Hey, What Happened?
Well the fire went in to Portland and actually came away with a positive result. Fire head coach Frank Yallop surprised pretty much everybody when he decided to actually play some kids in the starting lineup. I almost Shipp my pants when I saw it! [Ed.: Uhhh ...] Yes, Harrison Shipp and Benji Joya were inserted in the starting lineup as well as Matt Watson and Quincy Amarikwa also found starting spots. After seeing the starting lineup, I thought the Fire had no chance of any points in Portland. I'm so glad they proved me wrong. They ended up with a 1-1 tie after playing a firsthalf that would make any Chicago fan proud. The second half gave plenty of cause for concern for supporters of the Fire, unfortunately. The Men in Red were pegged in their own half of the field for most of the final 45 minutes and eventually gave up the leveling goal to new Timbers attacker Gaston Fernandez.
Hey, What's Happening?
This week the Fire welcome the New York Red Bulls to Toyota Park for the 2014 home opener. Every year, this is the game that fans and players alike get excited for. For the fans, it is their first chance to see the 2014 edition of the team they love so dear; for the players, it is the chance to play in front of one the most passionate fan bases in the league.
The teams have been travelling parallel paths in the early season. New York, like the Fire, started the season off by travelling to the west coast and losing. Unlike Chicago, though, the Red Bulls didn't just lose, they were beaten down at the hands of the Whitecaps by a 4-1 scoreline. Then, in their second game, New York again got a similar result to the Fire, playing to a 1-1 draw against Colorado last week.
One thing is for sure, New York is definitely not the same team that won the supporters shield in 2013, and should be scrapping for a playoff spot this year. Their two DP's are another year older and their roster has had some significant changes since the end of 2013; Red Bulls are a team that can be devastating but which is capable of being devastated.
Hey, What Should Happen?
With the Fire coming off of a game where they showed a vast improvement from the week before, what's to stop them from even getting better? I would expect close to the same lineup for the men in red. The only changes that will happen is to fill the voids left by Patrick Nyarko and Lovel Palmer, who are both suspended for this one, as well as the injuries to Dilly Duka, Alex, and Gonzalo Segares who are all listed as questionable - although Segares has not practiced all week.
In order for the Fire to keep New York from creating chances the back four are going to have to keep a close watch on the attacking players of the Red Bulls. Those names include the league veterans Bobby Convey and Dax McCarty, English league veterans Bradley Wright-Phillips and Lloyd Sam, and the DP duo of Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill. The inclusion of Convey and Sam, as well as Henry's tendency to play from the outside in, means the outside backs for the Fire will be up against it, especially in transition.
The Fire, on the other hand, need to attack the New York defense. They will have to take the game to Red Bulls and constantly apply pressure on a back four that hasn't settled to this point. If the Fire can repeat what they did in the first half versus the Timbers - but for 90 minutes - they should be able to send the Fire faithful home happy with three points.
Hey, What's Going to Happen?
The home opener for any sports team is something that the players and their fans look forward to all off-season. With the Fire opening their home schedule on Sunday they should have no problem getting pumped up for this one. I see this game being one that whichever team has the strongest defense on the day will be the ones taking home the three points.
The Fire are more than likely going to be missing Segares, and with Palmer suspended for the next two games, that will leave openings at the wingback positions. This may turn into a point of attack for the Red Bulls, as the Fire will either have to play youngsters there or play veterans out of position. As long as the Fire can contain the Red Bull attack, Chicago should have no problem creating chances going on last week's performance, especially if Mike Magee is back in the lineup.
I see this one going 3-1 in favor of the Men in Red. They will prove to be too much for New York, as the NYRB defense will not be able to withstand the pressure that the Fire will put on them. It will be cold out, but the Fire faithful will give the Men in Red a warm reception and be behind them the entire 90 minutes.
When: Sunday March 23rd at 2PM
Where: Toyota Park, Bridgeview Illinois
Where to Watch: Toyota Park Stands, My50 Chicago, Unimas, TWCSC Wisconsin