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Four Questions with Alex Calabrese of MIR97 Media



Jon Durr-USA TODAY Sports

Major League Soccer is officially back, folks.

The Philadelphia Union are set to take on the Chicago Fire in just a few hours as the Union open their season at home at 7:30 p.m. After a win over Saprissa in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, the Union will try and stay undefeated in the 2024 campaign against a Fire team that finished near the bottom of the Eastern Conference table last season.

To find out more about the fire, we reached out to our friend Alex Calabrese, the editor-in-chief of MIR97 Media who also acts as the site’s Chicago Fire beat writer.

Philadelphia Soccer Now: It’s been a while since Chicago and Philadelphia last played. What’s changed with Chicago (players, tactics, etc.?)
Alex Calabrese: Chicago’s team is dramatically different to what it was when the Union last visited Chicago in the spring. For one, there’s a new head coach as Frank Klopas is back in the dugout, replacing Ezra Hendrickson. The starting 11 has also received a makeover, with star DP Hugo Cuypers and top free agent Kellyn Acosta headlining a long list of additions. Former academy player Andrew Gutman and one-time Chelsea target Allan Arigoni also represent further reinforcements that should make the Fire a much more dangerous team going forward.
PSN: Philadelphia’s been super tight-lipped about the team’s preseason, we’ve hardly seen any game film from before the CCC match against Saprissa. Have Chicago fans seen any of their team before the opener, and if so, what have you seen?
AC: Only a small portion of the Fire’s preseason was streamed, but in that limited sample size, there were many encouraging signs. Even prior to the integration of Cuypers and Acosta, the Men in Red swept aside Minnesota 4-0 and dispatched Portland 2-1 to close out the preseason. Young stars like Brian Gutiérrez seem to be coming into form for the start of the season, while returning veterans like Xherdan Shaqiri also appear to be close to their best.
PSN: Chicago had a rough season last year, finishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Is there reason to believe this is a bounce-back year for the team?
AC: 2023 was a weird season for the Fire, who ultimately finished just one point below the line after a decision day defeat at NYCFC. The fanbase is cautiously optimistic, whoever, and the arrivals of Cuypers and Acosta are underlined by a return to historic red uniforms that will play a big role in helping the team refind its identity. While a stacked Eastern Conference will surely make the playoff race a battle down to the final game, the expectation in Chicago is that a bid to break the six-year playoff duck is on the cards.
PSN: Will Chicago have any notable absences? What are your lineup and score predictions?
AC: The Fire are likely able to field their strongest 11, barring any late changes. Chris Brady returns between the sticks for his second season as the No. 1, with experienced European center back duo Rafa Czichos and Tobias Salquist debuting their partnership in front of him. Andrew Gutman and Allan Arigoni will be the full backs, with Kellyn Acosta and newly-minted DP Gastón Giménez together in the midfield. Brian Gutiérrez, Xherdan Shaqiri, and Chris Mueller will make up the attacking constellation underneath Hugo Cuypers. The Fire may be able to ride their preseason momentum against a Union team fighting on multiple fronts and steal a result, but getting a first win in Chester since 2013 will undoubtedly be a challenge.

Joe is a junior at Penn State studying journalism and sports studies, among other things. He's covered the Union since 2017 and has written for Brotherly Game / Philadelphia Soccer Now since 2019. He seeks to answer life's greatest questions, such as, "How did I get here?" and "Where is that large automobile?" You can find Joe on Twitter (iamjoelister) or via email (

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