Match preview: Fire pulling points, but still looking for first League win of 2014

Union hope to keep Fire contained this weekend in Chicago

 

Philadelphia Union at Chicago Fire

When: Saturday, 5 p.m., Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill. 

TV: Comcast SportsNet featuring play-by-play announcer JP Dellacamera and color analyst Peter Pappas

Radio: None; Online: Streaming video via MLS Live; Social: Follow action via Twitter: @TheUMatchday

Game notes (PDF): Click here

___________________________________________________________________________

For the second straight week, the Philadelphia Union will do battle with a winless team.

This one happens to be on the road against a Chicago squad that has scrapped for three straight draws against Portland, New York, and D.C. United.

It's certainly not the worst way to begin a season.

The spring months will be a bit of a transitional period for the Fire, who parted ways with longtime manager Frank Klopas and brought in former San Jose and Los Angeles coach Frank Yallop this offseason.

He's tasked with a postseason return, after last year's squad finished in playoff position, but missed out on the wild card spot in a tiebreaker scenario.

"They might not have won a game but they are coming off a string of good results," manager John Hackworth told reporters this week. "They had a good preseason and they know they have a good team. It’s still early in the season and I think in every one of these games teams are going to be very anxious and try to be highly motivated to go out and get better results. We are going to be playing a team that is very motivated to get their first win in the year."

There was a lot of turnover for the Fire, who finished with 49 points and a 14-13-7 record last year.

The club parted ways with midfielders Arevalo Rios and Daniel Paladini and also moved longtime servants Jalil Anibaba and Chris Rolfe, the latter in a trade with D.C. just this week. Starting center back Austin Berry was, of course, sent to Philadelphia and role players like Maicon Santos, Joel Lindpere, and Wells Thompson all left the club.

Seasoned veteran and reigning MLS MVP Mike Magee continues to lead the front line, but Yallop has shown no reservation in putting his younger guys on the field.

In recent matches, Patrick Nyarko and DP striker Juan Luis Anangono have been relegated to bench roles, with Gonzalo Segares and Dilly Duka also unavailable through injury. That's provided starting opportunities for Harrison Shipp, Benji Joya, and former Reading United player Greg Cochrane. Add the positive play of journeyman striker Quincy Amarikwa, who has forced his way into the starting eleven, and you've got a Chicago team that looks much different, but plays a solid brand of football.

"I think they have a really good young core," Hackworth said. "Harrison, when I scouted the college games this year, I thought he was one of the best college players by far. I'm disappointed that Chicago was able to sign him as a homegrown player, but he's a good player and he's done well. And then you look at the others they're playing, and they're adding a lot of life, and a lot of mobility to that team. It makes it difficult to try to prepare for them. Then you bring a guy like Magee back into the fold, who is probably not playing his best yet, but you know he's ready to break out, and you're looking at a team that has a lot of dangerous attacking pieces. We're going to have to do a really good job this weekend to try to contain that."

What do you think of this year's Fire squad? Leave a comment below. 

Contact Union writer Kevin Kinkead at k.kinkead@hotmail.com