The Union doused the Fire in Philadelphia, but then again who hasn’t? The Fire have only one victory away from home while taking at least a point in all but two matches in SeatGeek Stadium. They are bad on the road, but simply unpredictable at on their home turf.
So what should Philly expect when they travel west this weekend?
First, they should keep a close eye on Wednesday’s matchup between Portland and Chicago. The Fire need every single point they can get if they want to sneak into the playoffs, so they may need to throw a full lineup at both Portland and the Union. That’s a lot of travel and two very difficult games for a team that doesn’t boast a lot of youthful legs. Bastian Schweinsteiger is not young, and neither is Jonathan Bornstein, the newly acquired left back who has finally helped solidify one of the league’s most inconsistent defensive units. Bornstein has the intelligence to protect the flank while contributing further up the pitch, and he has helped Paunovic’s squad to handle the transition moments that left them sliced to pieces earlier this year. Paunovic has used a three-man midfield to free Nico Gaitan behind Nemanja Nikolic, CJ Sapong, and Alex Katai, and that’s a formidable attacking foursome. Sapong has been a huge presence as an outlet and a box poacher this season, while Katai stretches a defense with his long shooting and Nikolic times his runs into the area as well as any striker in the league.
A soft spot for the Fire remains the central defense. Schweinsteiger is weirdly bad at defending facing his own goal and drags the defensive line deep quite often. Francisco Calvo is impressively absurd in his choices as a fullback — his scurries forward come when you (and, at times, his teammates) least expect them — and only slightly less unpredictable as a center back. Both Schweinsteiger and Calvo are susceptible to good movement and to dropping early, which means Kacper Przybylko should be able to create acres of space for Marco Fabian on Saturday if the Mexican international hides out behind Dax McCarty in midfield.
The Union and Fire meet for the second time this season on Saturday, August 17 at 8:00 p.m. ET on PHL17.