Union and Fire: 2 Frustrated Clubs

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Jack McInerney Traded: my special blog reviewing the trade: https://yomurph6abc.wordpress.com/2014/04/04/mcinerney-trade-the-right-move/

The Philadelphia Union faces the Chicago Fire in Illinois on Saturday (5 p.m., CSN), a team struggling to earn points against mediocre opponents. Somebody in Chicago right now is probably writing the same thing about Union. Philadelphia has had the better of it this year with their 1-1-2 record, but that’s only good enough for 5th place in the Eastern Conference. Chicago has been only slightly more befuddled, struggling to a 0-1-3 record which has them mired in 7th.

Oh, how much better it was supposed to be for both of these clubs.

In Philadelphia, we know all about the sparkling new midfield and the way the Union has dominated in one way or another every time out this season—only to go “clunk” when it’s time to score. But let’s concentrate on Chicago, a club that’s been a little more prolific on offense, but somewhat worse defensively and even more frustrating to watch than Philadelphia. Consider that Chicago fans have seen their team fail to defeat the following this year: Chivas USA, Portland, New York and DC United. Consider also that only one of those clubs has gone on to muster more points than the Fire—and that’s Chivas, not exactly everyone’s choice to coast into the play-offs. And somehow, Chicago is managing to accomplish this mediocrity with a roster that includes last season’s MLS MVP, 21-goal-scorer Mike Magee, who came over around mid-season from the L.A. Galaxy in the most stunning and head-scratching trade of 2013.

Magee, by the way, had a short training camp and then came-up with a sore hamstring. He’s played in two games this season and has yet to notch a point. He was in there last week in Washington, though, long enough to get a chest bump from the referee for arguing a call. Here’s the kinda’ funny video, courtesy of USA Today Sports:

http://ftw.usatoday.com/2014/03/mls-referee-chest-bump-mike-magee/

Hold the Berry

On defense, the Fire is giving-up almost 2 goals a game and this from a squad that was supposedly so deep on the back line, it was okay to let 2012 Rookie of the Year Austin Berry walk to Philadelphia a couple of months ago for allocation money. Berry pulled a hamstring in the Union’s second game and hasn’t played much, but when he was in there, he looked good and will probably still look good to Chicago fans if he can make it back into the line-up this week (he and Sheanon Williams are questionable, as of this writing).

 All this would be wonderful news for the Union if it wasn’t for the litany of problems Philadelphia has also suffered this season. One would think that by about 7 o’clock Saturday night, one of these teams will have started to answer some questions. Recent history, however, points to a 1-1 draw and a lot of unhappy faces in both locker rooms.

Who’s On Fire?

Chicago has scored 6 goals this season and four of them have come from the tandem of Quincy Amarikwa and veteran Jeff Larentowicz (home town: West Chester, PA) who came over from the Colorado Rapids a couple of years back. The guy who scares me the most is Amarikwa. He’s 26 and is getting his first chance to start this season after serving as Chicago’s version of Antoine Hoppenot last year, a late-game super-sub with quick legs and an acrobatic style. The young Brazilian came-up big last week with the equalizer in DC with about ten minutes to go. The guy who should probably scare me the most is Magee, a bona fide MLS star who, like Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio last week, is probably ready to pop-in a goal.

Mystery Men

Who should Chicago fear the most? That’s the ten dollar question, at this point. There are a half-dozen regulars on the Union who are all scoring time bombs ready to blow-up somebody’s defense. Vincent Nogueira played the best of all of them last week (and not just because he got the goal; he was the most consistent and creative player out there). The Union’s chief problem so far in this young season has been getting more than one of these studs on a roll at the same time. Newcomer Christian Maidana looked like the new star of the team during the first couple of weeks before fading behind increased coverage. Both Sebastien Le Toux and Jack McInerney (traded Friday morning) got early goals before slipping into the “we didn’t hear that named called too much” category last week. Leo Fernandez made the most of his brief time in the spotlight, but it’s unclear yet whether he’s the kind of player who can consistently be one of those big-play guys. And Conor Casey only got his first minutes last weekend—and only as a sub which did not give us much of a chance to see what’s in the tank this season. It’s unclear how Manager John Hackworth will use newcomer Andrew Wenger, who had one goal in three starts before Montreal swapped him for McInerney. Maybe Maurice Edu will work his way up the pitch again and get another crack at net. Other than Nogeiura’s goal, Edu’s second-half blast was about the best chance the Union had against Montreal before it was knocked away by a great save.

It’s easy to forget a couple of things about Philadelphia going into match number 5, season 5. For one, the core of these players have not had much time to play together. Like DC United, another re-worked club that’s struggling early, the Union may still need time to get used to each other’s tendencies and styles. Also, the team hasn’t been one-hundred percent healthy at any time this season. Casey and Berry have been out more than they’ve been in and Sheanon Williams has yet to play a minute. But this team has been constructed with depth in mind and, frankly, should be able to overcome injuries more easily than most. And 5 weeks in, we should be getting close to seeing these guys jell. It took about 8 games back in season 1 for it to happen, as I recall. The difference this time is that the Union’s pedigree is better, there are more stars aboard and plenty more quality miles beneath the cleats. It’s time to start getting three points. It’s time for a move toward the top of the league. The hum-drum middle is getting old.

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