On fire at home, New York Red Bulls look to take solid form on the road

HARRISON, N.J. –- Red Bull Arena has proven to be a fortress for the New York Red Bulls, who have now gone unbeaten on their home turf in 20 straight regular season matches.

The latest installment in that streak, a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday, wasn’t the prettiest of results, but it was plenty effective.

It was the type of win that the Red Bulls struggled to achieve last year, grinding out three points while perhaps showing a growing maturity as a team.

A first half goal by Bradley Wright-Phillips, his fourth of the season, was followed by a 71st minute winner from left back Kemar Lawrence. The two goals pushed the team forward as the Red Bulls wrapped up a three-game home stand with nine points, all taken from Eastern Conference opponents. A season that got off to a sluggish start now looks promising, with the Red Bulls sitting in second in the East heading into Wednesday’s match at Sporting Kansas City (8:30 pm ET; MLS LIVE).

While Saturday night marked the first time all season that the Red Bulls have conceded at home, their form in Harrison has been nothing short of tremendous. The win over the Fire gave New York a 4-0-1 record at Red Bull Arena this year.

“Yeah, this was obviously a must win. At home we've had some good form. At home we've been really good,” Wright-Phillips said after the match. “Just to top off the last game, nine points from three games, it's what we aim to do and we did that.”

The Red Bulls, to their credit, met the intensity of the match. Saturday was the return of Dax McCarty, now in an opposing jersey as he captained the Fire. McCarty was captain of the Red Bulls the last two years and a fan favorite, with his homecoming to Red Bull Arena met with a tribute video, a pregame display from the team’s supporters and a postgame lap around the stadium to thank the fans. 

For much of the match, the Fire proved to be the more dangerous team, equalizing early in the second half and having several solid chances to score a second goal before and after Lawrence’s winner. Chicago played a direct style, bypassing their usual build-up with long balls and attempts to switch the field in an effort to combat the Red Bulls’ press.

They found plenty of space on the wings and in front of the New York backline. A couple of big saves from Luis Robles, who had four saves in all, preserved the three points for New York.

“You've got to move the line aggressively, but in a smart way, and that's a tactic, right, and that's the tactic that we emphasize and work on daily,” said head coach Jesse Marsch. “So you know, it's sometimes about the recovery and making sure that you're ready when there are break downs to really recover and make it hard on them, and sometimes, yeah, Luis has to come up with some saves.”

Saturday’s win wasn’t terribly pretty for the Red Bulls, who lost the possession battle, were outshot and created the lower quality of chances according to data provided by Opta. But they gutted it out, notching an important home sweep ahead of tough road tests at SKC and at Philadelphia this week.

“That part has been great. It's a pretty unique situation in MLS that you get three games in a row at home, and you get to build momentum which has been great for us,” midfielder Sacha Kljestan said. “So, now we go into a quick little two-game road trip that we know is going to be tough but we have a lot of confidence now.”