The Fire have every reason to be up for Saturday’s match against New York Red Bulls - every reason in the world!
Remember, of course, that it was the Red Bulls - led, in one of those thumb-in-the-eye twists that seem to hover around Chicago’s MLS franchise like fruit flies, by Fire legends Jesse Marsch and Chris Armas as well as former Fire manager Denis Hamlett* - who ran rampant against the Men in Red in last year’s Eastern Conference playoffs. Add to that the fact that the Fire haven’t beaten NYRB in seven tries, and you’ve got a roster full of guys wearing the Fire shirt who must be tired of getting wet-willied and short-sheeted by a bunch of dudes wearing an energy drink logo as a badge.
Since that , the Red Bulls have done what they’ve done every year for the last three, getting younger, deeper and closer-knit. The Fire ... have not. There’s every reason to suspect that Chicago’s motivation won’t be enough.
Perhaps a perusal of the Fire’s record overall would provide inspiration? Until recently, this was a fairly lopsided history in favor of the Men in Red.
CF97 overall vs New York Red Bulls: 26 won, 12 drawn, 17 lost. 90 GF, 72 GA.
CF97 on the road vs New York Red Bulls: 11 won, 3 drawn, 13 lost. 41 GF, 44 GA.
Ok, so, the Fire are probably in some trouble here. Red Bull’s stumbles in the league have generally been down to squad rotation, which their run to the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals made a necessity. Consider: After playing four league games and four CONCACAF matches in the first month of the season, NYRB have just lived through their first travel-free week of the season. When Jesse Marsch’s team is near full strength, it has mauled every MLS team it has faced this season. They have a settled tactic which they’ve spent years sharpening to a razor’s edge. They’ve got the best American talent in the league in Tyler Adams. I could go on, but the point would be simple - It’s going to take something special from the Fire to escape with a draw, much less snatch all three points.
If you want to see how a Fire win could be possible, enjoy that 60-second video where Red Bulls completely dominates Chivas de Guadalara, hammers away 20 shots and still can’t break through. Just try not to pay attention to that whole ‘dominating a legendary LigaMX club’ part of it and you’ll be fine.
Keys to the Match
Learn from the Red Stars: This edition of the Fire needs to take some inspiration from the #ScamGang action Red Stars have cooking - keep it tight, win individual battles, make it a scrappy contest about wantin-to. Get stuck in.
Play the best XI: Any further benching of obvious starters (we’re talking explicitly about Aleksandr Katai) will be grounds for more, and more trenchant, criticism of Fire manager Velko Paunovic.
Take the long view: This game is the first of three very difficult road matches in a row. This Red Bull team is likely the best of the bunch. If it goes sideways today, it’s important not to get into meltdown mode.
The View from the Other Side
Thanks to Tzvi Machlin of Once A Metro, who answered our queries:
Hot Time: 1. Jesse Marsch, Chris Armas - these Chicago Fire guys atop the Red Bulls staff aren’t just former Fire players, they’re goddamned legends. How much of this club’s ongoing success is those guys, and how much is the general atmosphere of RalfBall?
Once A Metro: You forgot to mention legendary Chicago Fire coach Denis Hamlett, our sp=orting director and Marsch’s other right-hand man. Joking aside, I tend to believe that the RalfBall atmosphere contributes as much or more to the team’s success than anything Marsch does. This club has made the playoffs in 11 of 12 years under our Austrian overlords, and right now Ralf Ragnarick has all of the clubs using his philosophy running like well-oiled machines (albeit very unlucky ones when it comes to any competition outside of the league regular season).
HT: Given the very loamy New Jersey soil it’s planted on (in soccer terms), what’s the ceiling for this Red Bulls organization here, long-term?
OAM: Ironically, I’d say we’re going to be the New Jersey Devils of MLS: A Metro-area sports team with years of success and tradition being dwarfed by a media more focused on about 6 other more famous sports teams playing nearby (Jets, Giants, Yankees, Mets, Knicks, & Rangers). It’s going to be a long, long slog before we become a mainstream entity in the NY/NJ area.
HT: Once he’s fully integrated, how do you see Kaku being used by NYRB?
OAM: The intention ever since the first rumors of Kaku’s arrival have been that he’d replace Sacha Kljestan as the team’s number 10 (albeit one who‘s a little less hesitant to tackle or prone to giveaways). Once Kaku gets fully integrated, look for him to be the new man feeding chance after chance after chance to The Ultimate Scoring Machine (TM), aka Bradley Wright-Phillips, much like his predecessors Kljestan and Thierry Henry - with the occasional goal from himself. That said, Jesse Marsch says he’s struggling right now to stay in the middle and keeps to drifting to the wing - so I’m not quite as certain as some of our fans that he’s at that point yet.
How to Watch
When: Saturday, April 21st, 2:30pm, at Redd Bulls Arena in Harrison, NJ
TV: Univision Deportes
Radio: WRTO 1200 AM (Spanish)
*presumably still. right. here.