HANOVER, N.J. – An extended break is over and a date with the Chicago Fire looms for the New York Red Bulls. If this scenario feels familiar, it’s because they’ve been down this path before.
In fact, it was mere weeks ago when the Red Bulls found themselves in a similar position as they rode into Chicago to take on the last-place Fire. After taking a lead in the early stages of the match, things took a turn for the worse and New York saw their six-game unbeaten streak snapped.
“We’re definitely aware that we weren’t sharp enough in our last performance in Chicago,” captain Dax McCarty said of the 3-2 loss. “We’ll be sharper at home, and we’ll have more confidence to try and play and do the things that we want to do.”
After the match, several players in the New York locker room made note of just how they were beaten. While meandering through a less-than-stellar season, the Fire still possess some dangerous attacking options that managed to hurt the Red Bulls on the night. The pace and skill seen from the likes of Kennedy Igboananike, Patrick Nyarko and David Accam all combined to make Chicago a potent offensive threat that night.
“I think they have a little bit more team speed than a lot of teams in the league,” McCarty added. “They’re really dangerous on the counter attack, and they’re going to try to use that to their advantage. It’s important that we do well defensively.”
A stingy defensive club this year, the Red Bulls were pegged back in their first meeting after conceding three or more goals for just the second time this season. But you can expect a different look from New York as they are not only playing at home on Friday (7 pm ET, UniMas) – giving them an inherent edge – but also now know to keep a close eye on Chicago’s danger men at all times.
“They have guys that make one-on-one plays and are very individualistic,” midfielder Sacha Kljestan said after training. “We have this thing we call ‘rest defense.’ So when we’re attacking we also know where their attacking players are and we’re ready for any ball that turns over. The ‘rest defense’ has to be very good, and I think we’ll take care of business.”
Even with their defensive philosophy in place, the Fire still have plenty of potential to do damage to New York’s notorious high-press system. Given Chicago's speed and strength, it would hardly be a surprise to see them exploit the Red Bulls on the break, but it’s a problem that head coach Jesse Marsch has preemptively addressed.
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“You look at a lot of the games we have left and it’s against teams that are good on the counter, which does threaten our philosophy and our tactics,” said Marsch. “But I feel like we can take care of that by knowing where they are and making sure we can press the field even when we have the ball and limiting the space that they have. We need to try to eliminate their one-v-one situations around our goal.”
The Red Bulls can go a long way to helping themselves by cutting down on the turnovers that doomed them in Chicago. On that night, the Fire found the equalizer courtesy of a bad turnover at midfield, which signaled the beginning of the end for New York.
In round two at Red Bull Arena, maintaining possession will be a major factor in limiting Chicago’s looks at goal
“One of the things we did to ourselves was put ourselves in bad situations by giving balls away that allowed their explosive players to get out on the move,” said Marsch. “We have to do a better job of not giving up possession in bad areas. And when they are on the move, we have to do a better job of recovering a delaying. If we can mitigate that part of the game, we can put a lot of the other parts of the game on our terms.”