After two wins and one loss to start to the season, the Philadelphia Union were given a small breather during an unofficial international break. Along with Andre Blake, who returned on Thursday from his time with Jamaica, the Union will travel to Toyota Park to take on the Chicago Fire for the fourth match of the season.
“The past two weeks have been difficult because we’re itching to play again,” head coach Jim Curtin said. “The guys have put in a ton of work; a lot of intensity in training, two sessions a day, guys itching to get back out and get some live action against a good team in Chicago.”
Chicago is coming into the match having lost one game and tied two; they will be looking to get their first win of the season. Their only loss came against New York City FC in their season opener in a 4-3 shootout. They drew 1-1 against Orlando and 0-0 against Columbus.
“They have athletic, mobile players out wide, which allows them to change quickly in transition from offense to defense, and defense to offense. So, that’s something we’ve worked on all week,” Curtin said. “Again, a good passing team. Some young defenders playing well. And, again, speed, which is dangerous, so it always scares a backline a little bit when you have a guy who can just flat out run and get in behind.”
The two teams have had some intense matchups in the short history of the Union’s existence. They have met 15 times and have split every single category evenly. 5-5-5 is the record for both teams, and even the goals are tied at 19 each. If that wasn’t enough, in four of the previous five matches, six goals have been scored in the 85th minute or later.
Also, there’s the storyline with Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic, who will be the first former Union player to coach in the MLS.
“I think the biggest compliment you can get is I respect him a great deal as a player and now as a coach,” Curtin said. “I respect the way he goes about his business, the work he puts in. One of my closest friends in soccer is his assistant, Logan Pause, and he speaks incredibly highly of him, as well.”
Curtin on the other hand is a former Chicago player.
“It’s not between me and Paunovic, though, it’s about the teams – his 18 guys versus my 18 guys,” Curtin said. “We’ll prepare our teams as best we can, and we expect a good game on Saturday with two good teams going at it.”
Philadelphia’s USL affiliate team Bethlehem Steel FC won their first-ever match last Friday against FC Montreal. The team included a number of first team Union players including John McCarthy, Joshua Yaro, Taylor Washington, Eric Ayuk, Leo Fernandes and Walter Restrepo. Additionally, Fabian Herbers, another first team player, was responsible of the only goal of the match.
“Great resource for us to have and, again, it shows that we have a lot of depth,” Curtin said. “It’s difficult to make our 18 and it’s becoming very difficult to our starting XI, which is good.”
2016 MLS Regular Season
Date: Saturday, April 2, 2016
Kickoff: 5:00 p.m. ET
Location: Toyota Park, Chicago, Illinois
Philadelphia Union: 2-1-0 (6 points)
Chicago Fire: 0-1-2 (2 points)