The Philadelphia Union faces its third match in eight days on Saturday, as it returns home to take on Chicago Fire FC. After dropping points against Inter Miami CF on the road last week, the Union will want to bounce back against the Fire.
To get the inside scoop on Chicago, we reached out to Alex Calabrese of Men In Red 97.
Philadelphia Soccer Now: The 2022 season was a rough one for Chicago, but the club stuck with Ezra Hendrickson at the helm. Has anything changed within the club that may show that this year will be different?
Alex Calabrese: Not too much, but there are some small things. In 2022, the Fire never really caught any sustained momentum and were hardly in the playoff race. The two huge bright spots were 18-year-olds Gaga Slonina and Jhon Durán, both of whom were sold to Premier League clubs for eight-digit fees this offseason, and there have not been any massive incoming transfers. The most promising thing about this team heading into this season is the growth and development of some of the younger members of the team’s core, such as young Argentine Fede Navarro, who scored the Fire’s winner against the Union last season, and homegrown Brian Gutiérrez, who is set for a breakout season.
PSN: Chicago has just one game under its belt, with a 1-1 draw against NYCFC last matchday. How did the team look, who stood out?
AC: For the majority of the match, the Fire did not look too good on opening day. They struggled to gain a foothold in the match, and deservedly fell behind just before the half. However, in the last 20 minutes, the Fire’s performance was much more encouraging, and they caught enough momentum to find an equalizer through substitute Fabian Herbers. Few players really stood out, but the central defensive pairing of Rafa Czichos and Carlos Terán did look strong, and the Fire’s biggest strength seems to be its back line.
PSN: Gaga Slonina saw his brief time in MLS end at the completion of last season when he moved to Chelsea. How has the Fire replaced its wünderkind?
AC: The Fire’s Gaga replacement was already here. Chris Brady, who is the same age as Gaga, is usually placed alongside his former teammate as one of America’s best goalkeeping prospects. Brady is a very different style of goalkeeper – he is more of a raw shot-stopper as opposed to Gaga, who is more well-rounded – but he is still tremendously talented and earned the #1 spot thanks to his performances in MLS Next Pro and for the U.S. U-20s. After missing the opening game through a minor thigh tweak, Brady has been named the starter for this weekend; It will be his second career MLS appearance.
PSN: Will Chicago be missing anyone against Philly? What are your lineup and score predictions?
AC: The Fire will, unfortunately, be without Fede Navarro and Jairo Torres, who are both out with hamstring injuries sustained against NYCFC. Most likely, an unchanged back line of Miguel Navarro, Rafa Czichos, Carlos Terán, and Arnaud Souquet will start in front of Chris Brady, with Mauricio Pineda and Fabian Herbers in the midfield double pivot. Star DP Xherdan Shaqiri will be the #10, likely flanked by Chris Mueller and Brian Gutiérrez, with either Kacper Przybyłko or Kei Kamara up top.
Score prediction? I have a difficult time seeing the Fire winning this one on the road at one of the hardest places to play in the league. As much as I want to say that the Fire can go out and fight for three points, without Navarro and a reliable striker, I’m going to have to go with a 2-0 win for the Union.