Coming out of their final midweek match of the 2019 regular season, the Chicago Fire return home Saturday night for a rematch with the Philadelphia Union at SeatGeek Stadium. The Men In Red will look to rebound from Wednesday's road defeat to the Portland Timbers and claim three points toward their on-going push for the 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.
Know what to watch for ahead of Saturday night with our #CHIvPHI Match Storylines, presented by NovaCare:
The Union (13-7-6, 45 points) remain in first place in the Eastern Conference ahead of this weekend’s replay at SeatGeek Stadium. Head coach Jim Curtin’s side have won three of their last four, including a 2-1 victory over the Houston Dynamo in Philadelphia last Sunday. Forward Kacper Przybylko scored his team-leading 11th goal of the season to help keep Philadelphia three points clear of Atlanta United at the top of the conference table with 26 matches played.
The Fire (7-11-9, 30 points) made a late push in a midweek visit to the Portland Timbers, despite going down to 10-men in the 30th minute after Aleksandar Katai was shown a red card. Goals from forwards Nemanja Nikolić and CJ Sapong kept the Fire alive deep into extra time, however head coach Veljko Paunović’s side ultimately came up a goal short in a 3-2 defeat on Wednesday night. The loss snapped a three-match unbeaten run for the Men In Red, who sit just three points out of postseason contention going into the weekend.
With his second half finish on Wednesday, Nikolić matched former forward Chris Rolfe with 48 regular season goals scored for the Fire, the second-highest total in Club history. The 2017 MLS Golden Boot winner accomplished the feat in relatively quick fashion, needing 89 matches to hit the 48 mark, compared to Rolfe’s 176. The 31-year-old has now scored in three consecutive matches, and pushed his 2019 season total to nine goals.
Should Nikolić score on Saturday, he’ll take sole possession of second place in the record book, behind only Ante Razov, who scored 76 goals for the Fire in 155 regular season matches.
Rested and Ready
Squad rotation was a major factor in the Fire’s midweek meeting with Portland, as six changes were made to the starting XI that had beaten the Montreal Impact 3-2 four days prior. Midfielder Micheal Azira made his Fire debut after being acquired on Aug. 7, while first choice regulars like captain Dax McCarty, Bastian Schweinsteiger, and midfielder Nicolás Gaitán were left off the matchday roster as Paunović aimed to keep his squad fresh for the home stretch of the regular season.
Saturday’s match will be the second and final between these two teams in 2019 regular season play. The Union were 2-0 victors at Talen Energy Stadium on July 20 in what was the third match in eight days for the Fire.
The match also offers Sapong and Fabian Herbers -- as well as Paunović -- an opportunity to play against their former team. Sapong was traded to the Union from Sporting Kansas City in 2015, and played in Philadelphia until he was acquired by the Club in preseason. Herbers, another offseason acquisition, was an MLS SuperDraft pick of the Union's in 2016. Philadelphia was also the final stop of Paunović's playing career, where he appeared 17 times in 2011.
The Fire are 8-10-5 in matches played against the Union all-time dating back to their inaugural MLS season in 2010, which includes a 6-3-3 record in matches played at SeatGeek Stadium.