It’s been 18 days since that disappointing 1-0 home loss to the Portland Timbers. That said, it’s amazing how much can happen in two and a half weeks. For starters, the Fire hosted reigning Premier League champions Manchester United in a 3-1 loss in front of a sold out Soldier Field. As memorable of a spectacle as it was, it has been off the field where the Fire have really made themselves busy.
Having already secured the signature of Sebastian Grazzini prior to the MLS All-Star break, the Fire announced the arrival of Pavel Pardo just days after playing Manchester United, a move that also saw Bratislav Ristic cut from the team’s roster. Movement in the transfer market didn’t stop there as long time Fire defender and fan favorite Dasan Robinson was traded to Toronto FC for Dan Gargan and a supplemental draft pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft.
Much has been made of Chicago’s activity during this lengthy break from MLS play while many questions have been raised: Who will play where? What impact will these new arrivals have? Can the Fire finally make a surge up the Eastern Conference table? It may not be possible to answer all of these questions, at least at the time being, but Wednesday night’s match against the Philadelphia Union will certainly provide one or two clues.
The Union arrive in Chicago with the second best record in the East. Under the management of former Chicago Fire midfielder and Ring of Fire inductee Peter Nowak, Philadelphia has surpassed the expectations of many this season by proving to be a strong playoff contender. The 2010 MLS expansion side has already defeated the Fire once this season in a 2-1 win at PPL Park on May 21st. Dominic Oduro canceled out a 63rd minute opener by Michael Farfan, but Carlos Ruiz settled the match with a stunning 30-yard volley past Jon Conway.
Following that loss, the Fire’s fourth of the season, Chicago would go on an eight match unbeaten run before losing consecutive matches to Los Angeles and Portland prior to the All-Star break. Seated at the bottom of the table with a record of 2-12-6, the men in red desperately need three points if they are to propel any type of surge up the conference table. With Grazzini set to start on Wednesday and Pardo having an outside chance of starting, the Fire will hope to start what many are calling a new era with what will be just the second home win of the season.
Grazzini will lead the forward charge for the Fire, but the main question on everyone’s minds is what formation Frank Klopas will use. If Pardo starts, which could be doubtful, the Fire could possibly line up in a rare 4-1-2-1-2 with Grazzini at the top of the diamond. Seeing as this match could come a little to soon for the former Mexican international, a Daniel Paladini and Grazzini midfield pairing seems plausible as Logan Pause reverts to playing at right-back.
After a well earned rest, Diego Chaves looks primed to partner Oduro up front. Christian Nazarit is also available but Klopas may opt for speed over power against an injury-struck Philadelphia defense. If that’s the case, Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko will almost certainly occupy the wings. Sean Johnson is guaranteed a start in goal, but his back four is slightly less certain.
Yamith Cuesta is suspended following his red card against the Timbers, meaning Josip Mikulic should partner Cory Gibbs in center defense while Gonzalo Segares will indisputably start at left-back, a position he has made his own during the past few seasons. As for right-back, Pause is a potential option should Klopas decide to drop Jalil Anibaba. In truth, it’s a matter of preference for Klopas. Experience over speed or Anibaba over Pause?
Regardless of how the Fire line up against Philadelphia, they should be well placed to finally pick up another home win, a true rarity at Toyota Park this season. The standings don’t lie and Peter Nowak’s side may have only lost once in the last six matches, but the Chicago Fire look poised to finally turn this season around. If there’s still a glimmer of hope for the MLS playoffs, now is the time to spark a resurgence throughout the squad. If this really is a new era for Frank Klopas and his men, now is the time to make it count.
Stay tuned for team news and match facts for Wednesday’s match between the Chicago Fire and Philadelphia Union. Follow @chicagofireblog on Twitter for more updates.