The Chicago Fire’s long trek toward the offseason makes a pit stop in the Bronx on Friday night, as the Men in Red will face off against New York City FC. It’ll be the third and final time these teams will face one another this season - though one can be forgiven if their memory wiped away the atrocity that was their 0-0 draw the last time they played nearly six months ago. The match begins at 7 p.m. CT and airs on UniMas.
After a disastrous inaugural season that saw them tied for second-to-last in the conference, NYCFC have righted the ship and now find themselves tied for second in the Eastern Conference. With only four matches left this season, it’s safe to assume that Patrick Vieira will let loose an all offensive campaign to claim the top playoff seat away from Toronto FC and cross-river rivals New York Red Bulls.
Luckily for the coach, an absurdly strong offense built with a mixture of big international names and talented youngsters has been the key to this season’s turnaround. Only the Red Bulls (52 goals) have scored more often that NYCFC (51 goals) this season, and it’s fueled by a 3 midfielders and three attacker formation that dreams of nothing but putting balls into the net. It feels like years since the season-opening 4-3 loss to NYCFC, but Fire fans who can remember it won’t forget the two-headed offensive monster that was David Villa and Thomas McNamara.
Even several years removed from his tenure on Spain’s national team, Villa is still a world-class striker who has the ability to not only score anytime the ball is at his feet; but also to set up teammates who benefit from Villa’s drawing defenders. With 17 goals in 29 games, Villa is the classic case of knowing you cannot stop, only hope that you can contain.
The attackers will likely see a lot of action come Friday night, as the midfield that includes Italian legend Andrea Pirlo and whomever replaces Frank Lampard will likely look to push forward and set up their teammates going forward with the ball. The midfield/attack juggernaut has recently been boosted by former bust Lampard, as the English legend has 12 goals and one assist in 18 matches this season; but another injury has taken Lampard out of commission and he will not be available against the Fire.
Unfortunately for NYCFC, the team basically needs to create offensive fireworks every match with how horrible its defense has been all season.
With 52 goals allowed this season, only Orlando City (53 GA) has failed more often at the basic goal of defense (though it should be noted that # is skewed by allowing 11 goals in 2 matches against NYRB). Where in the past I’ve placed the blame on poor defenses on a bad backline letting their goalie down, NYCFC is the rare case where everyone is to blame, including the midfield and attackers who even Houston Rocket’s James Harden think show a lack of interest in defending.
Goalkeeper Josh Saunders seems to only hold that title by default, as he’s been the man in goal for all 52 goals allowed in 30 matches. He often finds himself out of position and forced to react late to even the most basic of shots against him. The back four, which will see a mixture of players like Jason Hernandez and Frederic Brillant, often lack chemistry and their late reactions can often be exploited by teams.
If nothing else, fans can hope Friday night’s match will be as exciting as the season opening 4-3 offensive showcase these two sides put on in the season opener. With the Fire having nothing to lose - and NYCFC having a top seed to lose - I’m seeing a high scoring game. The injury to Lampard will be felt, but I predict another 4-3 win for NYCFC.
What are your thoughts and predictions? Leave a comment below?