|Matchup||Chicago Fire (14-9-6, 48 pts.) at Philadelphia Union (8-12-9, 33 pts.)|
|Date||Saturday, Sept. 23 • 6:00 p.m. CT|
|Location||Chester, Pa. • Talen Energy Stadium|
|TV||CSN Chicago Plus (Pregame: 5:30 p.m. CT)|
|Spanish Radio||Univision América 1200 (WRTO)|
|Injuries, Suspensions, Lineup Projection||MLS Match Preview|
The Chicago Fire take their three-match unbeaten run on the road this weekend as they gear up for a visit to Philadelphia to take on the Union on Saturday night (6 p.m. CT, CSN Chicago). Eastern Conference playoff seeding remains a big factor in this one, as the Fire have second place New York City (51 pts.) in their sights, but must continue to fend off the likes of Atlanta United and the New York Red Bulls as the regular season comes to a close. As the postseason push resumes, here are a few key facts, faces and figures to keep in mind:
Key number: 6
Entering the weekend, the Union find themselves riding a six-match winless streak that includes draws in three straight. The East's 10th place team haven't been formally eliminated from postseason contention yet, and will be desperate to claim a full three points in front of the Sons of Ben on Saturday night. Additionally, No. 66 Joao Meira could potentially see a return to starting XI after returning from injury for a 19-minute cameo in last weekend's win against D.C. Meira had missed the team's previous four matches with a calf injury.
Should Meira slot in alongside Johan Kappelhof and fullbacks Matt Polster and Brandon Vincent, it would mark the first time Veljko Paunovic's first-choice back four have started together since July 5th's 2-2 draw at Portland.
Matchup to watch: The Fire central defense vs. C.J. Sapong
From the forward spot, Sapong has done everything for the Union this season. His total of 18 goals + assists is the team's highest by far, a full eight more than midfielder Haris Medunjanin's 10 (two goals, eight assists). If the Fire are to pull out a draw at the very least, they'll need to bottle up Sapong, who is as dangerous in the box as he is dropping in to help set up the attack. It'll be up to some combination of Kappelhof, Jonathan Campbell, and Meira to keep the 28-year-old contained and off the board come Saturday.
One Big Question: Will Nemanja Nikolic break the single-season scoring record?
After banging home a 90th minute penalty kick in last weekend's 3-0 victory over D.C. United, forward Nemanja Nikolic earned a share of the club's single-season scoring record with his 18th goal of the season. Former Fire forward Ante Razov additionally hit the 18-goal mark in 2000. Now, with five games remaining, Nikolic has an opportunity to make the record all his own and become the first Fire player to hit 20 goals with the club in a single season.. In another of this game's key matchups, he'll face a stiff test against Union 'keeper Andre Blake, who made eight saves in his side's 0-0 draw with New York last weekend.
Sizing Up The Series
The Fire hold a 7-6-5 all-time regular season record against the Philadelphia Union, including a 2-4-2 record in matches played on the road. This is the first of two meetings between the two sides this season. The Fire host the return leg on Oct. 15.
Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic concluded his playing career as a member of the Union. In 2011, Paunovic scored three goals and added three assists in 17 appearances.
Union head coach Jim Curtin was a member of the Fire for the first seven seasons of his professional career. Curtin appeared in 151 regular season matches for the Men in Red and won the 2003 and 2006 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championships. In a special ceremony, Curtin retired as a member of the Fire on April 4, 2014. Union assistant coach Mike Sorber scored three goals and tallied three assists in 19 regular season appearances for the Men in Red in 2000.
Quote of the Week:
"On a good day, we can beat anyone."
That's forward David Accam, who is certainly not wrong. The Fire at the peak of their powers have been one of the most formidable teams in MLS, and as the playoffs near, they'll look to assert themselves as such with three points on the line Saturday night.