5 Things to Watch ahead of Philadelphia Union vs Chicago Fire

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The Philadelphia Union returns home this Saturday night after setting out on its first road trip of the 2023 campaign. After suffering a 2-0 loss in Miami, a game which Head Coach, Jim Curtin described as humbling, The Union was able to grind a 0-0 draw against Alianza FC in the CONCACAF Champions League with a heavily rotated side. Now with the prospect of advancing to the CCL Quarterfinals with the second leg at Subaru Park, Union first must take care of business and not overlook their MLS opponents in Chicago Fire on Saturday Night. Here are five things to watch going into the weekend’s matchup.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

1. Home Sweet Home

The Union returns to The Soob this weekend, which should instill a sense of comfort in the fans and team alike. Amongst all their success and accolades last season, one of the most impressive for the Blue and Gold was going undefeated at home with a record of 14-5-0 across both MLS regular season and playoff matchups. This turned Subaru Park into one of the toughest places to play across the league.

Of those 19 home games against league competition last season, Philly was held scoreless just once and scored multiple goals on 12 occasions. Picking up right where they left off with a 4-1 win against Columbus in their ‘23 season opener, fans are hoping the home win streak is extended to 11 on Saturday night; a number just one short of the MLS record set by the ‘01-’02 San Jose Earthquakes. Although the meetings between the two sides were a split decision, Union handed Chicago a 4-1 loss in their lone visit to Chester last season.

2. Best XI Returning to the Lineup 

In a season that might see the Union play 50+ games across all competitions, head coach Jim Curtin has been open about the team’s need for rotation and utilizing the entire squad in order to compete. Curtin gave us the first glimpse of that Tuesday night, introducing eight new faces to the starting lineup for the first time this season with a number of those impressive with their performance.

While the rotation gave us insight into what the bench will have to offer, it also allowed much of Union’s preferred XI to catch rest early on. Curtin says this will enable all but Wagner, Elliott, and Blake to enter both the weekend matchup against Chicago and the CCL second leg against Alianza FC at 100%. I think there’s a pretty good shot that the best XI starts both of the next two games, especially against Chicago on Saturday.

3. Building off Union’s first Clean Sheet

Although they weren’t able to snag the ever-important away goal at Alianza which would have seen the Union take full control of the CCL tie, they were able to secure their first clean sheet of the campaign.  Putting balls past the keeper was a huge part of the Union’s success in 2022 with a league-high 77 goals in MLS play, but it’s the defense that’s the cornerstone of Curtin’s well-oiled machine, blanking their competition 12 times previously in 2 consecutive years, and a club regular-season record of 15 times last year. 

An own goal against Columbus and goals from the only two shots Andre Blake faced in Miami left Union frustrated on the defensive side of things. However, Curtin was quick to note the limited chances the backline allowed against Alianza, even amongst a rotated squad and less-than-ideal field conditions.  Getting the rust shaken off, returning back home, and rolling out a rested best XI will go a long way in seeing this defense have another shutdown performance against Chicago on Saturday.

4. Changes in Chicago Lineup

While Chicago’s lineup does look a bit different from the one Union split results with last season, it’s not exactly clear whether those changes were for the better or worse after their sole game of the season so far. With the departure of goalkeeper Gaga Slonina and teenage Columbian Forward Jhon Duran, came lots of capital to re-invest in return. The Fire has yet to put that money back into anything that sets them apart from where they were last season. Their most notable acquisitions are a 30-year-old Ligue-1 right back, Arnauld Souquet, and 38-year-old MLS vet, Kei Kamara in attack.

Chicago head coach, Ezra Hendrickson was able to deliver some positive news on the injury front in his mid-week press conference in which he announced the expected recovery and availability of goalkeeper Chris Brady, and winger Chris Mueller this weekend. Unfortunately for Chicago, the positive is accompanied by some negatives, as they’ve had to list both Frederico Navaro and Jairo Torres as “out” with hamstring issues for each.

In addition to the names in and out of the lineup, Chicago has only played 1 game this season, giving opponents little to study and dissect. Regardless of who makes up Chicago’s lineup, Union will look to keep a strong shape, keep tabs on their points of threat, and look to exploit their weakness.

5. Defending against Kasper and Kei 

To reinforce the former Union striker, Kacper Pryzbylko, Chicago has added MLS vet, Kei Kamara to their attack. Kamara, just one goal from becoming tied for 3rd in goals in MLS history, joins Chicago as his 10th different club in the league. Kamara and the Union have faced off a total of 16 times across all competitions in the past, with Kamara netting 7 goals in those games. Union Head Coach, Jim Curtin spoke about preparing for the pair of strikers who the Union could see come on the pitch in replacement of one another, after splitting 45 minutes each in Chicago’s first game draw against NYCFC.

Curtin acknowledged the role Przybylko played during his time in Philadelphia, an era in which the Union cemented itself as one of the league’s most competitive teams. In addition to keeping tabs on Przybylko and his ability to be clinical in front of the net, Curtin mentioned that the team has been working on defending headers from crosses coming into the box, with both the former Union man and Kamara in mind.


How humbling it was, a 2-0 loss to Miami. But the boys bounced back on a quick turnaround, and after a rotated squad grinding out a 0-0 draw in the Champions League, the best XI will be ready to get the ship back on course Saturday night.

With Mikael Uhre getting a full day’s rest on Tuesday, I’ll be looking for him to make a big impact up front. I think the defense will hold it down with a complete 90-minute performance, keeping the clean sheet, and taking the momentum of a 3-0 win into Tuesday night’s CCL second leg.

Don’t miss the action on Saturday night live from Subaru Park, or on Apple TV at 7:30 pm EST.

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union