Aiming to end playoff drought, Fire open season at Union

ByField Level Media ESPN logo
Saturday, February 24, 2024

The Philadelphia Union will open their 15th regular season on Saturday with a home matchup against the Chicago Fire.

The Union began the 2024 season with a 3-2 victory over Deportivo Saprissa 3-2 in the CONCACAF Champions Cup on Tuesday. Julian Carranza recorded a hat trick for the Union.

"I thought he was excellent on the night," Union coach Jim Curtin said of Carranza. "Not just the goals he scores, but also the hold-up play, the combination passing and moving, doing a really good job. He is a top striker and one I don't know how much longer we'll have in Philadelphia."

Union defender Kai Wagner will be available to play after the league lifted his suspension for the opener. Wagner had received a three-game suspension in November after allegations surfaced that he used a racial slur against the New England Revolution's Bobby Wood.

Wagner, who's entering his sixth season with the Union, was named an All-Star in 2021 and '22.

The Union have reached the playoffs each of the last six seasons, while the Fire have missed out on the postseason in six consecutive seasons.

Last season, the Union won the first matchup 1-0 at home on March 11. The teams played to a 2-2 draw on April 15 in Chicago.

The Fire haven't qualified since 2017 and haven't won a playoff round since '09.

But the positive vibes are flowing with offseason acquisitions Hugo Cuypers and Kellyn Acosta.

"For me, the whole atmosphere is different. The mindset is different," Fire sporting director Georg Heitz said. "These two players here, they are proven winners. They will bring a winning spirit to this team, a mentality that maybe in the past we lacked sometimes."

Cuypers scored 34 goals in 56 matches across all competitions with CAA Gent in Belgium and then joined Chicago on a reported $12 million transfer fee plus incentives.

It's unclear if this dynamic duo will be available to play against the Union.

But coach Frank Klopas believes that the club is a playoff contender regardless.

"I'm not here just to sneak into the playoffs," he said. "If that's the case, I'd be on the sidelines enjoying family time with my wife and summer times in the Greek islands."

--Field Level Media