The Chicago Fire welcome the New York Red Bulls to town on Sunday in a match that pits the league’s leading scorers against one of the most in-form defenses. The Red Bulls, currently in first place in the Eastern Conference, have scored 26 goals this season and face a team who has only given up one goal in its last five matches. Both sides will have to be at their best on Sunday as the league leaders look to strengthen their hold on first place while the Fire, unbeaten in six, look to continue their climb up the table. Kick-off is scheduled for 1:00 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN2.
New York: D-D-W-D-L
Five things to watch for:
1) Set-pieces – First and foremost, keep an eye on set pieces. Anyone who watched New York’s 4-2 defeat to the Seattle Sounders will know set-pieces was their downfall. Three of the four goals the Red Bulls conceded were off corner kicks and in the end it proved the difference. Well, that and a horrific mistake by Greg Sutton. We’ll get to that later.
2) Defensively sound – One goal conceded in the last five matches is an incredible stat for the Chicago Fire. Hearing this, an outsider would think the Fire have been soaring up the table. Well, not quite. But seeing the backline find consistency and cut down on its defensive errors is great for the club. The Fire’s defense will face its most difficult test yet against the Red Bulls.
3) Goal drought – With the Fire’s defense at the top of their game, the offense needs to start scoring in order to turn some of these draws into wins. Christian Nazarith misses out again through suspension, meaning Orr Barouch or Dominic Oduro will most likely get the start alongside Diego Chaves. As the Fire’s main striker now after the departure of Gaston Puerari, Chaves needs to step up and help carry some of that load. He hasn’t scored since the 1-1 home draw against Houston on April 23rd, but now would be as good of a time as any to change that.
4) Superstar power – After serving his highly publicized one match suspension, Thierry Henry is in line to start against the Fire. Rafael Marquez (Gold Cup), Tim Ream (Gold Cup), Luke Rodgers (injury) and Juan Agudelo (Gold Cup) are all unavailable so a lot of the Red Bulls’ offense will most likely flow through Henry. You don’t need me telling you what he’s capable of, so now it’s just a matter of the Fire’s defense being up for the task. They’ll also need to be focus on shutting down Dwayne De Rosario and Dane Richards.
5) Blunder at the back – Apart from Roger Levesque’s brilliant Scuba celebration on Thursday night, the main talking point after the Red Bulls’ loss to the Sounders was New York’s goalkeeper, Greg Sutton. With the score at 3-2, Sutton miscontrolled a simple back pass and allowed Levesque to duly slot the ball into an empty net and celebrate in style. New York has struggled in the goalkeeper department all season and the Fire will have a chance to capitalize on that, particularly if Sutton starts. Substitute ‘keeper Bouna Coundoul could get the nod instead, but regardless of who plays, this is a major weakness in an otherwise strong Red Bulls team.