Both sides were involved in surprising results this past weekend. Philadelphia, the top team in the East, went down 3-0 away to FC Cincinnati before ultimately losing 3-1. Chicago, on the other hand, traveled to Charlotte FC and left with a massive 3-2 victory that vaulted them into the final playoff spot.
It was a wild set of results to say the very least, and now there’s a chance that we could see another stunning scoreline on this occasion.
In a remarkable bit of news, Philadelphia has a completely clean bill of health for the contest.
Philadelphia Union: Blake, Mbaizo, Glesnes, Elliott, Wagner, Bedoya, Martínez, Flach, Gazdag, Carranza, Uhre
Chicago Fire: Slonina, Sekulić, Pineda, Czichos, M.Navarro, F. Navarro, Giménez, Torres, Shaqiri, Mueller, Przybyłko
Ones to watch
(This section has usually been reserved for Cory Burke in the past, but he’s not scored in his last two appearances versus Chicago, and I’m not expecting much from him on this occasion.) (I’d like to apologize to Burke in advance since he’ll now probably find the back of the net.)
With that narrative point out of the way, there’s another more interesting storyline to focus on, and that one involves Julián Carranza.
In one of the weirder moves of this past off-season, there was an interleague loan that took place as Inter Miami shipped off Carranza to the Philadelphia Union for the campaign. Seeing loans within the same league isn’t as unusual elsewhere, like in the top countries in Europe, but having it happen in MLS was a bit strange considering the sheer amount of parity in the league.
The move went from an odd one to a brilliant one for Philadelphia. After a rough start, with the striker getting sent off in his second game for two bookings, he began to heat up, scoring four goals in the span of six matches. He couldn’t quite keep up that absolutely stellar form, but he continued to help the team going forward, and he even notched a hat-trick against D.C. United last month.
Following that contest, the Union decided to make his move a permanent one, activating a purchase option in the deal which allowed them to sign him for just $500K worth of General Allocation Money.
It was a bargain, and now the club is excited for the road ahead with Carranza’s future settled. He’s a forward that suits their system, as he’s quick on and off the ball, and he can help out in possession as well. Philadelphia have legitimate MLS Cup aspirations, and now they know they’ve got a player who’s capable of magic come the postseason.
They can’t afford to look past a surging Chicago side, though, so the Argentine might need to step up this weekend in order to secure the Union all three points.
Who would have seen this coming a week ago?
Kacper Przybyłko, who came to Chicago from Philadelphia in the off-season, was having a woeful campaign. The starter early on, he dropped stinker after stinker, and his poor play really frustrated the fanbase. This, and the rise of backup Jhon Durán, meant that the former was relegated to a spot on the bench.
That was the case until this past weekend. Due to quite exceptional circumstances, aka Durán saying some stupid things on social media, the Polish striker was restored to the starting lineup against Charlotte FC. Not much was expected of him, especially since he was up against a tough team on the road, but there was some hope he could at least set up others with his link-up play.
Instead, Przybyłko only went on to be the matchwinner on the night. First he stepped up when his side was down 1-0, reacting quickly to a rebound before slamming the ball into the back of the net from a tight angle. Then, with the scores level midway through the second half, the striker practically did it all on his own. Flying forward on the counter, he cut inside to get by a defender and buried a low shot into the bottom corner.
Just like that the Fire had won a massive away game, and the forward was the reason why. It was a man of the match performance against the odds, and it meant that he would surely keep his spot in the first eleven for the team’s next game.
In a lovely bit of narrative coming together, that game is this upcoming one against his former side Philadelphia. This will also be a tough test for Przybyłko, as the Union has the best defense in Major League Soccer, and they know all about their former teammate.
However, if the striker is able to find the back of the net this weekend and lead Chicago to victory, then it could be one of the moments of the season.
Last time out
The two sides last faced off a little over a month ago, with that contest taking place in Chicago.
A matchup during the middle of the week, it certainly looked like it. Both teams, especially Philadelphia, took a while to get going, and the somewhat rotated lineups didn’t help things either. The Fire were better as a result, but they just couldn’t finish the chances they were creating.
Just as it seemed like we were destined for a 0-0 draw, the hosts broke through. Boris Sekulić pounced on a loose ball in the area, winning it before laying off a pass to Federico Navarro on the edge of the area. His shot was deflected, and goalkeeper Andre Blake did get a hand on the effort, but it still managed to find the bottom corner.
The Union weren’t able to respond, and a José Martínez red card made their already tough task even more difficult.
In the end Chicago were able to hold on to the clean sheet and the win, securing three surprising points in the process.
How to watch
The match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. EDT, and it will air live on WPHL-TV PHL17 and philadelphiaunion.com for fans in Philadelphia and on WGN TV and chicagofirefc.com for fans in Chicago. Anyone else in the United States will be able to watch the action unfold on ESPN+.