By Siobhan Nolan, Contributing Writer
The Union will want to leave July behind as they return home from a disappointing road trip in Florida to face off against the Chicago Fire. Playing in front of a home crowd for just the third time since Memorial Day will hopefully start August off on the right foot, and put three points back in the Union’s Eastern Conference tally.
It certainly helps that goalkeeper Andre Blake and striker Cory Burke are finally set to return to MLS play after being away on international duty for Jamaica’s run in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. Having Blake in front of the goal will obviously bolster the Union’s defense, but his vocal leadership and demanding of nothing short of excellence from his teammates will (hopefully) see Jim Curtin’s men look more like the disciplined and organized Union side fans have grown used to seeing this season.
Kai Wagner and Olivier Mbaizo will also be essential in beating the Fire. One of the Fire’s biggest weaknesses is defending against counterattacks on the wings, and both men have proven that they can control the entire flow of the game from their respective sides of the pitch. Their reading of the game needs to be razor-sharp, able to spot a good run from the back and get their central midfielders involved in time to move the ball forward. Keeping the midfield in more of a triangular shape will expose the Fire’s preferred three-at-the-back defense, and give plenty of space to create goals.
This game is yet another chance for Curtin to start some of his young players. One has to wonder what more Quinn Sullivan has to do off the bench in order to earn a spot in the starting lineup, or if perhaps Paxten Aaronson stole Curtin’s parking spot at Subaru Park, hence the shockingly limited playing time in all competitions this season. There are plenty of tired legs in the Union’s usual starting lineup, and it wouldn’t kill their manager to make good on his promise to give minutes to the Homegrowns.
Predicted Lineup: Andre Blake, Kai Wagner, Jakob Glesnes, Jack Elliott, Olivier Mbaizo, Jose Martinez, Leon Flach, Alejandro Bedoya, Jamiro Monteiro, Cory Burke, Kacper Przybyłko
- It would be nice to see the young guys start, but it’s not looking likely after the poor results the Union have recently sustained. Blake will be a breath of fresh air in a disorganized Union back line, but he’s probably going to be the only real change in Curtin’s lineup. Sergio Santos is facing a one game suspension for kicking an object at fans during the Union’s game against Orlando City SC, which will allow Burke to get some minutes up front.
Score Prediction: This Union offense should be better than scraping together a 2-1 win against the Fire, but the finishing, pressure, and intensity on the counterattack just haven’t been satisfactory as of late. However, three points is three points, especially since the Union will soon have to balance MLS with the CONCACAF Champions League again.