Union Matchday 8 Preview: Union hope to keep their flame going in Windy City VS Chicago Fire

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Isn’t soccer beautiful? A team in struggling form, a fan base starting to panic, and because of the away goals rule, a 2-2 draw down in Guadalajara earns Union a spot in the Champions League Quarter Finals, and everything feels great again…for now.  Scoring 2 goals on the road with their backs against the wall has the team and fans alike feeling optimistic moving forward, and what better way to test that boost of confidence than with an MLS Cup rematch with LAFC in the CCL Semi-Finals? 

But before they can turn all their attention to the Semi-Finals which Jim Curtin says the club is prioritizing right now, Union will look to build off their positive performance up in the windy city Saturday night as they take on former Union striker, Kacper Przybylko and Chicago Fire. 

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Philadelphia Union @ Chicago Fire Preview

Heading into Matchday 8, Union has already played a total of 11 games across all competitions and has another 9 games scheduled in the next 5 weeks alone.  That being said, Union feel prepared for this schedule congestion with their off-season signings and the trust they have in their academy products and depth pieces and are hoping to take the momentum from Atlas straight to the midwest no matter what lineup they roll out. 

Chicago, while battling a number of injuries this season and attempting to fill the holes left by the sales of Jhon Duran and Gaga Slonina, find themselves in a better position than I think most would have thought heading into Matchday 8.  The acquisition of MLS veteran and journeyman Kei Kamara has proved to be one that benefits Chicago so far.  This might be the weekend a few of those injured names return to the lineup as well.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

2023 MLS Season 

After finishing 2022 as the 5th worst team in MLS, losing Duran and Slonina, and not making a huge splash in the transfer market despite the hefty payday from aforementioned sales, Chicago currently finds itself in a position that’s surprising to most.  A Record of 2 wins, 3 draws, and 1 loss is good enough to currently land Chicago Fire at the 6th spot in the Eastern Conference.  With Union playing on the road, it’s important to note that both of Chicago’s wins this season have come at home, while Union has yet to win a game on the road so far in 2023 across all competitions. 

Chicago and Ezra Hendrickson know that people across the league don’t expect Chicago to be where they’re currently, but they’re okay with that and are hoping to use that lack of belief as fuel to their fire. 

I gotta tip my hat off to those guys in there. No one gives us any credit, no one expects us to win games.  But we’re blocking all that noise out, and they come every week, everyday to training and they put in the work, and it’s showing, it’s paying off. And once we can get that mind shift fully shifted, I think this team is going to be a hell of a team to deal with this year. 

Chicago Head Coach, Ezra Hendrickson
Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union


In the first meeting between these two clubs just a few weeks ago, Jim Curtin was open about his approach to preparing the team defensively to deal with the likes of Kei Kamara and Kacper Przybylko, especially in the air against crosses into the box.  I think that’s going to be another point of focus on Saturday night for Union, as they’ll likely throw out a heavily rotated lineup due to Champions League.  

Kei Kamara is MLS’ 3rd best goal scorer all-time and is going to be feeling confident having scored 2 goals in his previous game.  Union got to test their ability to deal with a tall, physical forward on Wednesday night against Atlas’ Julian Quinones and will need to answer the bell just a few days later against Kamara.  

On the other side of the ball, I’m looking for one man to return to the lineup and take charge defensively.  Damion Lowe, whose been off to a great start in Blue and Gold, looks to be close to returning to the lineup after missing the last two games with a slight hamstring injury. 

The physicality and assertiveness that Damion brings to the Union backline would be the perfect countermove to an attacking threat like Kei Kamara.  Hopefully, Damion is fit and ready to go, I know fans have been calling for him to get more minutes but this issue has been HOW to get him in the lineup.  The need for rotation with CCL could provide Damion with the perfect opportunity to continue his strong run of form so far. 

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union


I can’t lie, this does feel like the perfect trap game for Union.  A courageous performance against Atlas on the road earns you a chance at revenge in the CCL Semi-Finals, the team finally finds the back of the net, scoring multiple goals in a game for just the 4th time out of 11 games this season, and fans are starting to feel optimistic again. What could possibly go wrong(probably a million things)?  

One thing’s for certain, predicting a lineup for Saturday is near impossible.  Head Coach Jim Curtin historically relies heavily on the data that suggests changing more than a few players in your starting XI has negative effects on play and results, so almost everyone was bewildered at the makeshift 5-3-2 Curtin threw out last weekend against FCC.  But Jim has vocalized his club putting priority in Champions League right now, and while they won’t directly sacrifice points in MLS, they will continue to rely on rotation and depth in league play in order to have their best available for the two legs against LAFC. 

So again, predicting a formation and starting XI is really difficult to shape out right now, but my best guess is that Philly goes back to the Diamond formation. Jim Curtin gave an update on Kai Wagner on Friday in his press conference previewing Chicago, letting the media know that he was currently getting another scan as a precaution. 

They don’t think Wagner injured his hamstring any further, but they do want to be cautious with him.  Because of that, and the high praise he gave the likes of Nate Harriel and Matt Real who both came on late in the game against Atlas, I think we’ll see Wagner get some rest with the previous two starting on the outside of the backline. 

If he’s fit and back from injury, I think Damion Lowe slots in at center back with Jack Elliott next to him   I’m not super confident in Elliott being the second center back, but Glesnes has started and played all 90 minutes of every game with the exception of 1 this season, so I think he’s due for a rest before. 

My best guess for the midfield with be Jesus Bueno stepping in for Jose Martinez, with Leon Flach on the left, Andres Perea on the right, and Joaquin Torres at the 10.  Chris Donovan and Quinn Sullivan will make up the striking duo.  And of course, Andre Blake in net. 

I think it’s going to be one of those games where the Union rely on their defense to get it done, and I’m okay with that.  I do think Chicago will score so Union is going to have to find a goal themselves if they don’t want to go back to Chester empty-handed.  I’ll go for a 1-1 draw in this one, and I think it’ll be cagey like it’s been the last few times these teams have met. Tune in to catch the action Saturday night on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV at 8:30 pm EST.

Be sure to return to Philly Sports Network for more Philadelphia Union and other soccer content!

Follow our Union team on Twitter:

Tim Lovenguth | Justin Friedberg | El Parcero Philly
Zach LoBasso | Steve Beavon | Liam Jenkins
Eric Frysinger | Paul Frenzel | Jimmy King

Doop on Union fans!

Mandatory Credit: