Union at Fire
8:30 p.m. on TCN
Surging but shorthanded, the patchwork Union (11-9-7) will have their depth tested Saturday when they travel to Toyota Park to challenge the struggling Chicago Fire (5-12-8) for the final time in 2016.
Here are five things to know for the matchup.
1. Replacing Blake
As a result of international play, the Union are forced to enter Saturday without their star goalkeeper Andre Blake. And while that’s a major hit for them, Union manager Jim Curtin has full faith in backup John McCarthy (see story).
“He’s itching to get his first MLS game this year,” Curtin said of McCarthy. “He’s a professional and this is what he prepares for. It’s similar to a backup quarterback role, you have to be ready when your number is called and I know Johnny will.”
McCarthy does have MLS experience. He played 11 games in 2015, going 3-5-3 with two shutouts.
“He’s a guy I trust a great deal,” said Curtin, whose club has won two straight. “He’s a winner, he’s won us big games last year. I expect him to do the same in Chicago.”
2. Midfield change
Like Blake, the Union will also be missing midfielder Alejandro Bedoya, who is with the U.S. men’s national team for World Cup qualifying. That absence opens a spot at the No. 8, which gives Curtin a number of options for Saturday.
“We’ll miss him,” Curtin said. “The good thing is we have guys in good form.”
One option in good form is Roland Alberg, who has three goals in his last five games. Alberg would take over the attacking midfield spot, pushing Tranquillo Barnetta to Bedoya’s vacant position.
“He’s scoring goals but at the same time, the defensive work he’s started to do in games is something the staff has taken note of,” Curtin said of Alberg. “He’s an option to play at the No. 10, [Barnetta] has played at the No. 8, so it’s a possibility.”
The other option is more defensive. If Brian Carroll is healthy after missing four games with plantar fasciitis, Curtin could try Carroll at the defensive midfield position with Warren Creavalle as the No. 8 and Barnetta back at the No. 10.
“We have Brian Carroll coming back, so you could go a little more defensive,” Curtin said. “We could be conservative. There’s a lot of good options for a coach to decide from and how we want to approach the game.”
3. Beware of Fire
While the Fire may be the most consistently bad team in MLS, one of their five wins this season came in a 1-0 result over the Union on April 2. That, among other things, is why Curtin isn’t letting his team overlook the last-place club.
“They’re at the bottom of the table, but they are still a very dangerous team that’s playing a little better,” Curtin said.
Even with the Fire missing leading goal scorer David Accam to international duty, what concerns Curtin the most is the Fire’s recent result last weekend, when, down a man, they were destroyed by D.C. United, 6-2.
“They conceded a ton of goals this week so they’ll be looking to shore things up,” Curtin said. “It will take a very good effort to get a victory in a tough place to play.”
4. Keep an eye on ...
Union: Alberg has 11 goals in his last 15 games in all competitions, and nine in 11 MLS contests, including two in his last four bench appearances. He’s got starter’s talent coming off the bench, which makes him a player to watch Saturday.
Fire: With the Fire attack limited by international call-ups, the club will lean on Michael de Leeuw, who is coming off a goal and assist against United. He has yet to face the Union this season.
5. This and that
• The Union are 6-6-5 against the Fire all time.
• The Union on Saturday have an opportunity to tie a franchise record for wins in a season with 12. The club finished the 2013 season with 12 wins and 46 points.
• Yet, while the Union are one win away from tying a club record in wins, they are eight points away from tying the total point record of 48, set by the 2011 team.
• Union midfielder Maurice Edu is inching back from a leg injury that has kept him out all year. If he passes certain strength tests, he would be available to begin playing with Bethlehem Steel as soon as this weekend. “We’re excited for him,” Curtin said. “He’s put a ton of work in getting back.”