Scouting report: A breakdown of what to expect from Saturday's opponent Chicago
They say it's difficult to beat a team multiple times in one season.
Flash back to May, when the Union slogged its way to a pair of wins against Chicago in back-to-back weeks. The consecutive shutouts weren't pretty, but they resulted in six points for the Zolos and helped the team climb into playoff contention in the Eastern Conference.
Three months later, a season sweep of Chicago looks like a much more difficult task.
Since the May 18 loss in Philadelphia, the Fire have gone 6-2-3 in league play, earning 21-of-33 points over the course of just ten weeks. Frank Klopas' team, which was 1-7-1 after twice losing to Philadelphia, is now 7-9-4 and just five points out of a playoff spot.
Talk about a turnaround.
Still, the Union (9-6-7, 34 points) is looking for a fourth straight win against Chicago on Saturday (8 p.m., purchase tickets)
Philadelphia is currently enjoying a three-game unbeaten run and has lost just once in league play going all the way back to May 25.
Credit Chicago's turnaround to the shrewd acquisition of All-Star striker Mike Magee.
The Fire shipped the rights to winger Robbie Rogers to Los Angeles for the veteran Windy City native, who proceeded to climb his way right to the top of the MLS scoring charts. In nine games with Chicago, Magee already has seven goals and two assists. Combine that with his early-season Los Angeles numbers for a total of 13 goals in 19 total games.
He works well with withdrawn striker Chris Rolfe. The Magee/Rolfe pairing isn't necessarily dynamic in a sense of athleticism or skill, but they are both incredibly intelligent and experienced players. The word "wily" comes to mind. They make smart runs and read defenses well, which is one of the main reasons Chicago has really improved offensively.
Another catalyst for the improvement is the elevated play of winger Dilly Duka, but it looks like he's questionable this week with a groin strain. You're likely to see Joel Lindpere at left midfield, with Patrick Nyarko on the right. You may recall Nyarko played forward against Philadelphia earlier this season.
Centrally, the Brazilian Alex has been preferred in a pairing with Jeff Larentowicz. Klopas still has the services of Daniel Paladini and the flexible Logan Pause, but Alex seems to provide a little bit more going forward.
As far as depth, Maicon Santos and Quincy Amarikwa are good striking options off the bench. DP Sherjill MacDonald has seen few minutes recently and could very well be on his way out of Chicago.
We could also see Juan Luis Anangonó for the first time on Saturday. He's a brand new DP forward signing, a 24-year-old Ecuadorian who last played on loan with Argentinos Juniors in Buenos Aires. He had a good strike record with prior clubs Nacional and Barcelona SC, both of which are based in Ecuador.
The acquisition of Bakary Soumare from Philadelphia was important in a number of ways.
First, it solved the center back mess that resulted from Arne Friedrich's inability to get healthy. Frank Klopas was left with few options after the veteran German was ruled out of action, and only finally got it turned around when Soumare was signed. Friedrich eventually retired.
Second, it allowed Jalil Anibaba to return to his natural right back position, a spot that had been covered by midfielder Wells Thompson. It was a stop-gap measure at best, exemplified by the red card Thompson received at PPL Park back in May.
Look for longtime left back Gonzalo Segares and steady center back Austin Berry to round out the Chicago backline with Hunter Jumper providing defensive cover.
Also, not to be understated, Sean Johnson returns to Chicago after wrapping up Gold Cup duty with the United States. The Fire's first-choice goalkeeper missed a number of games while Paolo Tornaghi covered for him in July.
Possible Starting XI: Johnson (GK), Anibaba, Soumare, Berry, Segares, Lindpere, Alex, Larentowicz, Nyarko, Rolfe, Magee
Do you think the Union has what it takes to notch a clean sweep of the Fire? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at firstname.lastname@example.org