The Fire and Red Bulls are coming off of mid week matches while looking at the prospect of playing another match on Tuesday in a hectic stretch for both sides. New York has one less day of recovery and has had to travel from the west coast which could play favorably into Chicago's favor.
A 4-2 loss in Seattle on Thursday night was only a continuance of New York's problems on defense. The Red Bulls have not kept a clean sheet since April 30 while allowing 18 goals in the nine matches since that shut out at home against Sporting Kansas City. Their main issue has been remarkably bad set piece defending. Not only did they allow three goals from corner kicks against Seattle but they have allowed a whopping 13 goals from dead ball situations this season (two have come from the penalty spot).
Defensively New York will be without their regular centerback duo of Tim Ream and Rafa Marquez who are both still away for the Gold Cup. Their absence has moved Stephen Keel into a starting role next to Carlos Mendes. Keel wil be hard to miss. He'll be the one with the hairdo borrowed from Steven Lenhart's book of stylish coiffes. The outside flanks are manned by Roy Miller and Jan Gunner Solli on the left and right. The outside backs are solid and should provide a good test for the Fire's speedy wingers. They can however be caught playing too far up on occasion which could prove deadly for New York.
Greg Sutton won the starting goalkeeper job from Bouna Condoul earlier this season but after Sutton's performance in Seattle I would not be surpised to see the Senegal international back between the sticks.
New York's midfield is attack minded which does leave the back four exposed occasionally. Teemu Tainio is an excellent passer from the holding midfield spot so the Fire's midfield will need to be wary of his ability. Dane Richards is usually on the right side after playing up front on Thursday against Seattle. Richards has had very little success in recent match ups with Gonzalo Segares over the last few seasons. Mehdi Ballouchy and Joel Lindpere are likely to fill out the midfield. Lindpere in particular gave the Fire fits last season. Austin da Luz, a product of their academy system started against Seattle and scored a goal. Wayne Rooney's younger brother John has also made four appearances for Hans Backe.
After serving a one game red card suspension Thierry Henry is back in action. Henry is tied for the MLS goal scoring lead with Landon Donovan (8) and his craftiness and ability to find space will be a huge challenge for Yamith Cuesta and Cory Gibbs. He should be joined up top by Dwayne DeRosario, who really isn't much of a true midfielder at this stage in his career. If the Fire can contain them defensively they should be able to counter against the New York attackers. Henry and DeRosario aren't exactly what I would call players who are in a hurry to track back and help defensively.
Even with the impressive attacking aresenal at their disposal for this match New York is also without Juan Agudelo (Gold Cup) and Luke Rodgers (injury). Both are dangerous players that need to be accounted for when on the pitch.
"New York is a very good team. They have a lot of firepower going forward. Set pieces are a crucial element to any game. We've been working on (set pieces) hopefully tomorrow we can get on in the net," said Frank Klopas after training today.
Defensively the Fire have been solid under Klopas allowing only 1 goal in six matches. Cuesta and Gibbs are sure to start in the middle. With US Open Cup play on the horizon we should see Josip Mikulic's return to the pitch on Tuesday. Gonzalo Segares will remain on the left while either Jalil Anibaba or Bratislav Ristic get the call on the other side this Sunday. I'm guessing whichever doesn't start on the right against New York will start on Tuesday.
In midfield, team captain Logan Pause has been ruled out with a concussion suffered late in the New England match. Pause ran on the side while wearing headgear at training but did not practice with the team although he indicated he was feeling better. This will probably mean that Daniel Paladini and Baggio Husidic start again centrally. Paladini's defensive effort in place of Pause will be tested more so than it was against RSL and Collen Warner in the middle on Wednesday night. Klopas will try to find a way to maximize Marco Pappa's ability on the ball now that the 2010 MLS All Star starter is back full time from Gold Cup duty with Guatemala. How he does that while keeping Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro on the pitch is another question.
Oduro moved up into a forward spot in the second half against RSL when Pappa entered the match. Klopas has some options to choose from with Pappa, Nyarko, Oduro, Diego Chaves, and Orr Barouch in the attacking end. Will the Fire go with the trio (Pappa, Nyarko, Oduro)that looked most dangerous against RSL? "Every one has diffrerent characteristics and qualities. We have different options depending on who we play. That's one of the options for sure," said Klopas.
Chaves isn't opposed to continuing to play in the withdrawn forward role although it pushes him further away from goal. "I like it. I think it's better for my game. We have two big guys, Cristian and Barouch that can fight against central defenders and I'll try to take advantage of that," said Chaves.
CHICAGO FIRE -- OUT: MF Mike Banner (L Achilles tendinitis); DF Steven Kinney (R Achilles tendinitis); MF Logan Pause (concussion); DOUBTFUL: MF Marko Maric (L deltoid sprain)
NEW YORK RED BULLS -- OUT: MF Carl Robinson (R knee contusion); DF Chris Albright (hernia surgery); FW Luke Rodgers (L foot plantar fasciitis)
I know it must sound like a broken record but the Fire must begin to maximize points at home if they are to mount any type of serious move for a playoff spot. "We talk about this all the time. It's important to come out every game with the right attitude. It's a big game and the guys understand that. They know what's at stake. We have to step on the field with confidence and leave everything on the field, especially at home. It's a big game," said Klopas.
Long distance travel from city to city over a short time period is something that is somewhat underplayed in MLS. It can be treacherous. The Fire failed to take advantage of a Real Salt Lake side missing at least five key players on Wednesday night. They can ill afford to continue wasting opportunities.
Fire 2 Red Bulls 1
The Rest of the League
Houston 1 DC 1 - Charlie Davies stays on his feet long enough to earn United a point at home against the Dynamo
Los Angeles 1 San Jose 1 - Missing Landon Donovan and David Beckham but the Galaxy keep rolling
Chivas 1 Philadelphia 2 - Peter Nowak may explode if the Union don't pick up the pace with the rest of the East gaining ground
Portland 0 FC Dallas 1 - Portland is not the same team on the road and Dallas bounced back from a home loss to KC with a road win at Chivas last weekend
Vancouver 0 Sporting KC 2 - Kansas City could pick up it's second consecutive win and they have a ton of home games coming up
Toronto FC 0 RSL 1 - As long as Olave and Borchers are fit RSL will be tough to beat
New England 1 Seattle 2 - Short turn around for the Sounders but the Thursday match was at home too
Colorado 1 Columbus 1 - Crew bounced back after losing to the Fire at home with a surprise win in Houston last weekend