Union-Fire

Union, Fire take center stage on ESPN2 with both teams looking for first win

Philadelphia Union (0-1-2, 2 points) at Chicago Fire (0-0-3, 0 points)

What: Major League Soccer regular season match

When: Sunday, 5 p.m. (kickoff 5:36 p.m.); Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview, Ill.

TV: ESPN2 with play-by-play announcer Adrian Healey and color analyst Taylor Twellman

Radio: None; Social: Follow the action via Twitter: @TheUMatchday

A must-win in March? That might be pushing it a little.

But that’s essentially the sentiment for both the Philadelphia Union and Chicago Fire as they prepare for Sunday night’s match to be nationally-televised on ESPN2. Through three games each, neither team has been able to produce a win.

“I’m not going to lie and say that it’s just another game – it’s two teams need that three points right now even if it is early on in the season,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “The good news is that no one has really grabbed a hold of the Eastern Conference.”

While Curtin has stressed just how early it is in the season, there’s no mistaking how both of these teams are in dire need of a win. The Union grabbed a pair of points in each of its first two games, but both games ultimately felt like losses. Chicago, however, has been dealt losses in each of their first three games and has been outscored 5 to 1.

“It’s two desperate teams early on – it’s very early, three games into the year,” Curtin said. “There’s no panic from either team but at the same time you want to get that first W. Do I wish they were coming off a 5-0 win against the Galaxy and we catch them feeling good about themselves? Yeah that would be nice, but that’s not the way it’s set up.”

Making matters more difficult for the Union has been a growing list of injuries that added Sheanon Williams, who strained a hamstring during Saturday’s 2-0 loss to FC Dallas. The team was already without C.J. Sapong (concussion), Cristian Maidana (MCL strain), Conor Casey (abdominal strain), Andre Blake (left knee surgery) and Eric Bird (hernia). In addition, Zach Pfeffer was suspended for two games following his red card against FC Dallas and now Curtin will likely be without all seven players against Chicago.

“It’s tough, you’d like to have your full stable of guys – we had that for, I think, about 45 minutes,” Curtin said. “But every team in the league right now is going through injuries, international call-ups. Everyone is a little shorthanded. There’s no excuse in that regard.”

Count Chicago for both. Shaun Maloney (Scotland) and David Accam (Ghana) were each called up to international duty by their respective home nations. In addition, the club is still without Mike Magee and Patrick Nyarko, who are recovering from serious injuries that occurred at the end of the 2014 season.

Thus, predicting possible lineups and substitutions for either team is a matter more fit for Nostradamus. In any event, the Union are content to focus on who they do have. One of those players is midfielder Vincent Nogueira, who many have speculated will have to move a little higher up the field considering Curtin’s dwindling options in the attacking midfield.

It’s a role Curtin knows may not be preferred for Nogueira, but is one he can still succeed at.

“Talent-wise, he’s a top midfielder in our league, for sure,” Curtin said. “If you look through his career, he’s not a goal scorer – that’s not in his bag really. Can he strike the ball from distance? Yes. Is he capable of getting a goal for us? Yes.

“I think as he’s a little higher up the field, and we’ve worked on it, he has a good understanding with Fernando and combining with him when he takes reps at the 10 spot. He’s a guy that knows how to move on the field. He’s a very intelligent soccer player. He does find himself on the ball and in dangerous spots on the field and giving him the freedom in that role to be aggressive and take a shot from distance, all those messages are being conveyed to him.”

So far this season, Nogueira has partnered with Maurice Edu in the central midfield, but the Union captain is well aware of the injury report and knows of possible changes. In any event, Edu says the partnership is working well so far.

“I think we played enough last season to where we do have a good relationship,” Edu said. “He is a little bit more attacking-minded than I am so I try to sit back a little more and give him freedom but at the same time, it’s about reading the game and having a good balance. If he sees an opportunity for me to get forward, we have the understanding that he’ll sit in and vice-versa.”

And as for the potential changes, including Edu having to also move higher up in the midfield?

“It just depends on how we decide to line up,” Edu continued. “Regardless, I think with injuries and guys coming in and out of the team, it’s just an opportunity for someone else to come in and do work for the team. Whatever the position, they are similar roles. There’s a slight change but it’s not dramatic and not anything too drastic. It’s simple and something I’m pretty comfortable with.”

If history is any indication, either team grabbing its first win may not be in the cards. Last year, the two teams played each other three times with all of them ending in dramatic draws with the equalizer happening in the final 10 minutes.

At Toyota Park in April, Juan Luis Anangono equalized in the 86th minute after the Union erased an early 1-0 deficit. Nearly three months later on the date at Toyota Park, Sebastien Le Toux converted a penalty in the 91st minute to salvage a point. And at PPL Park in October, Robert Earnshaw equalized in the 92 minute.

But last year’s misgivings are behind this team. Learning to grow from those mistakes is what’s important according to Edu.

“The things from last season are behind us now,” Edu said. “Obviously they were learning experiences so you take the good with the bad. You try to replicate the good moments and build on those. The bad moments, you don’t focus on them as much. You have to learn from them. You don’t want to make the same mistake continuously. Last season we kind of struggled with that in terms of giving up goals or giving up chances in the end of games so it’s something we’ve been trying to work on this season. What happened last year in Chicago, it’s not something we’re dwelling on. We’re trying to focus on making sure that this season we’ll go up there and we’re ready to get three points.”

What do you think is a game plan for success against Colorado? Leave your comment below.

Contact Philadelphia Union press officer Chris Winkler at cwinkler@philadelphiaunion.com.

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