Union vs. Chicago Fire
7 p.m. on TCN
Suffering an uncharacteristic defeat Saturday at the hands of New York City FC, which snapped their eight-game unbeaten string, the Union (6-4-5) look to rebound quickly against Eastern Conference basement dwellers the Chicago Fire (2-6-5) on Wednesday (7 p.m./TCN) at Talen Energy Stadium.
Here’s five things to know:
1. Looking To rebound
When the Eastern Conference’s top team travels to face one of the league’s worst home teams, it would be safe to expect a result. That didn’t play out for the Union in Saturday’s 3-2 loss to NYCFC at Yankee Stadium.
Union manager Jim Curtin called it a wake-up call.
“I said it to the guys, it’s the first time in 10 games we’ve been beat, so it feels bad right now," he said. "It’s an unfamiliar feeling and we need to get that out of our systems quickly.”
It’s the swiftness of that turnaround that has Curtin feeling optimistic. Following Saturday’s uncharacteristic loss, the Union immediately turn their attention to the last-place Fire on Wednesday. And they aren’t taking them lightly.
“The quick turnaround is good,” he said. “After a performance that you’re not happy with, to get back out on the field - we have a Chicago team coming in here that doesn’t concede a lot of goals. We’ll need to be sharp in both boxes to get three points here at home.”
2. Herbers and Sapong
After being without forward C.J. Sapong with a sprained ankle last weekend, Curtin hinted that his leading scorer could find the field on Wednesday, in limited duty.
“We’re happy with how he’s progressed,” Curtin said. “He’s a good piece to be back in the mix, whether it’s Wednesday or Saturday is still to be determined. He’s progressing well.”
If Sapong can’t go in full, or at all, rookie Fabian Herbers would make his second consecutive start. He played the full 90 against NYCFC, impressing Curtin.
“I was happy with the chances he created against New York, especially in the second half,” Curtin said. “He makes good decisions around the goal.”
3. Fire’s struggles
Although the Fire have struggled of late, winning just one of their last six games and scoring just four goals over that span, they do own two wins on the season, including a a 1-0 victory over the Union on April 2.
“The game in Chicago was in a tsunami blizzard, that gets thrown out,” Curtin said. “That was a frustrating game for us, we were disappointed with the result. We actually played pretty well. But I think both teams are a lot different now.”
The Union, yes. The Fire, not so much. The rare win aside, Veljko Paunovic’s club has struggled all season. Though the Fire were competitive against the Colorado Rapids on Saturday, they lost, 2-1, keeping them at a league-low 11 points in 13 games.
“We have to fix our losing mentality,” said Paunovic, who will be without injured midfielders Matt Polster and Arturo Alvarez. “It’s not enough to participate in the game. It’s not the Olympics. It’s MLS, competitive level and we want to win every single game.”
And the Fire are halfway there. The club has only allowed 16 goals in 13 games – good for third best in MLS. Their downside is that they can’t score, owning just 11 goals all season, easily the lowest in the league.
“They don’t concede a lot,” Curtin said. “They’re fairly organized and don’t give up a lot of chances. When you do break through, you have to take advantage and you got to be really wary of the counterattack.”
4. Keep an eye on ...
Union - Roland Alberg: Just when you think Alberg might not be the right fit for MLS, he pops in a pair of goals in his U.S. Open Cup debut last Wednesday and scores his first MLS goal on Saturday against NYCFC. With Vincent Nogueira out of the picture, Alberg’s surge came at the perfect time. “I think he’s given us a real lift,” Curtin said. “He’s worked very hard on his fitness, he’s worked hard on the defensive side of the ball and he’s rewarded us.”
Fire - David Accam: The Fire are a team that doesn’t normally score. But when they do, there’s a decent chance Accam is the guy who does it. He has three of the Fire’s 11 goals this season, and he's done it in just six games. “He’s an incredibly dangerous player,” Curtin said. “He’s very fast, so we’ll need to be focused on him.”
5. This and that
• The Union are 5-6-5 all time against the Fire.
• The Union are one of two teams (Orlando City SC) in the Eastern Conference undefeated at home. The Union are a powerful 5-0-2 at Talen Energy Stadium this season.
• Meanwhile, the Fire are one of two teams (Columbus Crew) in the Eastern Conference without a win on the road. The Fire are 0-4-2 away from Toyota Park.