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Chicago Fire will host Philadelphia Union at Soldier Field this Saturday. The two sides are heading in very different directions going into matchday six.
Chicago Fire have surpassed expectations early in the season and are sitting in sixth place on the Eastern Conference table with a game to spare.
Philadelphia Union look nothing like the team from previous seasons. They’ve won just two of their seven games this season.
Odds taken from BetMGM.
Pick: Chicago Fire to win. (+175)
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The odds have Philadelphia Union as the favorites heading into this tie because of their exploits in previous seasons, but they’ve certainly not performed well enough this season to be considered the favorites. In contrast, Chicago Fire look like a team on the up, and a win here would take them to fifth place in the Eastern Conference.
Chicago Fire are also playing at home and picking them is extremely rewarding; they seem like the perfect punt for this week. It’s not often that the in-form team gets worse odds in a home game. They’ve been better than Philadelphia Union in every department this season, so we think this is a no-brainer.
Philadelphia Union, as expected, have the superior head-to-head record. They’ve won 14, drawn six, and lost seven of their 27 matches against Chicago Fire. Matches between the two sides are usually quite high-scoring encounters, so expect a few goals in this one.
The last meeting between the two sides occurred last month when Philadelphia Union won 1-0. Fabian Herbers did Philadelphia Union a favor by getting sent off in the 50th minute. Chicago Fire were the better side before the sending off did well to hold on for long spells but they couldn’t hold on till the final whistle. Philadelphia Union’s Joaquin Torres broke the deadlock in the 90th minute to give the home side all three points.
Chicago Fire had Kei Kamara sent off just before the final whistle as well, but by then, the game was already over. Despite ending the match with nine players, Chicago Fire managed to get 12 shots off and had 45% of the possession. They certainly have the tools to win the upcoming match if they can cut down on the red cards.
Chicago Fire continued their good recent form with a 2-1 win over Minnesota United FC. Kei Kamara was the star of the show, with a first-half brace. The first goal came in the 24th minute, and the second came twelve minutes later. Chicago Fire took this lead into the first half, and their performance merited the same.
The second half wasn’t played with the same sort of conviction. Kevin Arriaga gave the home side a scare by opening Minnesota’s account with a goal in the 57th minute, but Chicago Fire did well to hold on and get all three points. Chicago Fire were worthy winners at the end of the day; they had 52% of the possession and took 14 shots to Minnesota’s 10. They are unbeaten in their last four league matches. In fact, their last league loss came against Philadelphia Union.
Kei Kamara was the hero last week, but Chicago Fire haven’t really been firing on all cylinders in the attack. Their defensive scheme, however, has been positive all season. They’ve conceded eight goals in their six league matches, but a closer look at the underlying data suggests they have the tools to keep clean sheets.
Their overall expected goals against tally currently is 6.8, which is the fourth-best record in the Eastern Conference. This means they aren’t conceding too many high-value chances in most games. Their defense conceded 49 goals in 34 games last season, so it was important to remedy that this season (stats from fbref.com). Head coach Ezra Hendrickson deserves a lot of praise for overseeing this improvement.
In attack, Kamara has to show the form from the weekend on a consistent basis. He was quiet for most of this season until this point, which was a bit of a concern. Chris Mueller is the only other goalscoring option, and it remains to be seen if the two can handle the burden.
Philadelphia Union are now without a win in their last four league matches. The only positive in recent weeks has been the first-leg win over Liga MX side Atlas in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals.
Their latest disappointment was a 1-0 loss to Cincinnati FC. Luciano Acosta’s 69th-minute penalty was the difference between the two sides in a pretty dull game. Cincinnati FC had 64% possession in the tie and took eight shots to Philadelphia Union’s 10. There wasn’t really a lot between the two sides, but it was another disappointing performance and result for Philadelphia Union.
Philadelphia Union’s decline has been one of the stories of the season. They were seconds away from winning the MLS Cup last season before Gareth Bale broke their hearts, but it seems like their spirit also got broken following Bale’s heroics.
They look unrecognizable from the team that’s been contending for the MLS Cup for the last few seasons. The Union, who usually play with a lot of intensity, have lost some of that bite this season. Kai Wagner, who was one of last season’s best performers, has come under scrutiny this season. The all-action forward has cut a frustrated figure in many games, which seems to have had a chain reaction throughout the squad.
Without the aggression and bite from the forward line, the team's defensive half looks very exposed, which in turn leads to the concession of chances and goals. If Wagner finds some form again, there’s a good chance Philadelphia Union’s fortunes will change.
The expected goals against metric doesn’t offer much hope to Philadelphia Union either. According to the metric, they’ve been the 6th worst team defensively in the Eastern Conference. The expected goals metric, however, looks quite good. They rank third on the metric, which suggests that they haven’t really had a lot of trouble creating chances; the problem has been finishing the chances.
It’s not all doom and gloom. They have a big match in midweek against Atlas in the CONCACAF Champions League; a win in this match could ignite the fire that’s been lacking in the team all season. Chicago Fire won’t be an easy opponent, but if they can get Wagner playing to his potential again, there’s every chance of coming out on top in this match.
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Teams: Chicago Fire vs Philadelphia Union
Location: Soldier Field
Time: Saturday, April 15 at 6:30 pm ET onwards
How to watch: Apple TV
With an interest in strategy and mathematics, applying that to sports writing was the natural progression. A writer at night and the founder of a gaming company, Nikhil’s previous experience includes working with ESPN for five years. His specialization includes soccer, basketball, tennis, and esports betting. Email: [email protected]More info on Nikhil Kalro
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