Preview: New York Red Bulls at Chicago Fire

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by MARK FISHKIN

They’ve wrapped up the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and snagged a berth in next year’s CONCACAF Champions League.  The only prize the Red Bulls have to play for in their MLS regular season finale is the Supporters Shield.

Playing the worst team in the league in a match with so much on the line would ordinarily generate massive optimism; however Sunday’s venue, Chicago’s Toyota Park, gives Red Bull fans reason for pause.  By now, you probably know that New York has never won in Bridgeview, going 0-9-5 there since the venue opened in 2006. Another reason for concern is how well the Fire has played against New York this season, with a win in Bridgeview and a strong showing at Red Bull Arena, where Chicago took a two-goal lead before the Red Bulls were able to take control.

A victory all but ensures the club’s second Shield in three seasons. Any other result gives FC Dallas, playing at home against San Jose, a chance to bring the shiny hubcap to Texas.


Match Information:

Sunday, October 25th at Toyota Park, 7:00p ET kickoff

TV/Streaming: MSG+/MSG GO (Optimum subscribers)/ESPN3 (blacked out in NY)

Audio: http://www.newyorkredbulls.com/matchday/radio

Referee: Ricardo Salazar

Record, GF/GA, Division and League Position, Recent Form:

Chicago: 30 points from 33 matches, 42 GF/56 GA, 10th in the East, 20th in MLS, LLLWL

New York: 57 points from 33 matches, 60 GF/42 GA, 1st in the East, 1st in MLS, LWWLW

Shield Scenario: Should RBNY and FCD remain tied on points and wins, the next tiebreaker is goal differential. New York currently leads Dallas by 6 goals. The next tie breaker is goals scored, and New York currently leads by 10.


Chicago’s front line vs. the Red Bulls’ defense

Gilberto and Harry Shipp vs. Kemar Lawrence, Damien Perrinelle, Young Matt Miazga, and Connor Lade (and Luis Robles)

Brazilian Gilberto (4G/2A) has been a strong pickup from Chicago off of Toronto FC’s waiver lines with three goals in his last three matches. While he doesn’t have the speed of Igboananike (7G/3A) whom he’s all but replaced up top, the former Red boasts the technical skill beyond his Nigerian teammate.   Harry Shipp (3G/8A) is playing as a withdrawn second striker for interim coach Brian Bliss. Shipp’s numbers have dropped off as his sophomore season has worn on, with only one goal and three assists since June 3rd.  The aforementioned Igboananike, who bagged a brace against New York in late August, has played only 12 minutes since being subbed off in a loss to Montreal on September 23rd.

Last week, New York was finally able to shut down the Union.  Aside from a counter when the match was out of reach, and some stellar late saves from Luis Robles, the Red Bulls locked down Philadelphia.  Finally getting Matt Miazga back from suspension will lift the back line, who hasn’t posted a shutout since Portland away on September 20th. Ronald Zubar will return to the bench. Connor Lade, who’s had some success and some failure against the speedy David Accam will get one more shot at managing him on Sunday.

Slight Advantage: Chicago


 

New York’s attack vs. the Fire defense:
Bradley Wright-Phillips vs. Joevin Jones, Daneil Cyrus, Jeff Larentowicz, and Lovel Palmer (and Jon Busch)

BWP broke his six-match scoring drought against the Union, and his two-season total of 43 tallies is only one less than Stern John (44 goals in 1998-1999) for the best two seasons in MLS history. Trinidadian Jones (1G/1) has regained his starting role after two matches coming off the bench. Fellow countryman Cyrus joined the Fire on loan from W Connection in August. He played the full 90 in New York’s 3-2 win at Red Bull Arena. Larentowicz (6G) scored on a PK in the match in September. His six goals are his best since 2011 (7 for Colorado).  Larentowicz loves to score against New York. Lovel Palmer (1A) has been in and out of the lineup for most of the Fire’s season. Longtime MLS keeper Jon Busch (3-8-1, 2.20 GAA) has returned to Chicago after five seasons in San Jose, as Sean Johnson’s backup. Johnson is out with a season-ending labral tear.

Advantage: New York


 

The Midfields:
David Accam, Michael Stephens, Razvan Cocis, and Patrick Nyarko  vs. Mike Grella, Dax McCarty, Sasha Kljestan, Felipe and Lloyd Sam

Accam (10G/2A) has used his blazing speed to torment the Red Bulls this season, with the winning assist in the August 26th match, and a goal at Red Bull Arena on September 11th. Stephens (4A) is having his best season since his breakout 2010 campaign with the Galaxy. The Illinois native assisted on both Fire goals in the September match in Harrison.  Cocis (2G/3A) has earned over 50 caps for the Romanian national team. Patrick Nyarko (3G/3A) is the lone member of the Fire starting lineup that played in the October 25th, 2013 match at Red Bull Arena when New York beat Chicago 5-2 to win the Shield. The Ghanaian has appeared in 195 matches for the Fire since 2008.  The Red Bulls midfield was magnificent against the Union, out-passing Philadelphia 646-388, and with holding 63 percent possession.  The Fire’s game plan, which has worked wonders this year against New York, is to spring Accam and Nyarko down the wings to generate chances. The Red Bulls’ triangle of Felipe, McCarty, and Kljestan will try to keep the ball in the middle of the field. Both Mike Grella and Lloyd Sam will have to cover a ton of ground to help their respective wingbacks.

Advantage: New York


The Coaches:

Chicago’s Technical Director Brian Bliss took over as interim Fire coach on September 20th, when Frank Yallop was shown the door. Bliss has long pedigree in American soccer as a former US National Teamer and assistant in Columbus and Kansas City. He’s a caretaker, though, and a new coach will be announced in the off-season.   Jesse Marsch knows how crucial getting the first goal will be on Sunday, considering the Fire has nothing to play for save pride and ruining New York’s celebration. His club has come out flat on a number of occasions away from home, most recently at Toronto. The match is a great dry run for playoffs to come.

Advantage: New York


Intangibles:

Despite losing six of their last seven matches, Chicago has been in every match save last week’s four-nil loss at DC. The other five of the losses were all by a single goal. The Fire has produced all eight of their 2015 victories at Toyota Park, scoring 1.4 goals and conceding 1.1 times per match there. The Red Bulls away score 1.6 and concede 1.5 goals per match. New York’s ineptitude at Toyota Park was noted above. All-time in Chicago, the club is 3-18-7.  The Red Bulls will set franchise records in points and wins in a season with a victory. Bradley Wright-Phillips leads active Red Bulls in scoring against the Fire with four goals. Of the players that started when New York last won the Shield, only Robles, Sam, McCarty, and BWP will start on Sunday. The forecast for Sunday’s match is partly cloudy with temps in the low fifties at kickoff. The Fire is next to last in MLS in attendance, averaging 15,762 fans at home. Given the late Sunday kickoff and Chicago’s forgettable season, the crowd may be small.

Given History, Advantage: Chicago


Prediction:

New York has faltered a number of times this season in matches where they were the clear favorite. That Jesse Marsch, in his first season, would have an opportunity to win the Shield is nothing short of incredible.  I believe he’ll have his team prepared.  The players, though, will play with purpose, wrapping up New York’s second trophy with a 3-1 win, the third goal coming late to send the traveling supporters into ecstasy.

  • slowleftarm

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Zizzo plays instead of Lade. Someone has to get to grips with Accam, RBNY haven’t been able to stop him this season.

  • Charrison

    I think Zubar plays on the right allowing Lawrence to stay forward.