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MLS is back: Union take on Chicago in home opener



Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Union

After a thrilling first leg of the Champions Cup in San Juan, Costa Rica, the dawn of a new MLS regular season beckons at Subaru Park. The Union, aiming to build off a strong second-half performance against Deportivo Saprissa, set their sights on the Chicago Fire this weekend, trying to begin their MLS campaign on the right foot before shifting their focus to a second-leg cup draw next week.

As for the Chicago Fire, the trip to Chester will provide the club with its first meaningful match of 2024. The Fire, who finished 13th in the Eastern Conference last season with a record of 10-14-10, enter this season with various changes to the lineup and managerial staff. Frank Klopas returns to the head coaching position in Chicago for the second time in his career. As a former player, coach, and now member of Chicago’s Ring of Fire, a sense of familiarity within the locker room may be what the Fire needed to improve from last season.

Additionally, the match at Subaru Park will be the first minutes for defender Chase Gasper, who transferred to Chicago from the Houston Dynamo, U.S. international and former LAFC player Kellan Acosta, and most prominently, Hugo Cuypers from Belgian Club KAA Genk. These players, along with returning stars such as Xherdan Shaqiri, Chris Mueller, and former Philadelphia Union forward Fabian Herbers, look to start the 2024 season strong and reach the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2017.

For the Boys in Blue, the inaugural match of the MLS Regular Season comes sandwiched between a two-leg Champions Cup draw with Saprissa. After an abysmal first half sent the U to the dressing room down a goal, the squad responded emphatically, netting three goals in 24 minutes, all of which came from the boot of Julian Carranza. The match finished in a 3-2 Union victory, with the tie’s second leg coming this Tuesday at Subaru Park.

When asked about the differentiation between the first and second halves of the match last Tuesday, Curtin said, “We leaned on our cohesiveness and remained calm… we showed in the second half what we are capable of and what we’re about.”

When looking at the lineup for the Union, there are various questions regarding injuries and rest minutes with the Champions Cup looming. Most importantly, Andre Blake, who picked up a strain mid-match against Saprissa, will be a game-time decision. Oliver Semmle would be the man to fill Blake’s shoes if he could not play, making the match Semmle’s debut for the U. Oliver moved to Philadelphia over the offseason from Louisville City FC. Curtin commented that the club feels confident with him between the sticks for the club when Blake is not available.

An addition to the squad from the Saprissa match will be veteran center-back Jack Elliott. Entering his seventh season with the Boys in Blue, Elliott provides an essential piece to the Blue and Gold backline that ranks among the best in the league over the last few seasons. Curtin also discussed the importance of depth for the Union this year, highlighting the contributions made by Alejandro Bedoya and Jesus Bueno from the bench.

This match should feature a variety of players, limiting the starters’ minutes to emphasize the importance of the Champions Cup for the team. The notion of rest brings homegrowns such as Quinn Sullivan, who played 91 minutes against Saprissa on Tuesday, to the eyes of the Union faithful. Curtin discussed Sullivan’s maturity and growth over recent years, claiming that “we had two really good, mature plays from him,” one of which led to the go-ahead goal from Julian Carranza in the second half. Sullivan proved integral to the reserves toward the end of last season, and one would expect his youth and growing impact on the club to shine in the condensed start to the season.

The return to Subaru Park also motivates the squad to continue making the stadium a fortress for the home side. “This [Subaru Park] has become the hardest place to play in this league,” Curtin proclaimed, “The group is comfortable in this building.”

The comfort is exemplified in results, as the Boys in Blue have only dropped four matches since the 2020 season in Chester.

You can catch the Philadelphia Union against the Chicago Fire with the MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.

Brady Ferguson is a current student at American University. As a Philadelphia native, Brady has followed the Union since 2010 and is an active member of the Sons of Ben.

Copyright © 2024 Philadelphia Soccer Now and Brotherly Game

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