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Union extinguishes Fire to retain top spot in Eastern Conference

Jim Curtin’s Philadelphia Union took another big step toward a memorable season achievement by beating the Chicago Fire 4-1 on Saturday night.

The win keeps the Union sitting atop the Eastern Conference and undefeated at home. The manner of their success rids the memory of last weekend’s loss to Cincinnati and puts the team back on track for their July wins.

Curtin made a number of changes to last weekend’s starting lineup, slipping Leon Flach into the No.6 over Jose Martinez and placing homegrown talent Jack McGlynn on the left side of his 4-4-2. It’s a line-up he’s used this season, and McGlynn in midfield had an immediate impact on the team’s creativity, advancing the ball through possession.

“He’s a special young player,” Curtin said. “He’s going to get better and better and we’re going to keep pushing him. And he probably won’t be here for too many more years.

The first 15 minutes of the first half tipped slightly in Chicago’s favor. The visiting team sometimes dominated up to 70% of possession, but not for long. Despite that, Philadelphia was aggressive on the block, getting as many shots as Chicago’s most dominant possession could find. Throughout the game, opportunities created by Chicago were thwarted by Union backline and solid goaltender Andre Blake.

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As the half progressed, possession edged closer to parity and Union got the ball in the final third with increasing ease. The first goal came in the 16th minute, and the night belonged to Philadelphia from there.

Julián Carranza collected the ball from the left and crossed Dániel Gazdag, who was well placed in the box. Gazdag showed composure as he collected the ball – although he lost his balance slightly as Chicago defenders came down around him – and sent the ball past Gabriel Slonina into the back left corner of the net. The goal marks Gazdag’s 12th goal this season.

Philadelphia found their second goal in the 37th minute. Union have been convincing from set pieces this year, and they found one from a corner thanks to a rebound from England centre-back Jack Elliott. The original ball was sent wide but found Olivier Mbaizo waiting at the top of the box to collect it on a deflection. Mbaizo sent a powerful header towards the net and, as Slonina tapped the ball upwards, deflecting the initial goal attempt, Elliott came down on him to hit the rebound.

At the end of halftime, Chicago regained a brief momentum and scored its only goal of the evening in the 49th minute. Xherdan Shaqiri and Chris Mueller (the forwards who escaped the Philadelphia defense in June) connected for a goal as Shaqiri found Mueller on a quick counterattack, capitalizing on Philadelphia’s back line in a brief moment of dismay.

Keeping Shaqiri at bay had been a Union priority. Curtin formed the team so that several players would run towards him when he got the ball.

“He’s the best player on the pitch, so let’s not let him be the one to beat us,” Curtin said, adding, “We did well, but he still scored a goal and hurt us.”

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The momentum didn’t last long for Chicago. A few minutes later, Gazdag sent an assist to Mikael Uhre, whose shot was blocked by Slonina as he came out of his net to dive over it. Once again, however, the rebound came back to bite Slonina as Carranza sprinted forward to collect the rebound and float it up and down the net.

“I think the connection between the three of us is really good, not just tonight but for a while,” Gazdag said of himself, Carranza and Uhre.

The Union was not done there. Curtin sent in a pair of substitutes in the 72nd minute which pushed Flach down the left as Jose Martinez replaced McGlynn and Cory Burke replaced Uhre in the lead. Ten minutes later, Burke found a goal. Mbaizo sent a cross into the box where Burke awaited an easy tap-in at the far post, giving Burke his fifth of the season.

Two other homegrown players made late appearances as Quinn Sullivan and Paxten Aaronson were sent off in the 86th minute for Gazdag and Carranza. With fresh legs and steady momentum, Union closed out the game with ease to secure all three points.

Union remain in first place, vying for the Supporters’ Shield, and look set to make a deep run in the playoffs. They will now travel to Dallas for a midweek game with just 10 games left before the playoffs.