HOUSTON – You can't script this sort of thing.
The Chicago Fire, after a four-year playoff drought, will look to continue their comeback season when they host the New York Red Bulls in the MLS Playoffs Knockout Round.
And guess who's up first? Only the team that dealt them a key component of their surge up from years of struggle at the bottom of the Eastern Conference.
The matchup pits a revamped Fire – a club that traded for Red Bulls stalwart Dax McCarty in the offseason – against a New York team that nabbed the sixth seed after being the number one seed a season ago.
McCarty, who played six seasons and made 169 appearances for the Red Bulls, helping them win two Supporters' Shields during his time there, says there’s no extra motivation to want to beat his old club. He just wants to win and advance to the next round. Some fun trash talking over text messages will take place between him and his former teammates, he said, but, “Once we step on the field we’ll take care of business.”
Fire coach Veljko Paunovic, who noted that the best from his side is still to come, concurs with his midfielder.
“More motivation than playing against a great team like the New York Red Bulls in a playoff knockout game? There’s no extra motivation needed,” Paunovic said. “The most important part is not this game but the potential of how far we can go if we beat New York. We’ll be in the semifinals of the Eastern Conference.
“It’s a must-win game. It’s the most important game of the year.”
Precision on the ball will be key, McCarty said.
“You have to be sharp on the day,” he said. “You can’t turn the ball over in bad spots and let them turn you over and get out on the run.
“We should try to keep the ball and make sure that we’re dangerous. If we’re dangerous we’ll put their backline under pressure and that’s a recipe to create chances and hopefully score some goals.”