The Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire have some of the same issues. They've both dropped points this season by allowing late goals and they both lack a facilitator in the final third. While the Fire have been more successful offensively this season with more creative options, the Union have been more cohesive defensively. Both sides should be in the running for one of the final Eastern Conference playoff berths but neither will be a serious contender for the top three positions or a true danger in post season without some additions to the roster.
As evidenced last season, the margin of error is razor thin when it comes to separating the playoff teams from the clubs who go home early. The Fire missed out on post season play by one point in 2013 and each head to head contest against expected rivals for those five spots this season is vitally important. Winning at home is critical if a team expects to be one of the ten clubs still playing past October.
The Union come into this match with a 1-1-2 record including a home win against struggling New England, a loss to currently undefeated Columbus, and draws against Portland and Montreal. A late Marco Di Vaio goal last weekend turned three points into one after Philadelphia controlled most of the match. Coach John Hackworth started the season playing a hybrid 4-3-3 formation which has morphed into a 4-2-3-1 of late. They've also managed to limit opponents to few chances on goal (only 9 shots on target so far) but those chances have hurt them.
Possible line ups
Johnson; Palmer, Hurtado, Soumare, Cochrane; Larentowicz, Alex, Shipp, Nyarko; Magee, Amarikwa
Top subs: Watson, Joya, Duka, Anangono
MacMath; Gaddis, Okugo, Wheeler, Fabinho; Carroll, Edu; LeToux, Nogueira, Fernandes; Casey
Top subs: Cruz, Wenger, Berry, Williams, Hoppenot
Both Austin Berry and right back Sheanon Williams are recovering from injuries and could be available for this match since they have resumed training. It's more likely that Ray Gaddis and Aaron Wheeler continue to start for another match while both continue to work back into fitness. The Union revamped their midfield in the offseason with three new signings. Maurice Edu has been very good through four games, Vincent Nogueira looks like a player that will contribute, but designated player Christina Maidana has the makings of a bust about him. Maidana has been subbed out in every game this year and hasn't looked like a player who will make a significant impact. Leo Fernandes has outperformed him in a substitute's role. Maidana is questionable with an injury.
The Union have traded forward Jack McInerney to Montreal in exchange for Andrew Wenger which leaves the striker spot open to speculation in this match. Antoine Hoppenot has been a super-sub for the last two seasons and could get a shot but the oft-injured and aging Conor Casey is available as well.
Frank Yallop has some options with Patrick Nyarko looking like he may be out of his early funk, Dilly Duka now available, and Lovel Palmer back from suspension. Matt Watson performed admirably in Watson's place at right back but he's better suited to central midfield where he could get another look. Both Nyarko and Duka started in Tuesday's reserve match while Joya came in off the bench. Yallop will need to get more of an offensive threat on the wing in place of Joya if the Fire are to be successful.
Fire - OUT: Steven Kinney (hamstring strain)
Union - OUT: Fred (L quad strain); QUESTIONABLE: Cristian Maidana (R calf contusion), Zach Pfeffer (R quad contusion), Sheanon Williams (R quad strain), Danny Cruz (R heel contusion)
This one probably won't be pretty with the Fire still allowing the opposition too much possession. The Union don't allow many chances and are likely to play conservatively on the road but they've been poor in the final third this season.
Set piece defending has been a nightmare for Chicago this season. If the Fire can gather themselves enough to begin eliminating sloppy clearances and careless marking they should be able to limit the Union. Philadelphia could provide a threat from corners if Berry and Casey are on the pitch. One thing to look for may be a Philadelphia weakness in defending set pieces though. They've allowed two scores from corner kicks.
The Fire need to push the game at home rather than attempt to sit back and absorb pressure. We haven't seen much of the high pressure game that was talked about in preseason.
Fire 1 Union 1
The rest of the league
Portland 2 Seattle 1
Montreal 2 New York 1
Columbus 1 Toronto FC 0
Vancouver 2 Colorado 0
DC United 1 New England 1
Houston 2 FC Dallas 1
Sporting KC 1 Real Salt Lake 0
Chivas USA 1 Los Angeles 2
Season record 10-24