They say Red Bull gives you wings - Red Bulls give you wings? - and that apparently holds true for the Chicago Fire.
The Fire and Red Bulls have met three times this season; in two of those meetings, the Fire have walked away with three points after a Sunday's 1-0 victory in Toyota Park.
The Red Bulls have twice given the Fire the lift they have needed most throughout the season, first in the form a 5-4 Chicago victory in New York that firmly placed Harry Shipp on the MLS map, and second in the form of a 1-0 victory Sunday that breathed life into a season on the brink. New York has generously contributed more than 25 percent of the Fire's season points, accounting for 7 of the the Men in Red's total of 25.
It was a tough, blue collar performance that will not go down as the most aesthetically pleasing game of the season, but the Fire finally broke through for a win in front of the home crowd in no small part because of the contributions from the returning Bakary Soumare. After finding the dog house after the San Jose debacle, Soumare found himself back in the lineup and paired up very well with Jeff Larentowicz at center back throughout the game.
Soumare made his mark in the first half with a couple of brilliant defensive plays on Bradley Wright-Phillips to keep the game scoreless.
The first play came at the 16th minute when Ambroise Oyongo played a cross into a streaking Wright-Phillips who was aggressively challenged by Soumare. The Malian defender was even more aggressive in his second game-changing tackle when he slid in from behind on Wright-Phillips in the box and got all ball to avoid giving up a penalty kick.
Larentowicz was also a solid contributor in the back, making life difficult for Thierry Henry who was only able to create quasi-threatening chances for the Red Bulls. The whole back four was the key to the victory and much better organized compared to the 5-4 barn burner in New York when the teams last met.
Lovel Palmer's contributions were more noticeable on the offensive side, playing a great one-touch pass to Alex that led to a chance in the first half. Palmer also found Quincy Amarikwa and Alex again for good looks.
While the back four did most of the work in the first half, the Fire's offense created a goal late in the half when Mike Magee, who finally found himself in the box, was able to chip a pass to Amarikwa who was aggressively tackled by Oyongo. Magee went up to take the penalty, which was stopped by Luis Robles. Magee found good fortune though as the ball deflected right back to him and he calmly slotted a shot to the far post with his left foot.
Sean Johnson, who was not called into action in the first half, saw some more action in the second, making a fantastic save on Wright-Phillips in the 64th minute.
The Fire also had a few more chances in the second half with first-time starter Razvan Cocis looking much more comfortable compared to the first. Cocis connected well with Magee, which led to drawing a free kick right outside the box. He maintained a high level of energy that saw him make box-to-box contributions.
Chicago's best chance in the second came on a breakaway spurred by Sean Johnson who found Quincy Amarikwa at midfield. Amarikwa ran with Magee, who opted to pass back to Amarikwa instead of shooting when entering the box. While he could have shot, the pass barely missed a sliding Amarikwa looking for goal.
Shipp also got two shots on goal, but unlike his performance in New York, he was denied.
The credit for the win belongs to Soumare and his defensive mates who will hopefully look to build off the performance. The three points is great, but history shows it may not be an indicator of what to expect from this team moving forward.
Chicago's best chance for success this year still comes in the U.S. Open Cup where they will take on Seattle Wednesday in the semifinal. Frank Yallop has plenty of difficult decisions to make with the semifinal tilt Wednesday and an MLS game in Montreal Saturday. A win against Montreal would put the Fire at 28 points in 23 games, a pace good enough for playoff consideration in the East.
The win against New York should at least give the Men in Red confidence to get some positive results in the coast-to-coast trip they will undertake.