The Union come into this match with a variety of internal issues on top of the typical problems associated with coming into a season with high player turnover. In addition to losing three players to the US-U23 squad for Olympic qualifying and another who is just returning from a call-up on Wednesday night, there is the self inflicted drama surrounding team captain Danny Califf. Coach Peter Nowak benched the central defender last Sunday for what he described as recovery time needed due to offseason knee surgery. After the match Califf told reporters that he has no issues with his knee and was surprised to be sitting since he played 90 minutes in the opener against Portland but had not yet spoken to Nowak about why he didn't play against the Rapids. Nowak announced to Philadelphia media on Wednesday that he had spoken to Califf and everything had been straightened out. Califf concurred. Now comes this report that the team captain did not even make the trip to Chicago. Califf confirmed today that he is not travelling to Chicago to in order to stay behind and work on getting fully fit. Philadelphia fans are now not only questioning Nowak's offseason moves and tactical/line-up decisions but his man management ability as well.
Zac MacMath has been one of the early season concerns in goal. He's looked uncertain and shaky, particularly with his hands as evidenced by Colorado's first score last weekend. MacMath is only 2o years old and a far cry from the steadiness of last year's goalkeeper, Faryd Mondragon who departed for Colombia.
The Union will be without their starting right back, Sheanon Williams who has joined midfielders Freddy Adu and Amobi Okugo on the US U-23 team. Without Califf in the starting line-up last weekend Nowak chose to pair center back Carlos Valdes with Gabriel Gomez, who played in central midfield in the opener. Chris Albright started at right back against Colorado as Williams moved into more of a holding role against the Rapids but that backfired when a gaffe by Albright resulted in Colorado's second score. Another option in lieu of Albright would be rookie right back Ray Gaddis who has yet to play this season. Porfirio Lopez has started the first two games of the campaign and is just returning to the team after a mid-week call-up to the Costa Rican national team.
Philadelphia enjoyed some decent moments of possession and control in the Colorado match but were largely ineffective in the final third and looked like a team that still hadn't figured out how to play together at other times. Union supporters have been clamoring for 20 year old Colombian Roger Torres to see more playing and they should get their wish in this match. Torres came off the bench and played well last week after not getting into the game on First Kick weekend. Nowak has tried both Michael Farfan and Danny Mwanga in the withdrawn/play making role during the team's first two matches with limited success. Brian Carroll has been a constant at the holding spot but with Nowak's penchant for unnecessary juggling combined with the international absences you never quite know what line-up will be trotted out there on Saturday. Keon Daniel, Josue Martinez and Farfan are options on the outside.
Lionard Pajoy was brought in to help replace the scoring output lost when Nowak inexplicably decided to trade Sebastian LeToux to Vancouver. Pajoy has been just fair in his first two appearances but did manage to pick up a goal against Colorado on a header resulting from excellent service by Torres after an initial set piece play was cleared away.
On the Fire's side, the line up appears to be set for the most part.
Paolo Tornaghi was impressive in his debut against Montreal and will surely get the call in goal again. The back line of Gargan, Gibbs, Anibaba, and Segares will stay intact at least until Arne Friedrich regains his fitness. Segares was replaced by Hunter Jumper in the Montreal match after twisting an ankle but he's resumed full training and should be ready to go.
I'm not anticipating any changes to the midfield of Pappa, Pause, Pardo, and Grazzini at this time but Frank Klopas must be wary of teams adopting the "drop back and rough house Grazzini" tactics that Montreal employed last weekend. This seems to be the most effective way of defending the Fire's pace up front and creative ability in the middle of the pitch and it's proven to be effective especially if Marco Pappa is not playing well. With Pappa struggling to find a way to be dangerous without the ball, defenders are allowed to focus on limiting Grazzini and Pardo since neither of the outside players (Pappa and Pause) can be relied on to provide much service in the final third. While Grazzini was contained through physical play, Montreal dropped defenders deep into their half in order to keep Oduro in front of them. If Klopas can find a way to get Pappa involved with effective runs, as Federico Puppo was able to do once entering the Montreal match, instead of trying to dribble through multiple defenders or forcing passes the Fire will be all the more difficult to contain offensively. If the trends witnessed last Saturday continue much into this match, we may see Rafael Robayo make his Fire regular season debut early in this one.
Patrick Nyarko dropped back into midfield in the second half last weekend showing that he can play effectively in multiple spots. His willingness to shoot on goal against Montreal was also a good sign although none of his attempts found the mark. Dominic Oduro appears to be picking up where he left off last season after a successful pre-season and a goal in the opener.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Steven Kinney (R posterior tibialis tendinitis)
PHILADELPHIA UNION -- PROBABLE: DF Chris Albright (R groin strain); MF Michael Farfan (R quad strain); DF Gabriel Farfan (R quad strain); FW Josue Martinez (L foot contusion)
International absences, inner turmoil, injuries, new players, changing tactics and formations.....the Fire are catching the Union at the right time.
Fire 2 Union 0
The rest of the League
Houston 1 Seattle 2 - The Sounders will be without Mauro Rosales for a while. Can Houston continue to collect points against the West? They're not facing Chivas or San Jose this time.
San Jose 1 Toronto FC 1 - Stefan Frei will miss the match with an apparent lower leg injury suffered in training today. Torsten Frings is also out.
Portland 1 New England 1 - The Timbers were awful on the road last year and the Revolution are just awful.
Montreal 0 Columbus 1 - Warzycha's side is usually tough at home.
Chivas 0 Real Salt Lake 3 - Enough said.
DC 1 Vancouver 3 - I need Eric Hassli to pick up some points for my fantasy team.
Colorado 1 New York 2 - The Red Bulls are struggling but they should win at home. Right?
FC Dallas 1 Sporting KC 2 - The former Wizards will face a tougher challenge than what they've seen in their first two matches. A late winner against DC and a beat down of a short-handed New England side does not a season make.
FYI - the passcode to join the Fire Confidential fantasy league is 8891-1535