nashville SC, etc), Philadelphia has mastered a style of play that is both extremely predictable and wildly effective.
Head coach Jim Curtin - who is fresh off a contract extension - and his staff have implemented this diamond formation over the past several years, and it’s proven to be quite fruitful.
A 4-4-2 diamond is not exactly a sexy or commonly used formation in modern football, but the Union make it look like it should be. Curtin’s crew are tied for second place in the Eastern Conference, and have been playing some really good football.
At full strength, the diamond consists of Jose Martinez, Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro and Anthony Fontana. However, after a Martinez red card and suspension on May 1, it has been 20-year-old Leon Flach who has taken his place at the bottom of the diamond, and he has been performing beautifully.
Philly are coming off of a hard-fought 1-0 win at Subaru Park against Columbus and a wild 2-2 draw at Atlanta. The Union scored two goals in the final moments of the match against the Five Stripes, including a Goal of the Year candidate finish from Jakob Glesnes.
Olivier Mbaizo and Kai Wagner have proven to be integral to Philly’s system, and the centerback pairing of Glesnes and Jack Elliot has been holding up.
Sergio Santos, Kacper Przbylko and Corey Burke have been sharing the striking duties, with seven goals scored among the three of them. In addition to the balanced attack, the stingy Union defense has produced six clean sheets already. Andre Blake, the 2020 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year, has helped in that endeavor. He and New England’s Matt Turner are easily the two best shot-stoppers in the league and, in my opinion, it’s not particularly close.
FOOL ME ONCE
Last time out against Philly (just six weeks ago), it was pretty rocky to start. Olivier Mbaizo and the right side of the Union attack had their way with the Fire’s defense. Big saves from Bobby Shuttleworth and a couple goal-line clearances from Boris Sekulić kept the Fire in the game until they got their footing.
Following the opening goal from Corey Burke, the Fire had a couple big opportunities to equalize, but Jakob Glesnes made it 2-0 about nine minutes later. From there, they were sitting deeper and absorbing a lot of Chicago pressure. The Fire had a lot of chances to get back in the game, or at least score one.
This time around, I think the Fire will be much better prepared for the press, especially down the right flank. It’s very difficult to beat a team twice in a season, let alone two times on the road. The Fire will make the necessary adjustments and absorb that early pressure from Philly.
Playing a team twice in relative quick succession is always difficult. It becomes less about tactics and more about 50/50s and winning the “game within the game.”
Both teams are very familiar with each other and will be prepared. It will simply come down to the little things.
The Fire in desperate need of a big win to kickstart their season. A victory against second place Philadelphia would certainly do the trick.
See you Saturday night at Soldier Field on the sidelines. Arlo White and Tony Meola will have the call on WGN and CFFC Live at 7 p.m. CT.