Match Preview: Union begin 2024 MLS Campaign at home vs Chicago Fire

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Rejoice, Union fans – The Boys in Blue are back at Subaru Park on Saturday night, kicking off their 15th MLS season against a revamped Chicago Fire with hopes of 2024 being the season another trophy is brought back to Philadelphia.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union vs Fire Preview

The season home-opener comes on the back of a come-from-behind, 3-2 win in Costa Rica against Saprissa in the CONCACAF Champions Cup – a tale of two halves ultimately settled by a Julian Carranza hat-trick in the final 45 minutes – which feels like a half-decent start to the 2024 campaign for the Blue and Gold.

Now Jim Curtin will shift his group’s focus towards a rejuvenated Eastern Conference opponent, hoping to build on Tuesday’s CCC win and get his team off the mark in league play – all while needing to keep Tuesday night’s return leg against Sarpissa in the back of his mind. Let’s take a look at how the two stack up against each other in the season’s home opener at Subaru Park.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Recent History

Chicago Fire had another disappointing 2023 MLS season, ending the campaign with 10W-10D-14L and a total of 40 points – landing them in 13th place in the Eastern Conference and earning the 6th lowest point total in the league. Chicago’s 36 goals scored was 6th lowest in MLS in 2023, and their 51 goals conceded were tied for the 8th-highest total of any team.

Surprisingly, Chicago still only missed out on making the Playoffs by 3 points thanks to the new Playoff format, so it’s safe to say that the business they’ve done in the off-season(more on that shortly) is in hopes of eliminating that gap.

In 32 total meetings between the 2 clubs In regular season MLS play, Union has the upper hand over Chicago with a record of 14 Wins, 10 losses, and 8 draws. Chicago has failed to get a win in Philadelphia in their previous 12 attempts with their last win coming on on August 3rd, 2013.

During that span, Union has a record of 9 wins and 3 draws while outscoring the Fire by a total of 27 to 13. Chicago’s trip to Subaru Park last season ended in a 1-0 defeat after Joaquin Torres scored a stoppage-time game-winning goal, his lone goal scored in a Union shirt.

One other thing I found while looking into the history between these two teams, is that tempers seem to fly when they meet. While you’d never think of Fire and Union as direct rivals, the matches between the two have been highly intense over the last few years with 6 red cards(5 Chicago, 1 Union) being handed out in the previous 9 meetings.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

A New Look Chicago Fire

As I said earlier, Chicago missed out on making the 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs by just 3 points – and addressing how to close that gap was a huge priority in the off-season for Fire’s front office. 2017 was the last time Chicago made the playoffs, and their popularity in the league has taken a huge hit as a result. But Chicago’s sporting director Georg Heitz has plans to change that in 2024 after the moves he made in the off-season to re-light the Fire, and the league is taking notice.

Heitz and the Fire didn’t just go out and get players they think will compete for a starting spot for the 2024 season – they went out and got multiple right-away starting caliber players. First and foremost, the purchase of 27-year-old Belgian striker Hugo Cuypers from Gent is a huge upgrade after shipping out Kacper Przybylko.

Cuypers is a proven goal scorer coming from Europe, bagging 13 league goals in 2022, and 20 in 2023. He introduces much more of a threat in front of goal for someone like Shaqiri to service and will likely shift the way opponents approach Chicago defensively. the reported 12+ Million dollar transfer fee is a huge statement from Chicago.

But that’s not the only player the Fire has brought in to strengthen their starting XI – they’ve got 4 other new boys hoping to make an impact right away in Chicago. Left Back Andrew Gutman from Colorado, Centerback Tobias Salquist from Denmark’s Silkeborg IF, Right Back Allan Arigoni on loan from Swiss League’s FC Lugano, and Midfielder Kellyn Acosta from LAFC are all projected to crack into the starting XI to kick off the 2024 season for Fire, and immediately make them better than they were last year at least on paper.

Chicago gave up and lot of goals in 2023, and didn’t score nearly as many as they’d hoped – and I think the business they’ve done in the off-season does a pretty good job of strengthening Fire in both departments. A proven goal-scorer in Hugo Cuypers up top(not to mention, Tom Barlow came over from Red Bull as well), 3 new defenders in the backline in Gutman, Salquist, and Arigoni, and solidity in the midfield in Kellyn Acosta – this Chicago team does indeed feel like a tougher team, but have they had enough time to put it together yet?

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

Union preparing for the next 2 games at home

That will be one of the biggest questions coming into this one – Have Chicago had enough time to put all the pieces of the puzzle together? But regardless of what Chicago does, Union feels confident playing any opponent at home.

In their previous 55 games at Subaru Park, Union held a record of 37 wins, 15 draws, and just 3 losses, making Subaru Park one of the toughest places to play in MLS. Having the 2nd leg of the Champions Cup against Saprissa on Tuesday night means Curtin and Union will have to keep rotation and rest in the back of their mind against Chicago, but playing both games at Subaru Park gives them a little bit more leeway with their game plan.

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union


We saw Curtin line his squad up in his preferred 4-4-2 diamond against Saprissa on Saturday night, which looked much better in the 2nd half than it did in the first. Hopefully, the 2nd half-comeback win in Costa Rica was enough for the Union to shake the cobwebs off and hit the ground running in MLS play in 2024 – but of course, rotation comes into play.

Jim Curtin revealed some positive updates regarding his squad in yesterday’s press conference, but he also delivered some concerning news as well. The positive – Jack Elliott looks set to be available for selection on Saturday night after missing out Tuesday night against Saprissa, though I’m still unsure if they’ll push him to start or not. Either way, having a Defender of the Year caliber CB back amongst the available players for selection is huge with all the games coming up.

Now the bad news – Andre Blake is officially listed as questionable for Saturday night’s home opener against Chicago after suffering a slight knock on Tuesday night. Jim Curtin says they’ll have to address Andre on Saturday morning to see where he’s at, but he does feel confident the injury isn’t too severe and won’t be a long-term ordeal. That being said, we could now very likely see Union’s newly acquired backup goalkeeper earlier than anticipated, 25-year-old Oliver Semmle from USL’s Louisville City.

Curtin has been high on Semmle during pre-season, he likes how big and physical Semmle is, and has noted on multiple occasions that he’s fitting in with the squad well and is a great teammate on and off the pitch – something important to Union’s identity. It would be an awfully difficult task for Semmle, coming into the season opener on a whim. But at the same time, what better way to debut than in front of your new fans on the first night of the new season, while the minds of fans are still hopeful and not rotten with Negladelphian frustration yet?

I think if Andre’s at all questionable, save him for Tuesday night. No need to rush him back for an MLS league match against a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2017, when an international competition in the CONCACAF Champions Cup is on the line come Tuesday night.

I could totally see Oliver Semmle getting the nod in net Saturday night. Jack Elliott is another question mark in the backline after missing out on Tuesday night, and my gut tells me he’ll start on the bench on Saturday. Kai Wagner’s Racial Abuse suspension was shockingly reduced by MLS, meaning Wagner is available for selection as well. And Olivier Mbaizo, who missed the game against Saprissa due to a red card in last year’s Champions League Semi-Finals, will also be available for selection come Saturday night.

With that, I think we’ll see 25-year-old Oliver Semmle start in net Saturday night, with a backline of Kai Wagner, Damion Lowe, Jakob Glesnes, and Olivier Mbaizo in front of him. Jose Martinez will take his spot at the bottom of the diamond, with Jack McGlynn on the left-hand side and Daniel Gazdag at the top. The right-hand side of the diamond is going to continue to be the big question mark in Union’s starting XI, but I could really see captain Ale Bedoya getting the start in front of the home fans Saturday night – though I liked the look of him off the bench.

Up top, It’s hard not to pick Carranza after his 2nd half hat-trick even with Saprissa coming to town on Tuesday night, and I’d love to see Mikael Uhre get consecutive starts to see if he can get off the mark early. I don’t expect too many changes in the starting XI, but I think we’ll see Curtin subbing earlier and using his depth as a tool more often this season.

As for the score, Union should win this one even with any rotation we might see. While they’ve struggled against Chicago on the road at times, they own the fire at Subaru Park and they’d do well to keep that trend going Saturday night. The fixtures don’t stop coming, and there isn’t a lot of time to address and fine-tune problems between games which means getting off to a good start is essential for Union’s season.

Even with some potential changes from Tuesday night’s lineup, this Union team has a lot of players with proven success in this league and a handful of guys like Quinn Sullivan, Jack McGlynn, Jesus Bueno, and Nate Harriel looking to take that big next step in their development.

There haven’t been too many departures or changes in this team, while Chicago is potentially still trying to organize all their new puzzle pieces on the table before any real progress has been made. I said it on the Doop on The Volley podcast Thursday night and I’m not sure why, but I feel comfortable in Union scoring multiple goals on Saturday night and will send the fans home with something to be happy about. I’m going with a 3-1 win against Chicago on Saturday night.

It’s Soccer in late February in Philadelphia – it’s going to be cold. But oh how excited am I to be back at Subaru Park with all you sickos. 7:30 pm Saturday night at Subaru Park. The Union are BACK!

Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union

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Mandatory Credit: Philadelphia Union