Martin Tomszak is back with another look at the this week's opponent, the Philadelphia Union. Both teams are in desperate need of points.
What Are They About? Philadelphia Union Preview
After a record setting 0-3 start to the season, the Chicago Fire look to get back on their feet against the Philadelphia Union on Sunday, let’s see what they will be up against.
Philly Form Guide: D-D-L
Previous match: A 2-0 home loss to FC Dallas.
Formation: 4-5-1 M’bolhi; Gaddis, White, Vitoria, Williams; Wenger, Edu, Pfeffer, Noguiera, Le Toux; Aristeguieta
Strengths: Do not be fooled by Philly’s form guide, they're better than their record so far. Although they have only managed to earn two points in three matches, the Union has played well in spots this season. In fact, if it were not for the woodwork and a few miraculous saves from Clint Irwin they would have earned all three points against the Colorado Rapids. The same can be said against RSL when Philly was robbed of all three points by a terrible PK call in the dying minutes of the match. Sunday’s contest will not be easy by any stretch of the imagination.
Free Flowing Attack: After removing the interim tag from his title, Jim Curtin has really made the team his own by introducing a fluid attacking style of soccer. Andrew Wenger, Sebastien Le Toux, Cristian Maidana, Vincent Noguiera and Maurice Edu all look extremely comfortable on the ball. They can hold up possession, they all have great vision and passing ability, and most importantly they win their midfield battles. In all three of the Union’s matches the team has statistically out dueled their opponents in one on one situations, even doing so in the fortress that is RSL’s Rio Tinto. They have averaged 400 completed passes per game, had double digit shots in all three contests, and have had those shots taken by multiple players from various distances. With fullbacks Ray Gaddis and Sheanon Williams not being shy in the opponent’s half, possessing a truly dynamic midfield, and having newly signed DP Fernando Aristeguieta settling in quickly, this Union side is truly dangerous going forward.
Forward Options: While the Union’s midfield strengths are clear, their dynamism in attack is completed by their squad depth at forward. Aristeguieta has shown that the skills he learned in Ligue 1 with FC Nantes will translate well to MLS. He has been a lethal finisher off of half chances (see both goals against RSL) and has shown that he can shoot from distance as well. League veteran Conor Casey continues to show that he can bully opposing defenses on set pieces, and Curtin splashed some cash to pick up the versatile CJ Sapong in the offseason. They are not short on attacking threats.
Missing Players: While alluding to squad depth as a plus above, the Fire catch the Union at an interesting time. Williams left the match early in the first half against Dallas with a hamstring strain to join Maidana, Casey, and Sapong on the short term injury list. Zach Pfeffer’s reckless MMA style elbow to Mauro Diaz’s head saw him earn a red card and a suspension for the match against the Fire. Look for Fabinho to take Williams’ place as he did on Sunday, while either Erik Ayuk or Michael Lahoud will slot into midfield, (unless Curtin risks playing Fred who spent most of last season underperforming). When you add the fact that the Union shipped off veteran Danny Cruz on loan to Norway in midweek, we could see a lot of new faces for Philly. It takes any new line up time to gel and if the Fire can break up Philly’s play early the Union could get frustrated. A good ol’ fashioned Chicago style tackle from Matt Polster or Jeff Larentowicz would be a good way to set the tone.
Rais M’Bolhi: After having a solid year for the Algerian national team in the World Cup and the African Cup of Nations, M’Bolhi has decided to throw that form right out of the window and continue to have sub-par performances in MLS. Giving up five goals in two games is not the type of stat any keeper wants to have. Against RSL, two of the goals came from a PK and a sublimely taken set piece, but the third saw M’Bolhi caught in no man’s land flailing at a hopeful header towards goal. Against FC Dallas, M’Bolhi seemed to get his hand on both shots that rippled the back of the net but there was not enough strength in his touches to keep them out. What’s worse for the Union is that M’Bolhi looks completely lost on crosses coming into the box. He’s dropped multiple aerial balls this season, doesn’t know whether to stay on his line or leave it, and seemingly has no command of his box. The Fire must take advantage of this weak link if they are to get anything from this match.
Prediction: The Fire cannot afford to lose this match, but neither can Philly. As Curtin said in Philly’s midweek press conference, “both teams are desperate for three points”. This match has draw written all over it. With both sides missing key players, look for a very scrappy and tense match that will result in the Fire’s first point of the season. Chicago 1-1 Philly. Amarikwa with the Fire goal that turns the heat up on an already hot seat under Igboananike, followed by a late defensive collapse that costs the Fire all three points.