JIM CURTIN likes to joke about the fact that seemingly every week a family member or a Union fan mentions in passing, "Oh, this week's a big one" in regards to the upcoming game.
"The good thing is, I know I've said it 100 times, but we've been in must-win kind of games this whole stretch," Curtin, the Union's interim manager since June, said this week. "The past 16, 17 games have all felt like that.
"Our guys know that," he added. "They know the moment."
Though Curtin wouldn't go as far as to label it "a must win," tonight's home game against the Chicago Fire could be viewed as just that for a club fighting for its postseason life. The Union (9-10-11) is in seventh place in the Eastern Conference of MLS, three points behind the fifth-place New York Red Bulls and two behind Toronto FC, with only four regular-season games left to play.
In ninth place and out of the postseason picture, Chicago (9-8-16) is the type of opponent against which the Union needs to come away with three points, especially considering Philadelphia's final three games are against teams ahead in the standings. The Chester-based club is coming off Saturday's 1-0 loss to first-place D.C. United and, after a stellar stretch, all of a sudden hasn't scored in its last five halves of play.
"Obviously, in an ideal world, we would've picked up the maximum points in the other two games [against D.C. and Houston], but it's behind us now," Maurice Edu said. "[We] can't dwell on it or focus too much on it. We've got to just focus on what's in front of us and that's the Chicago game."
Not helping the Union's cause is it might have to play without its leading scorer, forward Sebastien Le Toux, who sprained his right ankle in Saturday's loss. An MRI came back clean of any breaks, according to Curtin, who labeled the veteran as "day to day." But with a quick turnaround from Saturday to tonight, it would be considered a surprise to see Le Toux on the pitch against Chicago. He was not made available to the media after training lightly Tuesday.
If Le Toux can't play, the Union will turn to one of several options. Danny Cruz would be the favorite to play in Le Toux' stead, but Curtin could instead move up midfielder Cristian Maidana and play Fred in the midfield. Rookies Pedro Ribeiro and Brian Brown are also possibilities up top.
"We have a deep squad," Edu said. "We have a lot of players hungry to come in and get a chance. If the situation is that [Le Toux is] not fit, then obviously it's an opportunity for another guy to come in and make an impression and help this team. We have a deep enough squad, a talented enough squad, where we should be able to adjust."
The Union can't really afford another draw, the result in each of its first two meetings with Chicago. The Fire has 16 draws this year, five more than any of the other nine Eastern Conference squads.
"We're trying to make a playoff push, and that's what our sole focus is on," Edu said. "So whoever's on the pitch, the 11 guys, the three that come off the bench, everyone's committed to the same cause, and that's trying to make the playoffs."
Jim Curtin had no update Tuesday during his weekly news conference on the permanent coaching situation, but said talks with CEO Nick Sakiewicz have been positive . . . Center back Ethan White (left hamstring strain) is questionable to play tonight. He increased his participation in training this week, but Curtin said he wants to make sure White is 100 percent before reinserting him into the lineup . . . Tonight's game will be broadcast on ESPN2, with Adrian Healey, Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman on the call.
Union (9-10-11) vs. Chicago Fire (5-8-16)
Tonight, 8 o'clock
PPL Park, Chester