Match storylines: Fire welcome Union for third meeting of 2016


Matchup Chicago Fire (5-12-8, 23 pts.) vs. Philadelphia Union (11-9-7, 40 pts.)
Date Saturday, September 3 • 7:30 p.m. CT
Location Bridgeview, Ill. • Toyota Park
TV CSN Chicago Plus (Pregame: 7 p.m.)
Radio (Spanish) 97.5 FM Poder
Fire Field Vision Watch Now

The Chicago Fire open up their September schedule with a visit from the Philadelphia Union on Saturday night. Match coverage begins at 7:00 p.m. CT on CSN Chicago Plus with kickoff to follow at 7:30 p.m. The Fire are on the rebound after last Saturday's defeat in D.C., and will be looking to make up ground in the Eastern Conference with a win in front of their home crowd. Here are five factors to keep an eye on ahead of kickoff on Saturday night:

Opportunity ahead
The Fire have had a week to recover from their less-than-stellar road trip to D.C. United, which came on the heels after quality performances at Montreal and home to the LA Galaxy. Now at home for consecutive matches, the Fire can take a break from the traveling life and look to extend its current 11-game home unbeaten streak (MLS and U.S. Open Cup) as they embark on the final stages of their campaign. The stretch begins against a Union side that confidently defeated Sporting KC Saturday night, as Roland Alberg opened the scoring in the 67th minute and Tranquillo Barnetta sealed things in stoppage time to help the Union reach the 40-point mark. Philadelphia currently sits fourth in the Eastern Conference playoff race, three points behind first-place Toronto FC.

Same teams, new faces 
These two teams have squared off twice already in MLS play this season, and three times if you include a 4-2 Fire preseason win played back in early February. Chicago took the first official matchup with head coach Veljko Paunovic’s former team back in early April, a 1-0 win that saw rookie defender Jonathan Campbell net his first career goal. It was then a wild 4-3 win to the home team when the Union hosted a replay in June.

Both teams have plenty at stake in the rubber match, but also will require a degree of squad rotation due to the ongoing FIFA-sanctioned international break. Most notably, the Men In Red will need to compensate for the absence of leading goal-scorer and Ghanaian international David Accam (7 goals, 4 assists), missing just his third match since returning from injury in mid-May. Fellow striker David Arshakyan -- fresh off his Fire debut vs. D.C. United -- also is back overseas competing for the Armenian national side, leaving an attacking void open for the likes of Michael de Leeuw, Luis Solignac, John Goossens and others to fill. On the flip side, Philadelphia will be without All-Star goalkeeper Andre Blake (Jamaica) and midfielder Alejandro Bedoya (United States), who have been called up by their respective national teams as well.

Fire midfielder Khaly Thiam also will be a spectator for Saturday's match, serving a one-game suspension following his 34th-minute red card at D.C. United. 

Heating up
Both sides will feature players riding personal hot streaks in form entering Saturday night. Fire midfielder Arturo Alvarez brings a pair of strong consecutive performances into the weekend. He set up two of the Fire’s three finishes in Montreal on Aug. 20, helping the team secure its first road win of the season. At mid-week, he scored the opening goal -- his fourth of the season -- against the LA Galaxy in a 2-2 draw at Toyota Park. Alvarez was rested during the team’s most recent match, a defeat at D.C. United.

Philadelphia’s Tranquillo Barnetta made it three straight matches with a goal or assist in his team’s 2-0 win over SKC last Saturday. The Swiss midfielder bagged the stoppage time match-clincher in front of his home crowd, his fourth of the season. Barnetta also helped set up Keegan Rosenberry’s game-winner in Philadelphia’s 2-1 win over Columbus on Aug. 24.

The Fire also will be looking to keep closer tabs on midfielder Roland Alberg, who registered the club’s first-ever hat trick in that June 22 matchup in Philadelphia. Despite having scored only one previous MLS goal before that hat trick, Alberg has delivered five goals and three assists in the 11 matches since, leaving him one shy of Chris Pontius’ team-leading 10 goals this season.

Accurate up top
The Union haven’t had much trouble finding the back of the net as a team this season. Head coach Jim Curtin’s side ranks second in MLS in total goals scored in 2016, with 47 finishes through 27 matches played. If season trends continue, the second half of Saturday night’s match may feature some fireworks. The Union’s 27 second half goals represent the highest total in the league, but their 11 goals allowed from minutes 75-90 is the second-most in MLS within that timeframe.

#CHIvPHI all-time 
As previously mentioned, the Fire are 1-1-0 against Philadelphia in 2016, with the most recent contest ending in a 4-3 defeat to the Union in Philadelphia. Saturday night’s matchup will tilt the all-time series in favor of the winner, as both teams are at a 6-6-5 standstill against one another since 2010. However, the Fire own a 4-2-3 advantage in matches played at Toyota Park.

Both head coaches will be looking for wins against their former teams in this one. Union head coach Jim Curtin spent seven seasons in Chicago (2001-07) as a standout defender, while Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic rounded out a lengthy international playing career with a 2011 stint in Philadelphia.