Red Bulls score early, hang on for draw with Chicago

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Bradley Wright-Phillips scored his 15th goal of the season but the New York Red Bulls had to survive a second-half Chicago surge to earn a 1-1 tie, its third straight draw and fourth game without a win.

Nemanja Nikolic equalized for the Fire in the 66th minute after Chicago hit the frame twice in the first half and had a goal disallowed for offside.

The month-long dry spell has come following a period in which the Red Bulls had won eight of nine and ten of twelve.  The club has not managed a win since beating FC Cincinnati in the semifinals of the U.S. Open Cup on Aug. 15. The result improved New York to 12-10-5 with 41 points, keeping it in fifth place in the Eastern Conference, one point behind Columbus with a game still in hand on the Crew.

Similarly for Chicago, the draw was their second game with a point after losing six of seven. The Fire’s slump followed a streak where they were unbeaten in ten and lost only one of twelve – a penalty kick loss to Cincinnati in the Open Cup. Chicago remained in third place with a 13-9-6 record with 45 points, five behind NYCFC.

The Red Bulls seized the momentum from the kickoff,  requiring a diving save from Chicago keeper Matt Lampson to knock away Wright-Phillips’ turning blast from just outside the 18 in the seventh minute. Less than 60 seconds later, the Red Bulls went ahead when Fidel Escobar curled a free kick from the top of the offensive third to the far side of the penalty area.

Sacha Kljestan, celebrating his 32nd birthday, headed back into the middle, where Wright-Phillips ran down the center of the penalty area and easily tapped past Lampson from inside the six.

It was Kljestan’s 48th assist since joining the league at the start of the 2015 season, a number surpassed in three years by Carlos Valderrama (53) and Marco Etcheverry (49).

The Red Bulls controlled much of the first half and Chicago didn’t get a shot, much less a shot on goal, until Michael de Leeuw pounced on a pinging ball that fell to his feet at the penalty spot, turned and looped an attempt off the crossbar.

Chicago dominated for the last 15 minutes of the half, including a goal by de Leeuw that was voided for offside in the 33rd and David Accam’s free kick from 25 yards that bounced once before bounding off the right post.

The Fire’s control continued into the second half when Red Bulls keeper Luis Robles had to run out to the top of the 18 to punch away a dangerous ball in the 46th. Robles collided with Felipe Martins, knocking both to the ground. The ball fell to Nikolic who tried to loop it back into the open goal, only to see Kemar Lawrence clear the danger.

But the Fire’s pressure finally produced a goal with the Red Bulls trying to clear its lines. Chicago defender Johan Kappelhof sent a long ball from just inside the New York half into the penalty area, where de Leeuw volleyed it into the middle with the outside of his right foot.

Escobar was the only defender back and the bouncing pass found an unmarked Nikolic, who easily beat Robles from the 6 to the delight of the Bridgeview, Ill. crowd.

Chicago had a chance to win it less than three minutes later when Luis Solignac took a through ball at the edge of the goal box only to see Robles block his shot with his chest.

The Fire played without designated player Bastian Schweisteiger, whose goal a week ago against Montreal ended Chicago’s five-game losing streak but also had to leave the match with a quadriceps injury.