Sold out crowd, big cities, ESPN, and five designated players make this one of the most highly anticipated MLS regular season matches in recent memory. The game should mark the debut of Nery Castillo and Rafa Marquez as MLS players while former Arsenal teammates Freddie Ljugnberg and Thierry Henry make their first appearance with their respective new clubs at Toyota Park.
Henry made his MLS debut last weekend in a 2-2 draw against Houston. The Henry-Angel tandem created plenty of opportunities (Angel scored twice assisted by Henry) but Houston scored a 90th minute goal to tie it. New York was also fortunate that Brad Davis missed a penalty kick earlier in the match. Hans Backe has indicated that Marquez may start the match as a holding midfielder in the back of a 4-4-2 diamond. He's even gone as far as suggesting that New York is pursuing further additions that would allow for a 4-3-3 attack.
New York defeated the Fire 1-0 during First Kick weekend but both sides are dramatically different now.
Angel and Henry are the forwards creating one of the most dangerous attacking combinations in MLS history. Wilman Conde should be advised that too many forays forward could be disastrous against these two.
Joel Lindpere continues to impress from central midfield. The Estonian has been a solid pick up in his first MLS season. Marquez will likely replace Seth Stammler as the holding midfielder while Mac Kandji and Dane Richards start on the left and right. Unfortunately, Gonzalo Segares will not be available yet. Segares has stoned the speedy Richards in previous encounters. Kandji is a talented former USL star who's game will fit nicely with Henry's.
Along the back, rookie Tim Ream has had a solid first year although he has struggled at times as the season has worn on. Carlos Mendes is Ream's partner centrally. Former Revolution defender Chris Albright is the right back while Costa Rican Roy Miller is the left back. New York's back line will also be tested facing the Fire's revamped attack featuring Ljungberg and Castillo.
Bouna Condoul is the starting keeper. Condoul can be both spectacular and shaky in the blink of an eye. His erratic distribution and goal kicks have forced Backe to allow defenders to take goal kicks while "Bouna-time" stands by. Condoul is probably one of the more overrated keepers in MLS and can be beat.
New York's subs have all seen playing time and provide a pretty decent MLS bench. Mike Petke, Sinisa Ubiparipovic, Danleigh Borman, Luke Sassano, veteran Carl Robinson, and rookie Tony Tchani are the main the back ups. (edit note : Sassano had season ending surgery this past week)
The Fire's back line should be the same unit that started in Los Angeles. CJ Brown and Wilman Conde will have their hands full with New York's forwards. Krzsysztof Krol will hold down the left back spot for now. The acquisition of Gonzalo Segares may move either Krol or Segares inside. Dasan Robinson will probably start at right back if Carlos De Los Cobos is hesitant to start a rookie defender in this match although Steve Kinney will need to get a longer look at right back at some point.
The midfield dynamic will be much different at kick off for the Fire. Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko will resume their positions on the wings while Logan Pause will support the defenders. If Ljungberg and Castillo both start, the Swede will play the central attacking role that Frank Klopas envisioned after acquiring him. Ljugnberg played the role of supporting striker in his first Fire appearance last weekend in Los Angeles. Should De Los Cobos opt for the 4-4-2 formation with Ljungberg in place of Baggio Husidic it will be imperative that Pause be at the top of his game. Ljungberg's forward runs will put more pressure on Pause and demand that he cover more ground without a second holding midfielder to aid defensively. Patrick Nyarko did a good job of tracking back and helping (penalty kick foul not withstanding) last weekend before being subbed out in the 65th minute.
If Castillo starts, he will play the withdrawn forward spot behind either Collins John or Brian McBride. McBride, at this point in his career may be better suited as a 60th minute substitution. McBride's most impressive match this season was as a sub in the Fire's 2-0 victory in DC. Collins John should benefit greatly from the addition of Ljungberg and Castillo if he has regained full fitness after battling an illness for most of the summer.
If Castillo is not ready to go 90, I would expect that Ljungberg gets the nod as the second forward while Husidic stays in the line up.
Sean Johnson was outstanding against the Galaxy and will be tested often by Angel and Henry. The Fire must find a way to limit clean looks at goal after successfully keeping Edson Buddle and Landon Donovan from scoring during the run of play.
This match should be an exciting affair since both teams will probably look to attack first in order to establish and mesh the new "superstar" additions. The Fire are a disappointing 2-2-3 at home while New York is 3-4-2 on the road. The records may be thrown out the proverbial window since both sides have undergone some dramatic changes in a very short span.
Fire 2 Red Bulls 1
The Fire can pull within 4 points of second place New York with a victory while still holding a two games in hand advantage in terms of games played. A huge statement can be made tomorrow in a match that could feature the dawning of a new era of entertainment in MLS. New York vs Chicago in a nationally televised DP show down....Don Garber's gotta be loving it.