Coming off a solid 1-0 win against Vancouver, the Men In Red travel east to battle the New York Red Bulls Wednesday afternoon (?!) in a vital Eastern Conference matchup. The Red Bulls also were in action this past weekend playing to a 2-2 draw at home against Seattle. With New York one point ahead of the Fire in the standings and even on games played, Chicago has the opportunity to move into third place in the East. Follow me after the jump for a few matchups, tactics, and storylines I will be looking at throughout the game.
Defending the Stampede
New York has many attacking options available to them with the recent acquisition of Sebastien Le Toux. The Frenchman has been known to play out wide on the wing, but is much more effective as a forward where he racked up 36 goals and 17 assists over two seasons for Philadelphia. Assuming Le Toux starts with Kenny Cooper as a forward with Thierry Henry playmaking like they did against Seattle, Austin Berry and Jalil Anibaba will likely start as the centerbacks because of Arne Friedrich's suspension and will have a hard day's work ahead of them attempting to stop the big forwards. This attack will look much different from the last time these two teams met at Toyota Park a month ago when Cooper was paired up with Dane Richards. Both centerbacks must be on high alert and expect a tough battle from two highly physical and technical forwards.
If Henry does start as a playmaker as he did this past weekend, Pavel Pardo and Logan Pause must keep a close eye on Henry at all times, as he can create a world of opportunities from his first touch. His linkup to the forwards must be stopped immediately as Cooper can find room in the space to shoot and Le Toux is a lethal finisher. Pause and Pardo must also watch the late run into the box from Henry if Anibaba and Berry are shutting down the centerbacks.
Denying service from the flanks will be another urgent strategy as Joel Lindpere, Connor Lade, Roy Miller, and Brandon Barklage will look to send crosses in to the big men. Marco Pappa and Patrick Nyarko must track back and be aware of early crosses sent in from the wings. Not to mention whoever starts as the central attacking midfielder must defend deep as Dax McCarty has grown into the role of a deep lying playmaker rather well this season. Should Alex start, his energy and willingness to drop back and defend may help turn the midfield battle in the Fire's favor as they battle a powerful attacking opponent.
Weather the Heat
With the forecast for tomorrow at a scorching 97 degrees and both teams having played weekend games, the issue of fresh legs and fatigue will very likely factor in the match. We will likely see the same lineup for the Fire as we saw on Saturday night with the exception of Dan Gargan in for Friedrich. Hans Backe will probably play his same lineup also. The difference here is Chicago played on a Saturday night while New York played on a Sunday afternoon. The day less of rest and the higher temperature may leave the Red Bulls more fatigued, especially after Backe declined to make a second half substitution. Both teams will be tired, but the Fire may have an edge in slightly fresher legs.
Gaudette or Meara?
Ryan Meara sat out the game against Seattle with a hip injury sustained in their game against New England on July 8th. The Rookie of the Year candidate is listed as probable and may get the start Wednesday. However, if recently acquired Bill Gaudette gets the start, the Fire may be able to breach the goal as Gaudette did not look to have firm control of his backline against Seattle. If the Fire's tricky attacking midfield trio can find the right runs and the right passes to Oduro who can speed past the slow Red Bull centerbacks, Gaudette may have another difficult afternoon.
Overall, Wednesday's game will be a very tough match between two evenly matched teams. New York's chances rely upon finding consistent service to the forwards and mixing up the attack between Henry and McCarty's playmaking and service from the flanks to the big men in the box. The Fire will likely sit back and counter hoping to spring Nyarko and Oduro on the counter to catch the slow Red Bull backline. Alex may prove to be the X-Factor in this game as no one is still sure what he can bring. I hope that we can find that first moment of sheer brilliance from him leading the Fire to a win and third place in the Eastern standings.