As it's already been pointed out, we've been a little quiet over here at HTIOT. I'm feeling a little rusty as I attempt to put together this game preview, and it got me to thinking about the players on both squads. They've got to be a little rusty, too, right? Putting in reps on the practice is not the same as game day. Let's hope the Fire come out sharper than my writing after this recent break.
We all know that it's been a while since the Fire played, but for New York, this will be their first MLS match since May 23rd. In the meantime, New York did have two U.S. Open Cup matches - the most recent one being a 3-1 loss to Harrisburg on June 5th. Open Cup matches aside, New York is currently riding a 6 game unbeaten streak (5-0-1) in league play.
A preview of what to look for on Sunday after the jump.
New York has been juggling their lineup over the past month or more due to injuries and suspensions. It was reported earlier this week that Joel Lindpere had some back problems after an international stint with Estonia, but it sounds like he will be playing on Sunday. The former Fire defender, Wilman Conde, is supposedly healthy enough to make his third Red Bull appearance on Sunday. And, of course, the big absences in the Red Bull line up will be from Rafa Marquez and Thierry Henry, who are both staying back in New York to nurse injuries.
It is comforting to know that the Red Bulls will be missing some key players and that they won't be trotting out their their staring XI of choice, but it is a false comfort. New York's six game unbeaten streak in league play has been accomplished while swapping players in and out to fill the holes. This team is going to be a difficult opponent no matter who they put out on the pitch.
New York Offense v. Fire Defense
The Fire are going to benefit greatly from Henry's absence. The youth of the Fire back line have been struggling with communication and organization the past few of matches, and Henry is a player who will exploit those kinds of weaknesses. Without Henry, New York typically plays a 4-1-4-1 with Kenny Cooper as the lone striker. Even though he's a big guy, he's not as physical as Kris Boyd or Emilio Renteria, who both roughed up our young center backs. Cooper's main strength lies less in his physicality and more in his skill as a forward. He is tied for the Golden Boot at the moment going and is to be a player to be wary of. He's also somebody to watch out for on set pieces.
Behind Cooper on the attack are going to be Joel Lindpere and Dane Richards. The match up between Richards and Marco Pappa is going to be interesting. Pappa is going to need to play some defense on Sunday to help contain Richards. While Pappa isn't slow, he's also not know for his speed and is going to have a tough time keeping pace with Richards. I wouldn't be surprised to see Pappa switch sides with Nyarko in this match as Nyarko might be better suited to handle Richards.
The one big positive for the Fire on defense is the return of Arne Friedrich. Arne's experience is going to help keep things tighter in the back line. When it comes to who will start alongside Arne, I have to believe it will be Jalil Anibaba. Austin Berry has had some great moments and shown a lot of of potential, but he's also made at least one or two big mistakes in every game he's played so far. Jalil has also had his own mistakes as well, but he's definitely been playing at a higher level this year than he was last year.
Fire Offense v. New York Defense
The big questions here are whether or not Rolfe starts (which is sounds like he will) and, if he does, where he will be playing. I'd rather not see Rolfe play in the midfield, but Frank has stated that Rolfe could play both up top and in the midfield. I'm sure I'm not alone in wanting to see Rolfe play up top. It's where he will be the strongest. The Fire have been pretty awful in the attacking third of the field this season, and something needs to be done to fix it. Rolfe is that something. Whether or not he can fix it remains to be seen.
The return of Marco Pappa is going to be a huge for the Fire. Without Pappa against New England, Nyarko took Pappa's position on the left while Oduro replaced Nyarko's spot on the right. Oduro wasn't bad in the midfield. He completed 16 out of his 25 passes with 3 shots. But there were long stretches where Oduro disappeared. The Fire tended to favor moving the ball down the left side of the field fairly significantly. In the attacking half of the field against New England, 59.9% of the possession was on the left while 40.1% was on the right. Things were simply not working with Oduro in the midfield.
As mentioned earlier, Wilman Conde will be making his third appearance as a Red Bull and it will be his first appearance at Toyota Park since he left the team in 2010. Conde has done well in two games played with the Red Bulls and it's safe to assume that he will give their back line a boost with his return. Between Conde's return, Markus Holgersson's recent good form, and the acquisition of Heath Pearce, this Red Bull defense could be a challenge for a Fire team that has been lacking the finishing touch.
1-1 draw. New York scores in the first half and the Fire get the equalizer in the second. I'm putting my money on a fluky goal (a la deflected free kick off a team captain's backside fluky) to be the equalizer.