Chicago Fire FC vs. Philadelphia Union Prediction, Preview and Odds - 5/8/21
Chicago Fire FC plays their fourth game of the 2021 MLS Season on Saturday afternoon as they play host to the Philadelphia Union from historic Soldier Field in Chicago. Chicago only has one point on the season, a single tie in the opener, as they’re coming off a 2-0 road loss to New York Red Bulls last week. On the flip side, Philadelphia only has one point themselves, a tie coming in the opener as well and they lost 2-0 to NYCFC at home over the weekend. Last year saw the Union finish first in the Eastern Conference and the league as a whole, while Chicago Fire FC has failed to make the playoffs over the last three years and is in desperate need of a strong season to excite the fan base. Which team will get the valuable points from Saturday’s game?
Fire Looking To Turn The Corner
Chicago Fire FC hasn’t made the playoffs since a third-place regular-season MLS finish in 2017 and the fan base is quickly falling off even despite all the new marketing and naming associated with the team. Last year saw the team finish 22nd in the league, preceded by 17th un 2019 and 20th in 2018. Chicago failed to score last week, which has come to almost be expected of the team over the last few years and has three goals scored and seven goals against this season. Luka Stojanovic leads the team with two goals on the season, while Robert Beric is the only other goal scorer on the team. Not only did they get the loss last week, but the Fire were outshot 14-6 overall and in shots-on-goal, 6-4. Even though Chicago has been able to control the possession game recently, it hasn’t translated to many high opportunity options.
Raphael Wicky doesn’t necessarily have a deep roster, especially when it comes to names known in international circles, but is slowly but surely building up the roster. Jonathan Bornstein is one of the more well-known players with USMNT ties on the roster and while he usually can’t give them 90 minutes, he does have the ability to provide a serviceable option in the back and on the wing for an inexperienced lineup. Chicago had one of the best goalscorers in the league from 2017-2019 in Nemanja Nikolic, but a move for him to another league has left them a little weak up front. Last year saw Beric lead the team in scoring, which is nice to have him back, but the lack of offense will definitely continue to be a concern until someone else, likely a homegrown, steps up.
Chicago is still quite a few years behind their peers in terms of developing talent in the academy, as they only have nine homegrowns in the roster currently. In January’s SuperDraft, Chicago did use their second-round selection, but it looks more and more likely that Chicago will be looking to use more academy depth than collegiate depth over the next few years. Chicago’s front office has consistently mismanaged their use of the draft and the lack of depth is evident now, not only up front but in the backline as well, as shown by the multiple goals given up in every game this year. Without goal scorers or strong defending, it seems like it could be another long year for Chicago Fire FC.
Union Juggling Schedule
Unlike many of their MLS counterparts, the Union have already had a full schedule due to the CONCACAF Champions League. Due to their finish in last year’s standings, the Union have had to play in the continental event, which has added four more games to their schedule, which has shown in their MLS play. Last time out, the Union struggled after a red card in the first-half allowed NYCFC to take total control of the game, outshooting the Union 23-4 overall and 7-0 in shots-on-goal. Philadelphia’s only goal scored of the season was by Jamiro Monteiro, but they’ve been no stranger to conceding goals, allowing four to be scored on them in three games this year. The Union so far looks very much like the Fire, without many high-impact players on either side of the ball.
The Union’s frontline seems like a revolving door as of late, with six different leaders or co-leaders in goals scored over the last five years. Last year’s leading scorer was Sergio Santos, who is still with the team this year, as is 2019 leading scorer, Kacper Przybylko. The Union leaned on captain and USMNT vet Alejandro Bedoya for quite a bit of help and support. The experienced midfielder has the ability to flow offensively and defensively, as well as have a physical presence for the staff to lean on as the coach out on the field. The Union if nothing else still have Andre Blake in the back defensively, as he continues to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world, let alone just MLS or North America.
The Union have put a lot of resources into their academy program over the last decade, which is evident just by looking at the roster. The Union might only have ten homegrowns on the roster right now, but it’s a strong group filled with starters and future stars of the league. They’ve already sent a few players overseas and aren’t shy at all to play the young guys in big games In January's SuperDraft, the Union failed to even make a single pick and that might come back and hurt them, probably not against Chicago Fire FC, but against some of the top teams historically in MLS.
Side: Chicago Fire FC (+115)
Neither team has had a lot of roster turnover, which is a bad sign for Chicago, after missing out on the playoffs last year, but a good sign for Philadelphia, who return a bulk of their scoring and production. Both teams have had similar struggles scoring the ball, as well as defending, but the Union has more continuity due to the CONCACAF schedule and the staff has a better understanding of how they find the game plan most successful. The Union also have the best player overall in this game in keeper Andre Blake, and Chicago, who typically struggles to score anyway, will struggle to get anything by the former UConn Husky. Philadelphia only has a point and knows how important this game is to take advantage of a team near the bottom of the table, and will do just that in a route.
Total: Under 3
Both of these teams, while struggling to defend, also struggle to score and that’s the aspect of the game that doesn’t seem like it’ll change overnight. Blake will make some big saves to keep Chicago at bay, while Philadelphia is still looking to find their legs to put a big number on the board. In the last four games between the two teams since late in the 2018 summer, these teams haven’t yet combined for four goals. The under of three goals has won twice, while it has pushed twice too.