HANOVER, N.J. – Come Sunday night, the New York Red Bulls will take on the Chicago Fire with a chance to lift the Supporters’ Shield (7 pm ET; ESPN3, MLS LIVE).
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
Indeed, it was these very same teams that squared off in 2013 as the Red Bulls overcame an early deficit to win the Shield, the first meaningful piece of silverware in franchise history.
But aside from the names on the front of the jerseys, precious little remains the same from that encounter two years prior. The venue now shifts away from New York’s friendly confines of Red Bull Arena to the Fire’s Toyota Park, a stadium in which the Red Bulls/Metrostars have never earned three points. On the field, both teams have undergone significant overhauls from the top down. And whereas the Fire were battling for their playoff lives in 2013, the cellar dwellers have little more to play for than pride this time around.
But as captain Dax McCarty warned, a team “with nothing to lose” presents its own set of problems.
“It’s a tough team,” he said of Chicago. “We might have a tougher game than if they were in the playoff race, so we’re under no illusions. They’ve given us a lot of problems this year, but I think we’ve learned from those mistakes. We have to play with no fear. We can’t worry about the past or the history at Toyota Park.”
Despite limping toward the finish line, the Fire seem to have found a formula to combat the Red Bulls and their high press, on display in their 3-2 win over the Red Bulls on Aug. 26. Despite the Fire posing a threat on the counter, the Red Bulls insist that they will stick with their tried and true tactics.
“They’re very dangerous going forward,” McCarty said. “Obviously they have guys like [David] Accam and Gilberto, [Kennedy] Igboananike that are very fast and very skillful players. Every team in this league poses a threat in their own way, but we’re going to approach this the same way we approach every game.”
A quiet confidence has emanated throughout the New York squad as a chance for a second Shield in three years is there for the taking. But head coach Jesse Marsch is doing his part to temper his team’s enthusiasm ahead of a crucial season finale with everything to play for.
“We don’t want to be so emotional in the game that we leave ourselves susceptible to give up chances,” Marsch told MLSsoccer.com. “I think that’s been a talking point within our group to say, ‘Listen, we’re committed, we want this, we’re going after it, but let’s do it in a smart way.’ [We need to be] on top of what makes us good, and in doing so we can’t be overzealous.”