The Union have a chance to quickly douse the memory of Wednesday night’s second-half collapse against the L.A. Galaxy when they line-up against the Chicago Fire Saturday night at PPL Park (7:30 p.m., TCN). Yep, that’s the same Chicago club they just beat 1-0 on the road last weekend. Weather conditions should be better this time (less wind, although a shower is possible) and the Fire should be about as wobegone mentally as they were last week. They drag a 2-6-1 record into Philadelphia, giving them a solid grip on 8th place in the MLS Eastern Standings. Only a third of the way into the season, Chicago is already looking like an also-ran.
But the Union (4-4-3), currently in control of the fifth and final play-off spot in the East, will have to brush aside some recent stretches of bad play to grab points this weekend. In Chicago, they won thanks to a nifty goal by Jack McInerney on a beautiful feed from Sebastien Le Toux. But it was Chicago who brought the majority of the pressure in the match and it took the game of the year from goaltender Zac MacMath to seal the shut-out. MacMath made about five sensational saves and was also lucky twice, once on a goal post deflection and once on what can only be described as an “accidental” save, being struck with a goal-bound shot on the right hip while scambling to his feet during a flurry in front of the net. Chicago outworked Philadelphia, leading in chances (16-9) and shots on net (9-2). They absolutely mauled the Union on open field crosses (28-10) and controlled the ball nearly 60% of the time. In short, Chicago beat Philadelphia in nearly every way but on the scoreboard.
The big let-down for Philadelphia in the last week, of course, was the final 25 minutes against the Los Angeles Galaxy on Wednesday night at PPL. After playing the two-time defending champs dead-even during a highly competitive first half, the Union’s legs seemed to give-out and the result was a confused defense and three quick L.A. goals. Of course, it didn’t help that the goal the Union managed to concede in the first half was an own goal off the head of their net minder.
Manager John Hackworth did another one of his patented line-up shuffles on Wednesday night, starting Kleberson at midfielder for the first time this season (and leaving him in for the full 90 minutes). Le Toux also got his first start in several matches, and had a couple of free kicks and corners, but generated no shots and was replaced by Conor Casey around the 64th minute. In fact, Antoine Hoppenot came in for Danny Cruz at the same time, as the coach was typically hoping to press new legs into the offensive third for a late win. In retrospect, maybe fresher legs nearer the club’s own goal would’ve worked-out better. It was shortly after these substitutions that the Galaxy’s goal avalanche began.
CHICAGO NOTES: Chicago may be on the verge of a trade, but it’s not the one earlier rumored for the Union’s Bakary Soumare. The team is in talks with the Galaxy who have interest in forward Robbie Rogers, a player who’s been making news internationally in recent months. Rogers, who was released by English side Leeds United during the winter, declared his retirement from soccer and then announced he was gay. In fact, his coming-out was cited and lauded by Jason Collins when the NBA player made a similar announcement earlier this month. But will Rogers stay retired? Chicago holds Rogers’ MLS rights and is trying to work-out a deal with L.A. because Rogers has said he will only come back to the MLS if he can continue his career near his Southern California home. At this point, it would be hard to imagine the Fire swinging a deal fast enough to have an impact on Saturday night’s game with the Union, but it’s worth keeping an eye on the situation.
McINERNEY STILL ON TOP: Union forward Jack McInerney still holds the MLS goal lead with 7. Incredibly, none of L.A.’s 4 scores on Wednesday night were banged-in by Mike Magee, who still trails McInerney with 6. Montreal forward Marco Di Vaio and Sporting Kansas City’s Claudio Bieler are also at 6.
UNION’S POSITION: Not much has changed since last weekend since the only other club from the East with a Wednesday match this week was Montreal and that was a non-league Canadian Championship contest (0-0 Draw with Vancouver). So, the Union remains comfortably in the 5th and final play-off position in the east, a full 3 points ahead of faltering Columbus, and 5 points behind the 3 clubs tied for second. The Crew is the club to watch right now; they play Toronto on the road Saturday afternoon, which is about as weak an opponent as the Union is drawing this weekend. In short, the Union has a good opportunity for a win, but they better grab it because the team right behind them also has a nice chance.