Match preview: Union look to douse Fire Thursday night at PPL Park (8 p.m.)

 

Chicago Fire (5-8-16, 31 points) at Philadelphia Union (9-10-11, 38 points)

What: Major League Soccer regular season match; Game notes (PDF): Click here

When: Saturday, 7 p.m.; Where: PPL Park, Chester, Pa.; Tickets: purchase tickets

TV: ESPN 2 featuring play-by-play announcer Adrian Healey and color analyst Taylor Twellman

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

Parking: $20 at all PPL Park approved lots

Mass transit: Shuttle service to and from Chester Transportation Center

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Four matches, 12 points – one major goal.

For the Philadelphia Union, it means doing everything they can to win their final four matches, earn 12 points and reach the MLS Cup playoffs for the second time in their five-year history.

That’s obviously the ultimate plan of action.

It starts on the pitch for the Union (9-10-11, 38 points) Thursday night against the Chicago Fire (5-8-16, 31 points) at PPL Park.

The Union sit in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind Toronto FC and three behind the New York Red Bulls for the fifth and final playoff spot. This will be a sprint to the finish line and the Union are ready for the challenge after a scoreless draw against Houston and a 1-0 loss to D.C. United in their last two league matches.

“We haven’t lost two games in a row, so that’s something to be proud of,” Union interim manager Jim Curtin said. “We bounce back. They’ve dealt with a lot this year, fighting their way to get back in this playoff race. And if you look at the schedule, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out you play Columbus twice, so that part of it will be in our hands. Toronto, obviously, if you look at their schedule, it’s difficult — everybody’s schedule is difficult. I’ve gone through — I have them written out on my desk right now — and you look through and you go, ‘Shoot, they could lose every game. Shoot, they could lose every game. They could win every game.’ You know, it’s this game where until the whistle blows and it’s sorted out over the 90 minutes, you won’t know.

“You won’t know how the Eastern Conference is going to go until the last weekend. That’s how it’s going to be. There will be huge games, there will ebbs and flows, and the team that you think is definitely in right now will probably drop out, and the team that you don’t see coming like a Houston could sneak in. This is just the way it’s gone all year. We’re in that mix right now. We know the urgency, we know what needs to be done. We know we have the advantage of being at home for three in a row. We like that, and we have to show the fight to do whatever it takes to get three points.”

It’s unclear whether the Union will have defender Ethan White (hamstring) or forward Sebastien Le Toux (ankle) in time to compete against the Fire.

No matter which lineup Curtin rolls out, the Union will be ready to go.

Every match has huge ramifications from here on out.

“The good thing is, I know I’ve said it a hundred times, but we’ve been in must-win kind of games this whole stretch, the past 16 or 17 game have all felt like that,” Curtin said. “I joke about it: every week it seems like somebody in my family, or a fan or whatever, they come over, ‘Oh, this week’s a big one,’ and it’s like somebody says that to me every week. The guys know that, they know the moment, they recognize things. We do have some guys who are battle-tested and been through this grind that is getting into the playoffs in MLS. It’s unique to any other league in that you can get hot at the right time in this league, you can have a losing record and go into the playoffs and get hot at the right time and win the whole thing. That’s where our league differs from, you know, ‘It’s going to be Man City’ — you know who’s going to be in the top of England. You can be an Everton in our league and get in and win the final. So, again, the good teams can get on a run at the very end win, whereas maybe it’s not that case in the Premiership.”

Don’t be fooled by Chicago’s record and its exorbitant amount of draws. This club is certainly capable of playing well on any given night.

“It’s dangerous because if you look at the standings they’re getting close to being out of it and then maybe the urgency’s different because there’s guys playing for their jobs for the next season, you know what I mean, and they can maybe take a little more risk, and throw bodies forward, and they have to get three points,” Curtin said. “It’s a dangerous one, and I’ve talked to our guys about that. It’s something where we don’t want to fall asleep,  and we don’t want be hesitant and take them lightly in any way, shape, or form because they’re a handful, they play in a lot of tight games. Not many teams are beating them, they’re playing in a lot of tight games, a lot of draws. Again, a dangerous team, a team we respect, and a team that we know what we need to do get three points.”

What do you think the Union against Chicago tomorrow night? Leave a comment below.

Contact Union writer Andy Jasner at andy.jasner@yahoo.com

 


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