Preview: New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire

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BY MARK FISHKIN
Staff Writer

All that stands between the New York Red Bulls and the first meaningful trophy in the club’s eighteen-year history is a Chicago Fire team that is fighting for a playoff berth and that’s only lost once in their last seven matches. 

It’s appropriate that the Fire is in New York’s path.  It was ten seasons ago that the Fire downed the then-MetroStars in the US Open Cup Final 1-0 at Giants Stadium, preventing New York from collecting its first trophy. 

Of course, Chicago delivered a 3-1 beat down of the Red Bulls on April 7th at Toyota Park that left New York’s record at 1-3-2 on the young season.  The loss convinced rookie coach Mike Petke to change his formation from a 4-3-3 to the 4-4-2 that the Red Bulls have played predominately since. 

New York responded incredibly well, going 15-6-6 since the last time the two clubs faced off. 

Is the Curse of Caricola ready to give up the ghost?  Can New York send its fans into the stratosphere?  Or will a determined Chicago side led by a former Metro stick the knife in once again?

Match Information:

Sunday, October 27th at Red Bull Arena, 5p ET kickoff, TV: MSG & UniMas

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

New York, 56 points from 33 matches, 53GF/39GA, 1st in the East/t-1st in MLS, WWDDW
Chicago, 49 points from 33 matches, 45GF/47GA, t-3rd in the East/t-9th in MLS, WLWWW

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

Mike Magee and Juan Luis Anangono  vs. Brandon Barklage, Ibrahim Sekagya, Jamison Olave and Markus Holgersson (and Luis Robles). Mike Magee, simply, is the MLS MVP.  Since arriving from Los Angeles on May 25th, Magee has scored 14 goals for the Fire.  No other Chicago man has more than four.  Magee has netted five goals in his last six games, and could have had another on a missed PK.  Anangono, a summer signing from Argentinos Juniors, has partnered up with Magee for Chicago’s last six matches, scoring twice.  The Fire is 4-1-1 over that span.  Barklage’s performance on New York’s left side surprised coach Petke last week.  Look for him to continue on the opposite side from with usual spot. Sekagya admirably went the full 90 in Houston, and added his first MLS goal to boot. Holgerssson will need to neutralize the speedy Nyarko if New York will keep Chicago off the scoreboard.  Robles grabbed his third shutout in five outings last week in Houston. 
Advantage: Even

New York’s attackers vs. the Fire defense:

Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips vs. Gonzalo Segares, Bakare Soumare, Austin Berry, and Janil Anibaba (and Sean Johnson). Henry has scored just once in the past five games, but the captain seems content to play the set-up man of late.  BWP, fresh off a fortunate bounce for his first MLS goal, should be able to go longer as the Brit continues to recover from his hamstring pull. Segares and Soumare are both with their second stints with the Fire. Berry is the 2012 MLS Rookie of the Year. The Fire, though are susceptible late in matches.  Chicago has allowed 13 goals after the 75th minute of games, and has a -10 goal differential on the road. Keeper Johnson has six shutouts this season.  Chicago’s conceded seven goals over their last five matches. 
Slight Advantage: New York

The Midfields:

Johnny Steele, Dax McCarty, Tim Cahill and Lloyd Sam vs. Dilly Duka, Daniel Paladini, Arevalo Rios, and Patrick Nyarko. Chicago will be at a massive disadvantage without suspended midfielder and Captain Jeff Larentowicz. The Former Rapid has been a mainstay in Chicago’s lineup, with 32 appearances this season. Larentowicz is a Red Bull-killer, with 3 goals and an assist against New York all-time. In his place will be Paladini (2g 3a), who scored the Fire’s first goal in his club’s win over New York in April. Nyarko (4g, 4a) is the Fire’s speedster who will look to exploit Barklage’s inexperience on the left side. Duka (4g, 3a) is a Montville NJ native former US Youth International who played for the Red Bulls’ youth team in 2007. Duka has been subbed off for Chris Rolfe (4g, 1a) in three of the Fire’s last five matches.  For the Red Bulls, there’s not more than can be said for Cahill (11g, 4a) and McCarty’s (4g, 4a) ability to lock down an opponent.  Last week the two hooked up for the fastest goal in MLS history. Cahill has surely become the heart and soul of a club, turning negatives into positives every single time out. Steele (4g, 6a) must overcome his tendency to turn the ball over in the defensive half if New York wants to keep Chicago off the board. Sam (4g, 1a) has yet to return to his speedy self since returning from injury.
Advantage: New York 

The Coaches:

Petke simply won’t allow his team to feel any pressure heading into Sunday.  As Dax McCarty said on this week’s Seeing Red, the club is moving through the week like any other. All of Petke’s moves last week: starting Barklage on the opposite side, playing Sekagya, substituting BWP who then scored, worked to perfection. Chicago’s Frank Klopas is a Fire icon.  The former player and ’98 MLS Cup Champion has blended mid-season acquisitions (Magee, Anangono, Rios) together beautifully as Chicago has made a late run to the playoffs.  The Fire will know what they’ll have to do to make the postseason before kickoff, and Klopas will have his team ready.
Advantage: Even

Intangibles:

Chicago has only won four times on the road in 2013 but they’ve won their last two away matches, albeit to teams (DCU, FCD) outside the playoff zone. The first goal will be huge in this match… if Chicago scores it.  New York is 0-6-3 when conceding first, but the Fire is an impressive 5-11-4 when giving up the first goal. The Red Bulls home record (10-2-4) is among the best in MLS, and New York is 6-0-2 at Red Bull Arena since losing to Vancouver on June 1st. The weather should be picture-perfect for late October, with Partly Cloudy skies and a high of 57 degrees.  The match will be a sellout.
Advantage: New York

Prediction:

Neither Mike Petke or Tim Cahill will allow their team to lose.  The question is whether fate will shine on the New York Red Bulls in front of a raucous home crowd to deliver the Shield to the club’s long-suffering fan base.  While the post-season is surely an unpredictable sprint, New York will end the marathon of the MLS regular season with a three-one victory over a game Chicago side.  For one day, the first day in eighteen years, New York will be the best team in all of Major League Soccer.


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  • In those last 7, Chicago’s opponents: TFC, Revs, Crew, Impact, DC, Dallas, TFC. Not beating up on anything tremendo.


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