The season will be mercifully over at the conclusion of these ninety minutes but change has brought some optimism to Bridgeview again. As the Fire look to play spoiler for the New York Red Bulls, Martin Tomszak is back with his final match preview of the season.
What Are They All About? Chicago Fire
No, the title for today’s preview is not a typo… On Sunday the Chicago Fire will take on the New York Red Bulls at Toyota Park for their final match of the season and it will possibly reveal more about the team rooted to the bottom of the standings than it will about the Supporters Shield contenders. At the final whistle the offseason will start for Chicago and it will be time for them to decide what they are all about as a club. With Nelson Rodriguez taking the reins this past Monday and the interim coaching staff of Brian Bliss and Logan Pause having a positive influence on the mentality in the locker room things are looking brighter for the club, albeit slightly. Chicago will have a chance to play the part of spoilers against NY and some of the players will look to make an impression on the new guard with contracts on the line. Will Chicago pull off a win or will it be more of the same with a loss in a momentous occasion?
NYRB Form Guide (Last Five League Matches): W-L-W-W-L
Previous match: A 4-1 win at home against Philadelphia.
Formation: 4-2-3-1: Robles; Zizzo, Zubar, Perrinelle, Lawrence; McCarty, Felipe; Sam, Kljestan, Grella; Bradley Wright Phillips
Strengths: This is our third preview of this New York side and we know them well by now. We have highlighted in the past that New York has really grown around the figure of head coach Jesse Marsch. They have a unique ability to play on the counter while also dominating possession and passing statistics, and their strength in midfield has been the key to their success throughout the season. This time around the Red Bulls find themselves having guaranteed the top spot in the East and are one win away from lifting the Supporters Shield. Jesse Marsch and his men will not be lacking any motivation and it’s clear that they will look to make a quick start and be clinical in finishing their chances.
It’s in the Bag: Marsch said as much in his pre-match interview by referring to the Supporters Shield as a “reality” and a just reward for a team that has worked hard throughout the course of the season. Sacha Kljestan and Matt Miazga discussed the team’s game plan in terms of keeping a strong mentality and playing “fast from the beginning”. Chicago will know what to expect, the question will be can they stop it? It is hard to imagine the Red Bulls slipping at this point, especially when we look at their last few matches.
Yeah, We’re Pretty Good: In typical Red Bull fashion, New York has dominated possession, pass completion, and shot statistics in their last five matches. A vintage 4-1 against a Philadelphia side that finds itself in a similar situation to Chicago (low in the table and FO changes) cannot offer much hope to Chicago. Mike Grella took instructions for a fast start quite literally and put the ball in the back of the net just seven seconds after the opening whistle, this was followed by a Shaun Wright Phillips goal just three minutes later and two more first half goals from Grella and Kemar Lawrence. The wins against Montreal and Columbus were less convincing as far as the score line was concerned (both 2-1 victories) but an average of 590 passes and 60% of possession in the wins alongside retention of the ball in the final third reiterated their dominance.
Even in their two losses to Toronto FC and Orlando City, New York often looked the better side. TFC was able to notch a play-off clinching 2-1 win on the back of an incredible Giovinco solo run and neat finish that will surely be up for goal of the year if only for its historical importance. However, New York again outshot their opponents and controlled possession, doing so mostly in the attacking third. Their chances just wouldn’t fall for them. Near misses, rare saves from Chris Konopka, TFC players putting their bodies on the line, and perhaps a bit of MLS voodoo put the result just out of reach.
The match against Orlando was a strange one indeed with New York losing 5-2 at home to the expansion side. You would think it would find its way into our weaknesses section but it was more of a dud than anything else. Phantom fouls, an own goal, hitting the wood work, arguably unwarranted sendings off, and just an off day defensively meant that New York didn’t get a result but also means that such a series of events will not likely be repeated anytime soon. All signs point to a New York win against Chicago and given the trajectory of both sides it could get ugly pretty fast for the Fire.
Weaknesses: As is typical with MLS, Chicago arguably has a shot at all three points on Sunday. The teams have split their two meetings this season evenly with New York winning 3-2 at Red Bull Arena in September and Chicago winning 3-2 at Toyota Park in August. Interestingly enough for the Fire, New York has never won at Toyota Park and the Fire have not lost to New York in any of their last fourteen home matches. The Red Bulls win in September also marked the first time in the past five meetings that they have managed to take all three points against the Fire.
For those of us who like storylines, this match will also serve as an opportunity for revenge. The only time New York has won a Supporters Shield came under similar circumstances in 2013 when Chicago needed all three points to make the playoffs and the Red Bulls wanted to guarantee themselves a trophy. A 5-2 thrashing of the Fire ensued and the Men in Red held heads in hands as their post-season hopes vanished while the Red Bulls smiled gleefully next to the Shield and their home fans. Patrick Nyarko is the only eligible player for the Fire left over from that loss, but if Nelson Rodriguez and Brian Bliss are as serious about club history and culture as they lead on then this will be quite the opportunity for a moral victory.
Clog the Midfield: Setting up tactics that will stifle New York’s productivity in midfield is easier said than done. Yes, if the likes of Dax McCarty, Felipe, Lloyd Sam, Sacha Kljestan, and Mike Grella are taken out of the equation then Bradley Wright Phillips will not have an occasion to add to his sixteen goals this season, the problem is how do you do that? Well, if we were Bliss and Pause we would suggest instilling a “Chicago Way” mentality in the squad. New York is going to look to start the match off on the front foot, and they cannot be allowed to do so. The likes of Matt Polster and Razvan Cocis need to step up pressure early and perhaps throw an elbow or two alongside some strong tackles. The same has to be said of Lovel Palmer, Jeff Larentowicz and Daneil Cyrus. The time is now to show some passion and heart before it’s too late and they’re playing somewhere else.
Two Can Play That Game: Chicago cannot be afraid to go blow for blow against New York. As was true of both Toronto and Orlando, New York is very susceptible on the counter. They push up so much themselves and their back four holds such a high line that a few balls over the top from Harry Shipp to David Accam or Kennedy Igboananike might just do the trick.
Shipp should also look to make a statement about his capabilities as a playmaker for next season. Plaudits about his ability to fill the “Number Ten” role as well as talks of inspiration from and comparison to Iniesta and Xavi have been made by the player himself. As he enters the beginning of his third season it is time for some strides to be made. If he can help beat New York in its own game of possession the result is there to be had. History also shows that Shipp likes to play against New York.
A physical presence and some well orchestrated hold up play from Gilberto could prove to be frustrating for a New York team that may not have a lot of respect for their opponent despite what they say on camera. All in all this game has the potential to speak volumes of the direction in which the club and the players wish to go in the future.
Injuries and Suspensions: Fire fan favorite Roy Miller is probably out for New York but he hasn’t seen much playing time anyway. Also missing for the Red Bulls is youngster Anatole Abang who is dealing with a hamstring strain.
Prediction: We like history, are fond of nostalgia, and quite frankly we like being spoil sports when there’s nothing else left. In a high intensity, thrilling match: Chicago 3-2 New York.
Your Chicago Fire goal scorers: Harrison Shipp, Lovel Palmer, and Matt Polster restore a little bit of pride in the Windy city as they make it known they love this town and the future is bright.
It has been an absolute pleasure writing these previews for you this season and the next campaign cannot come soon enough, so long for now. Don’t stop living in the red.