Prime Your Fire Pump: Chicago vs. New York Red Bulls #2

No energy drinks needed, there will be plenty of intensity to go around on Sunday (photo: Brian Kersey/chicago-fire.com)

No energy drinks needed. There will be plenty of intensity to go around Red Bull Arena on Sunday.
(photo: Brian Kersey/chicago-fire.com)

OTF’s Jon Denham recalls another dramatic ending in New Jersey, while Seeing Red’s Mark Fishkin believes his team is destined to leave a trophyless past behind…

“The pressure is on (Chicago),” says New York Red Bulls first-year manager Mike Petke ahead of this Sunday’s regular season finale.

That may be so. Chicago Fire SC has been dealing with pressure since its 2-7-1 start to the 2013 season, so it isn’t exactly a raw emotion in the dressing room.

This Sunday, the Men in Red will look to improve upon their quality of play from last weekend against Toronto FC in order to keep pace with the Eastern Conference’s highest scoring team. It wasn’t always pretty against Toronto FC at Toyota Park last Saturday , but the team came away with three points courtesy of Mike Magee’s spot kick.

READ Know Your Enemy: New York Red Bulls #2

Maximum points will be difficult to come by on Sunday. The Red Bulls haven’t lost a home game since June 1, nor have they lost an MLS game in two months. They will have at least a little pressure of their own as they attempt to win their first trophy – the 2013 Supporters’ Shield – in front of their home fans.

These are the final 90 minutes of the 2013 regular season. When I jumped on board with On The Fire a couple of months ago, Fire Nation was digesting an editorial that grabbed national attention for the wrong reasons. But now, because of high performance on the pitch since the Magic One’s arrival in June, Chicago’s emotional roller coaster ride of a season has one last dramatic turn, dip, and scream left in store for American soccer fans.

By Sunday evening, we’ll know if the Men in Red will finish above that dreaded red playoff line. If they make it, it will have been against all odds, a remarkable achievement. However, down the stretch, this talented team dropped needed points in September, including a precious few at home. Not making the playoffs will perhaps rekindle the anger, frustration, and a hapless feeling Chicago fans have grown weary of. That said, no matter Sunday’s result in Red Bull Arena, perhaps we’ll have no choice but to “focus on the good times,” as A.J. says at the 3:20 mark:

How They Stand in the East

(image: chicago-fire.com)

(image: chicago-fire.com)

Chicago Fire could finish as high as third place in the Eastern Conference on Sunday. They may also miss out on the 2013 playoffs completely. A win means they’re in. However, a draw or a loss does not automatically put them below the red line.

Philadelphia and Montreal both play on Saturday. I’ve got to believe there will be a few hotel televisions tuned in to NBC Sports Network for the Philadelphia-Kansas City matchup and a locker room television at Red Bull Arena tuned in to NBC for the Houston-D.C. matchup on Sunday afternoon.

Jeff Crandall takes the confusion out of the qualification process at chicago-fire.com:

The Chicago Fire can qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs the following ways…

- Win at New York

- Draw/lose at New York and have either Houston draw/lose at D.C. or New England draw/lose at Columbus
- Draw at New York AND Montreal lose at Toronto

The Fire can clinch the East’s third seed if…

- Win at New York AND Toronto FC win/draw vs. Montreal
- Draw at New York AND Montreal loses at Toronto FC AND New England draws/loses at Columbus AND Houston draws/loses at D.C.

Tactics, Lineup, & Injuries

I suspect the following will be Frank Klopas’s starting XI on Sunday:

No Ginger Ninja on Sunday

No Ginga Ninja

Joel Lindpere, Logan Pause, and Quincy Amarikwa will offer plenty of flexibility off the bench. Jeff Larentowicz’s absence (yellow card accumulation) likely gets Alex back in the midfield with Arévalo Rios. Since Mike Magee was named the team’s MVP for this season, let’s go ahead and give him the arm band on Sunday.

“It is not going to be the same without [Larentowicz]…” Patrick Nyarko told chicago-fire.com late this week, “but we’ve got guys that can step in and do a good job.”

A quick look back at the Fire’s 3-1 win over the Red Bulls at Toyota Park reveals there’s almost nothing about this game that will look the same. That version featured Maicon Santos, Sherjill MacDonald, Wells Thompson, and Juninho. 

How far the drama dial gets turned up on Sunday in New York may be determined on Saturday in Canada. If Toronto FC wins its home match against Montreal and keeps the Fire within striking distance of third place, that dangling carrot will make for even better theater at sold out Red Bull Arena. Avoiding the play-in game is certainly an advantage to whichever team plants its flag in the third slot.

My bench: Tornaghi; Jumper, Pause; Lindpere, Paladini; Rolfe, Amarikwa

OTF’s Jon Denham grew up about seven miles north of The Harlem End. He now lives in Dubuque, Iowa, and may be its only resident with the MLS Direct Kick package. Jon’s the Sports Information Director and goalkeepers’ coach at Loras College, and writes some other stuff at Inclusive Beechwood Aging.

Seeing Red (Bulls) with Mark Fishkin

This year is different. That’s what Red Bull fans are feeling as their club is on the verge of winning its first trophy in its 18-year history. This season, rookie Coach Mike Petke and the realization of Tim Cahill’s positive drive have been instrumental in banishing bad luck from a team that’s had so much of it since 1996.

As much as Thierry Henry has been the man for New York, Cahill’s attitude and propensity to score timely goals has lifted the club to the edge of something special. If not Cahill, there are many candidates who can step it up for New York and perform at a high level.

Dax McCarty has been masterful at defensive midfield, Lloyd Sam has been hot and cold on the right wing for the Red Bulls, and the addition of fellow Englishman Bradley Wright-Phillips has given New York another scoring threat up top. Goalkeeper Luis Robles (11 shutouts) has excelled this season, and has improved game after game.

New Jersey's finest fans (photo: mlsroadtrip.wordpress.com)

New Jersey’s finest (photo: mlsroadtrip.wordpress.com)

A matchup to watch Sunday may be Chicago winger Patrick Nyarko vs. Markus Holgersson. If the Swede is slotted at right back for the second consecutive week, Nyarko’s speed may be too much for him to handle. 

At 10-2-4, New York has been a very strong home team in 2013, including a 6-0-2 record at Red Bull Arena since its last home loss in June to Vancouver. Moreover, the Red Bulls haven’t lost a match anywhere since August 25th (5-0-2).

New York won’t take the Fire lightly. Mike Petke’s players will be ready to run through a wall for him by the opening whistle. Plus, they’ll be looking to exact revenge not only for the 3-1 beat down the Red Bulls suffered at Toyota Park on April 7th, but also for the US Open Cup trophy Damani Ralph and friends took home from Giants Stadium in 2003. Sunday’s sold-out match will surely be something to see.

Mark Fishkin is an American soccer fanatic working in digital media and host of the Red Bulls-focused Seeing Red Podcast. Follow him @MarkFishkin

Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls
Sunday, October 27 at 4:00 pm cst at Red Bull Arena
Television: My50 Chicago, TWCSC Wisconsin, and UniMas
La radio en Español: La Ley 107.9 FM en Chicago

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