Fire v Red Bulls playoff match preview

What Are They All About? New York Red Bulls  

Momentum Lost. While results on Decision Day went in Chicago’s favor, earning them a home leg in the knock out round on Wednesday against the New York Red Bulls (7:30 CT on FS1), their own fixture ended in defeat to Houston. The conditions where hot and humid but that should not be an excuse for the display, or lack thereof, from the Fire. An uncharacteristically poor match from Dax McCarty, a failure to impress on the part of Richard Sanchez, and another reiteration of a lack of creativity in midfield characterized the match. A win could have seen them earn a much-needed bye week to recover adequately from the fatigue of travel but more importantly allow Bastian Schweinsteiger and David Accam more recovery time. Instead, they’ll have a quick turnaround which will afford them just one full training day to prepare for Jesse Marsch and his charges.

The Red Bulls won’t have the luxury of having much rest either, returning from DC on Sunday evening afforded them just a day and a half to prepare before leaving for Chicago on Tuesday evening. It’s been an up and down month for New York and they’ll have a lot to prove given that they finished as close to a home match as they did to being outside of the playoffs. However, Jesse Marsch and the likes of Sacha Kljestan, Bradley Wright Phillips, Felipe, and Luis Robles have the playoff experience that Chicago is desperately lacking heading into this fixture. If there is anything that MLS has taught its viewers over the last few seasons, it’s that it doesn’t matter where you finish in the playoff seeding. Mentality, determination, and grit shine through in the post season. Does Chicago have what it takes in what will be a maiden late October voyage for most of its squad, or will New York defy expectations in the Windy City rain? Let’s see what’s in store for the Men in Red.

NYRB Form Guide (last five league matches): W-D-W-L-D

Previous Result: A 2-1 away victory over DC United.

Formation: 4-2-3-1; Robles; Zizzo, Murillo, Escobar, Lawrence; Muyl, Bezecourt; Duka, Keita, Etienne; Veron

Strengths: This is the third meeting between these two sides this season with New York winning the first meeting at Red Bull Arena in April and then earning a draw at Toyota Park in September. Over the course of those two meetings we saw New York’s ability to be productive in possession, an explosive ability to counter through their front four, tactical brilliance from Jesse Marsch, and set piece ability as strengths. None of those aspects have dissipated from the Red Bull’s game, let’s see where they’ll add to those positives.

Fresh as Daisies: While both teams traveled at the weekend, that fact must be taken with a grain of salt for New York. The Red Bulls had the luxury of knowing they would finish in sixth place no matter the outcomes of the Decision Day fixtures. Jesse Marsch took full advantage by leaving Bradley Wright Phillips, Sacha Kljestan, Daniel Royer, Aaron Long, and Damien Perrinelle in New Jersey. Connor Lade, Tyler Adams, and Felipe found themselves on the bench and the latter two saw few minutes against DC, meaning that Marsch’s preferred starting eleven will be well rested on Wednesday. While there is a sense of wanting to be in form and having rhythm when entering the playoffs, two nights of adequate rest is not ideal preparation. There will be an extra spring in the step of a team that can already get the best of you in terms of speed.

Relax, I’ve Done This Before: If there is one worrisome statistic for the Fire heading into Wednesday’s encounter it is that their entire roster has combined for just 3,814 minutes in the postseason across their careers. Worse yet, all of those minutes have come from Dax McCarty, Juninho, and Arturo Alvarez. Should Juninho not be fit for Wednesday, that total drops to just 2,110 minutes. When you get into difficult situations there is a sense of calm that comes from experience and the Red Bulls 5,959 post-season minutes spread across twelve players should provide some comfort. Sacha Kljestan spoke about experience being a key factor in Wednesday’s fixture when asked about any edge the Red Bulls might have. Additionally, the Red Bull captain stipulated that their necessity to play a majority of their Open Cup matches away from home this season has allowed the squad to overcome adversity in unfamiliar environments. We’re not saying it is a game changer, but given that Dax McCarty and Veljko Paunovic stressed the importance of experience at the Fire’s training session on Monday, it has to count for something.

The Wonderkid: We’ve brought it up time and time again in our previews of Jesse Marsch but he is a difference maker. We always seem to find ourselves bringing up his tactical ability, his man management skills, and his knowledge of the American soccer landscape. There isn’t a coach who has done more with less in this league, consistently making the playoffs with an ownership group that has not exactly been generous with transfer funds. His ability to put the academy system on the same page as the first team has seen a unique ability to pull from their youth ranks on a consistent basis (the comfort of letting McCarty go to Chicago was facilitated by the academy’s success). This aspect of his management has also injected a “youthful fearlessness”, as Marsch puts it, into his side which he hopes will give them an edge against a somewhat cagey Chicago side that has a lot of pressure on their shoulders.

Furthermore, his understanding of the league’s ability to generate multipurpose outside backs, strong goal keepers, and dynamic holding midfielders has allowed him to fill those positions on the cheap, targeting the weak spots of clinical strikers, creative midfielders and strong center backs from outside the league with other MLS mechanisms. His understanding of the technical aspect of the game has seen him make up for any lack in ability by hiding weaknesses and ensuring that the opposition is affected mostly by the Red Bulls' strengths. The flexibility of New York’s formation and lineup up was covered extensively in both of our previous renditions of the Red Bull preview and Marsch has been at it again. The early switch from a 4-2-2-2 to a 4-3-3 was discussed as a corrective to his given personnel. Most recently, this flexibility was put on display by shifting to a 4-2-3-1 to accentuate the abilities of a younger, quicker reserve team against DC. The switch paid dividends as the Red Bulls spoiled the atmosphere of DC’s last match at RFK on the back of two goals that featured bursts of speed in build-up play.

Lastly, Marsch’s ability to get the best out of his players is uncanny. The win against DC this weekend with a short-handed lineup was no easy task. The United players were playing for pride, defending their stadium for the very last time, and let’s be honest, were also playing for their jobs. Marsch was able to put out a side of players whose chances have been limited this season but told them to prove to him that they deserve a place in his playoff squad. He hasn’t been afraid to bench complacent starters and reward players for good substitute appearances and hard work in training. He has an entire eighteen that will be motivate for Wednesday and that can’t be a bad thing.      

Weaknesses: As the Fire approach this Red Bull side, it must be remembered that they have struggled at times throughout the season. The last time these two sides met came amidst a nine-match streak in which the Red Bulls did not win a single game and they’ve won just two of their last twelve. Weaknesses have included late game mental lapses, rookie mistakes from the rookies, and an inability to fix areas of need in the transfer window. Let’s see where else they might struggle on Wednesday.

We Don’t Like Playing in October: For as much as we touted the Red Bull’s playoff experience above, the fact remains that they have not had much success in the post-season of late. Back to back Conference Final appearances in 2014 (a loss to New England) and 2015 (a loss to Columbus) is the best they have to show for seven consecutive seasons in the post season. All of the other appearances came short at the Conference Semi-final stage and New York is still in search of its first MLS Cup. Although their continual appearances speak to consistency, there is also something to be said about a lack of delivering in the late stages of the season. When you add the cold and wet weather anticipated for the fixture dampening New York’s style of play, it could be another short post season for the Red Bulls.

MLS Defending: We won’t spend too much time on this point because our readers should be familiar with it, but this Red Bull side just cannot figure out their center back chemistry. They’ve tallied just three clean sheets in their last fifteen matches and have a tendency to give up goals from within the box. If you’re Nemanja Nikolic, then you’ve got to be enjoying the prep video for this encounter. Marsch will need to fly to Salzburg and knock on some beautifully finished Austrian doors in the offseason to fix this glaring gap, but for now the transfer window is closed…

McCarty’s Revenge: Although we hate to bring it up in every New York preview, we can’t help ourselves this time. This past offseason was defined by Chicago’s ability to bolster its midfield with the addition of New York’s former captain. It shattered Allocation Money records, it shattered McCarty’s settled life, and it shattered the hearts of Red Bull supporters. Wednesday’s match will provide an opportunity for vindication of making the move for Marsch, or it could prove to be an occasion for McCarty to remind the Red Bulls of what they have been missing. A poor performance from the midfielder against Houston will also add motivation to play well in a side where he is viewed as the leader.

Die Rückkehr: At long last the return of Bastian Schweinsteiger. In what could be his last match in a Chicago jersey the German will likely suit up to start the match against the Red Bulls. Although he is not yet back to full fitness, having completed just two full training sessions in the last month, there is no way Schweinsteiger does not make an impact in this match. We spoke about the presence that playoff experience brings and Schweinsteiger brings World Cup Final and Champions League final experience to the table. If there is anyone that can calm the match down and keep Sacha Kljestan at bay it will certainly be him. Similarly, if the German star is to in fact vie for a return to Chicago for next season at a similar wage (allegedly a stumbling block in negotiations thus far) then a deep playoff run might be a way to force management’s hand. Either way, look for him to do something special on Wednesday.

Prediction: In the spirit of playoffs we will not be providing a prediction. Logic is bound up in emotion and our hearts are intertwined with our minds. Please provide your own prediction below. If this turns out to be our last preview of the season, it has been a true pleasure on our end.

Filed under: 2017 Playoffs

Tags: Chicago Fire


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  • My prediction is 2-1 Chicago. The boys come out and play strong. Goals by Accam and Niko, with BWP scoring in the 85th minute to destroy the clean sheet.

  • Really struggling to be positive about this match. A cold Wednesday night in Bridgeview has disappointment written all over it.

  • Talking about goalkeepers, what do you think should happen in the winter? We should probably cut Lampson and go after a Gk in Europe. If i were to choose a gk, I would go with Michel Vorm. He is Dutch which will make it better for Johan and him to communicate, he is expierienced at age 33 (soon to be 34) , and isn't getting any valuable first team football at Spurs. I don't think he will be too expensive as well. The only thing is he will require an international slot but that could be sorted with letting go of players like Arshakian. What do you guys think?

  • In reply to DavidFromChicago:

    Goalkeeper has to be one of the top priorities this offseason.

  • In reply to DavidFromChicago:

    Vorm would be a terrific signing. Sitting on the bench at Spurs is probably not his idea of a perfect career. He's a solid keeper. Maybe Spurs would let him come here on loan whilen our young guys develop?

  • In reply to DavidFromChicago:

    With Bava, weren't we 1 slot over in the international territory?
    Move Bava and Arshakian, most definitely. Isn't Goosens contract up at the end of this year, too? Just saying. (I would love to have seen what he could have brought on the field during the good run of form.)

  • In reply to BrianC.:

    Goossens, Bava, and Arshakyan all have club options for 2018.

  • Well, it's at least been a more fun year. Frustrating to see it ending on such a downslide with the 3 - 0 loss in the last game and down 2 - 0 near the end of the first half and not looking likely to advance against the Red Bulls. Hard to really tell from the TV coverage but the stands look to be roughly half-empty (or half-full to avoid negativity). It's a cold Wednesday night with a poor outlook but we should generate a little more support in the FIRST PLAYOFF MATCH SINCE 2012!

    I feel a bit guilty not being at Toyota Park myself but I'm 66 years old and spent all morning at two different Dr offices due to an ear problem with hearing loss and vertigo. Had to miss playing my weekly ice hockey game yesterday too! Then my car was in the garage all day long today until I picked it up at 6 pm. So there just wasn't any realistic way to get there tonight.

    It will be interesting to see whether the club makes another serious effort in the offseason. There's certainly available deadwood for trimming but the greater question is whether they will find some more great additions or revert to bargain basement hunting.

    Still rooting for the team but ready to switch to rooting for the front office performance!

  • In reply to Arklow:

    Another interesting offseason is underway.

  • In reply to Arklow:

    attendance was announced at just over 11K, so yes the stadium was as empty as it looked. I was really disappointed about that. I would have thought that the first playoff game in 5 years with a strong team would have brought more people out. Another reason that the attendance being so low surprised me was that when I went to look at how many tickets were available for sale on tuesday, it showed less then 1k seats available for purchase. It showed many sections with no seats available like mine in 207 and the corner kicks.

  • I am guessing but I think part of the low attendance problem was the fact that there was very little time from Sunday to Wednesday when the first game was solidified. That and the fact that their ticketing system couldn't function well. I think another week between the last game and the playoff game would have made for a better attended game. Other than Dax, no one showed up to play last night. I've never seen anyone fight harder than Dax did last night. Truly a model for younger players.

    Here is my hope for next year:

    1. Fire trade Lampson back to Columbus where he starts every game.

    2. Fire discover a true CAM who can link with Dax.

    3. Pauno is sent back to Siberia (I mean Serbia). Arshakyan, seriously?????

    4. Basti comes back as a player coach.

    5. Say Chao to Joao

    6. New keeper

    7. Speed training for Vincent

    8. Left foot training for Polster

    9. New traffic coordinators getting cars from 71st into the STH Lot. Those "police" officers directing traffic really need to be sent to remedial traffic school.

  • This one is on Pauno. Worst and most embarrassing match in Fire history. Two in a row, in fact. Georgie experiment worthless in playoffs, Juninho, a 50 yr old in a 29 yr olds body played 16 min in 2 months and now he's ready for 90 in the playoffs. Switching keepers and centerbacks ruins trust and spoils Pauno's credibility . Schweinny checked out weeks ago and has never lost so much in his career. Pauno got outsmarted by an MLS veteran player and coach who is an Ivy leaguer. Pauno panic and stubborn moves and lineups show his ignorance and lack of leadership. That loses a team and a locker room early on in the season. "Basti loves Chicago." Yah....we will see in February when his wife won't leave the penthouse for 6 weeks. The "Armenian Ibrahimovic" was another one. Comes out and gives up a turnover resulting in a goal and then misses a sitter. Meanwhile, we have a home grown in Tulsa with 20 starts and 10 goals. Stubborn, bias, and ignorance gets you fired. Now we have an 18 yr old prodigy who may have to have off season surgery and a long recovery. Basti won't take low ball offer from Fire. Super Sonic Jet off to coast of France. Zooooooooom

  • In reply to FutbolJunky:

    I disagree with "Georgie experiment worthless in playoffs". Who on the bench would you have put in there instead? I thought Djordjie played much better then Juninho. He seemed to actually play with heart and step up his game. With the exception of Dax, I felt that the rest of the team thought they were in a high school scrimmage for the first half. I'm highly disappointed that Djordjie will miss the beginning of 2018. He has great promise.

    As for Schweinsteiger, I hope he comes back next year. What you don't see when watching the fire on TV is how Basti controls everything that happens on the field. He is constantly making sure people are in their correct position and doing the things that they should be doing. Djordjie's growth also has a lot to do with Basti's leadership and advice. I'd like to see him back next year, grooming Djordjie when he's healthy again and getting him to a point where he can take over that role in 2019.

  • Well said.. much of my thoughts too. Would much rather see homegrown players who were taught to possess developed than older, journeymen players like Juhnino, Solignac and Arkshakyan. Bench players should be promising young players, not someone else's cast offs.

    This club squandered a very good season and the Acaam drama and injuries surely didn't help. I hope Goosens can return as well as DeLeuw and they can start getting more time to Connor, Calistri and whoever they draft next year. As much as I like what Basti brings to the table, they sure don't need to spend that kind of money on a defensive midfielder.

    Out with a whimper. Sad.

  • Defensive midfield? I wish....A Sweeper...close enough.
    Basti never got out of 2nd gear all season. The owner will never put up $5mm again (adidas and MLS neither) again for year 2. Accam is already on a plane to Accra and will never be heard from again. Foreign coaches favor foreign players as they don't understand the American system. With limited budgets, Pauno is forced to bring in 2nd tier, out of contract players on trial....only to have their asses handed to them by our American players. Tough pill to swallow.

  • I'm really disappointed in the 4-0 drumming too, but let's try really hard to keep some perspective here. Floor of the league last two seasons up to 3rd and the golden boot?! That's a pretty good jump. Sure the team has floundered since July, but I'd argue that's due to the lack of depth that we all knew was a weakness. The roster was never going to be able to survive injuries from goose, the lion, and Basti (if he can't play, he can't play, that's why he didn't start). The one thing I won't hold back on is lampson. Guy is a joke. The Sean Johnson debacle is imo the one thing this new regime deserves the most criticism for. New keeper, get healthy, and add some depth, this team is threatening again next year. Heck of a season. Thanks for making it entertaining and actually worth following.

  • We will never see Accam, Basti, and Juninho ever again.
    Basti will never take low ball offer.

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