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Blue Collar Guys: Chicago Fire vs Philadelphia Union game 21 preview

Blue Collar Guys: Chicago Fire vs Philadelphia Union game 21 preview

The Fire are back at home for the first of two games since early June in the first of only two at Soldier Field in July. Their opponent is the Philadelphia Union, a team that has long been the toast of the league but whose results have plummeted, leaving the team just two points ahead of the Fire in the standings and out of the postseason.

The Fire have announced that there will be fireworks after the game, but players and fans are hoping the real fireworks will take place during the game, on the field.

Series History

Always: 10W94D-16L
Last match: February 24, 2024: Fire 2-2 in Philadelphia at Subaru Park, Chester, Pennsylvania.
Last home game: April 15, 2023: 2-2 Philadelphia fire at Soldier Field, Chicago, Ill.

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Philadelphia Union

The Union have had a difficult 2024 season after years of being the league’s model of consistency. Their last win came on May 18 against the then-hapless New England Revolution, one of just four all year. Since then, the Union have had three draws followed by four losses. For their last game, they could take solace in the fact that two of those were close contests against Inter Miami and FC Cincinnati, but the team also lost at home to Charlotte and on Saturday to CF Montréal, a team that has had more than its share of troubles in recent weeks.

Firework

The Fire went to Seattle, taking the lead in the 30th minute with a beautiful goal from Maren Haile-Selassie, but two penalties against the team – one deep into second-half injury time – sank the team when Albert Rusnák scored twice from the penalty spot. The team outscored Seattle throughout the first half, but with just 18 points after 20 games, the time for moral victories is long gone.

After two straight defeats, the Fire’s four-game unbeaten run now looks set to be over, and instead the eight points the team collected in those four games seem better positioned as a run of decent form sandwiched between losses. It’s now just eight points in the last 10 games for the Fire, and to paraphrase the great American philosopher Yogi Berra, it’s getting late early for the team.

The storyline

The Fire remain in last place in the MLS Eastern Conference. Their 18 points are tied for the lowest point total in team history after 20 games, along with the 2011 games and the crowning 2016 season.

The fans’ pain in those years was somewhat eased by successful runs in the US Open Cup in both years. By the time the team had played 20 games in both years, the team had already qualified for the US Open Cup semi-finals. They lost in the semi-finals in 2016, but in 2011 they reached the final before falling to the Seattle Sounders.

With The Fire’s first team out of the US Open Cup this year, fans have no reason to celebrate. Furthermore, it seems that the upcoming League Cup will not have the same soothing effect as the previous cup matches.

A postseason appearance is not impossible, but it is becoming an increasingly distant hope. Before Saturday’s game, the team was down three points; now it is six. The idea that the team, currently in last place, can catch up to six other teams in the conference seems unlikely, to say the least.

As an added bonus, the team’s last two losses were forgiven by the competition, as they played against teams that were also not in the play-offs.

The Fire get another chance Wednesday against a bottom-line team in the Philadelphia Union, who up until this year had been the epitome of consistency in the league: The team has made the playoffs every year since 2018 and hasn’t finished lower than fourth since 2019. They’ve done it all while competing on a budget under head coach Jim Curtin, who started and spent the majority of his professional playing career with the Fire.

The match between the two teams gives fans of both teams a chance to reflect on the color of the grass on the other side: Curtins Union teams have nearly reached the pinnacle of the sport, but have rarely done so. They have appeared in four finals, including three US Open Cups and the 2022 MLS Cup, and lost them all.

The team did it on a shoestring budget, and the fans, commentators, and even players have called on the club management to relax financial resources and bring in that little bit extra that could make the difference between reaching the cup final and winning it.

Meanwhile, the Fire have spent the last five years freely, but success has not been forthcoming. What Union fans want from their team, the Fire have done, and yet they have gotten precious little in return.

Both teams are in desperate need of wins and would like to be in a better position by the time the Leagues Cup halts the regular season for a month from the end of July.

For what it’s worth – that 2011 season where the Fire also had 18 points after 20 games? Frank Klopas was also behind the bench for the Fire, as an interim. Game 21 of the campaign was against the Philadelphia Union and ended in a 1-1 draw.

Philadelphia Players to Watch

Feb 24, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Midfielder Daniel Gazdag (10) of Philadelphia Union holds the ball against Chicago Fire FC during the second half at Subaru Park.
Feb 24, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Midfielder Daniel Gazdag (10) of Philadelphia Union holds the ball against Chicago Fire FC during the second half at Subaru Park. Gazdag was the team’s leading scorer during the 2024 season. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

Daniel Gazdag: Since joining the league from Honvéd, his boyhood club in Hungary, midway through the 2021 season, Gazdag has contributed 76 goals – including 50 strikes – in 105 games for the Union. He has become a fringe member of the Hungarian national team, earning a call-up for the team’s European Championship campaign, making one appearance for the squad before returning after they were eliminated. Despite his team’s struggles this year, he has continued to score, with 10 goals to his name in just 1,330 minutes this season, but unlike in previous years, he has not set up others as often, with just one assist this year. With Julián Carranza’s departure to the Netherlands, Gazdag will be even more of a focal point for the attack than he has been before, at least until (and unless) reinforcements arrive in the summer transfer window.

Feb 24, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Union midfielder Quinn Sullivan (33) controls the ball past Chicago Fire FC midfielder Jonathan Dean (24) during the second half at Subaru Park.
Feb 24, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Union midfielder Quinn Sullivan (33) controls the ball past Chicago Fire FC midfielder Jonathan Dean (24) during the second half at Subaru Park. Quinn Sullivan has emerged as a match-in, match-out starter after coming through the Union academy. (Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports)

Quinn Sullivan: Cavan’s older brother, currently the most highly-touted teenager to emerge from the United States in a generation, Quinn Sullivan, is finally stepping up to a starting role for the Union after rising through the academy ranks. He earned his first-team minutes in 2021 and has featured in roughly half of the team’s games in subsequent seasons, but has been a full-time starter this year, playing in each of Philadelphia’s first 20 games this season (17 starts) and notching two goals (already equal to a personal best) and five assists (easily a personal best) so far this campaign.

Fire Keys to Victory

  • Play smarter, not harder: Chris Brady has had three penalties in the last two games, and almost got another one before a VAR review overturned the decision in Seattle. Some penalties are awarded for fouls (I submit that Mauricio Pineda looked like he slipped on the wet grass in the play that gave Seattle their second chance from the spot last Saturday), but some are completely avoidable. Twice in the last two games, Jonathan Dean has tried to pull guys down from behind by grabbing their shirts. That’s a penalty every time in every league. Dean plays hard. No one doubts that. But there are also players in MLS who are faster than him and can outplay him. When that happens, Dean (and everyone else) needs to realize that’s what’s happening and let it happen, because nothing that happens after that will more more likely to result in a goal than a penalty.
  • Test the back line: Two major factors behind the Union’s success in recent seasons: rock-solid goalkeeping from Andre Blake and some of the best central defending performances you’ll see in this competition from Jack Elliot and Jakob Glesnes. The Union haven’t had either of those this year. Blake has been injured a lot, and when he hasn’t, he honestly hasn’t looked like the player we’ve come to expect. The same goes for Elliot and Glesnes, who have looked worse than average this year. In other words, the Fire need to try to get past them – they’ll likely succeed more than once, and when they do, backup keeper Andrew Rick is far from infallible.

Panel Predictions

Alex Calabrese

Prediction: Brand XX Philadelphia

Jiggly Carollo

“I’m so empty/You’re all I think about”
Let’s face it, I think almost every Fire fan is obsessed with the idea of ​​Philly losing, firing Curtin, and us taking him right away. But alas, while they’re in a huge slump, they still have a reasonably talented team and a solid coach. And in a midweek game, I can see the Fire getting up early, something happening at halftime, and Philly coming back to win. Curtin’s around for a while. Fire fans are left wondering.

Prediction: Fire 3-2 Philadelphia

Tim Hotze

The Union look like a team to beat. The Fire have beaten them twice. Tighten up the defense and that will be a win.

Prediction: Fire 2-1 Philadelphia

Matt Shabelman

Prediction: Fire 3-1 Philadelphia3

Match information and how to watch

Date and time: Wednesday, July 3, 2024, 7:30 PM CT
Place: Soldier Field, Chicago, Illinois.
Prediction: Expected temperatures at start: 83’F, winds 7 mph, 58% cloud cover and 1% chance of precipitation
TV: Apple TV – MLS Season Pass