Mehdi Ballouchy will be one of the only players tonight starting for the Red Bulls with any MLS experience. (Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
The New York Red Bulls are set to take on the Chicago Fire tonight in New York's first U.S. Open Cup Quarterfinal under manager Hans Backe. We swapped three questions with Tweed Thornton of the Chicago Fire blog Hot Time in Old Town ahead of the match.
Be sure to check back here later for a match preview and live game commentary. The game will be streaming live on the Chicago Fire's website. On to our questions!
1) Once a Metro: Some teams take the Open Cup very seriously and field competitive squads, others mix and match lineups or use predominantly bench and reserve players. Who have the Fire trotted out so far in their Open Cup qualifiers and first official tournament match? Who do you expect to see on Tuesday night against New York? Could fatigue from Chicago's match on Saturday night in Los Angeles be a factor?
Hot Time in Old Town: The Chicago Fire have had 18 different players start in USOC matches. In addition to those 18, Dominic Oduro and Orr Barouch have entered games as substitutes. The only regulars that haven't seen any time are Jon Conway and Baggio Husidic and they each made the bench for all three USOC related games. The fact that the Fire played a game this past Saturday will add some complications to Klopas's decisions but this squad runs deep.
When the New York Red Bulls played in Chicago on June 26th, the Fire had their USOC game against Rochester on June 28th. Sean Johnson and Daniel Paladini were the only players to start in both games. Despite that, the lineup against Rochester represented about 1/3rd of the total minutes played in MLS Regular Season games. Chicago played seven matches in June but will have played just two games in the past 14 days when the dawn opens on July 12th. The playoffs are beginning to look distant for the team and the USOC might be the only chance the team has at winning a trophy this year. If Pari Pantazopoulos and Corben Bone start in the place of Gonzalo Segares and Marco Pappa, that would be a nod to fatigue but don't count those players out either. The Fire have been rumored to be bringing in good talent when the transfer market opens. Certain ‘reserve' players will bring a modest amount of regular playing time in addition to a hunger to fight for their spot in the game day 18.
2) Once a Metro: Any word on ticket sales for the match? What kind of crowds do Open Cup matches typically draw in Chicago?
(Hot Time in Old Town's questions for us and more after the jump)
Hot Time in Old Town: For a variety of different reasons, the Fire have only hosted two USOC games in Chicago since 2007. The game against the Charleston Battery in 2010 drew a couple thousand and the 2008 game versus the Cleveland City Stars had almost 7,000. The historic 2006 run averaged around 7,000 per game. The USOC finals in 1998 and 2000 drew almost 20,000 each. Given the fact that this game is against a MLS side, the fanbase has been waiting for a prime USOC game for while, and the front office has been promoting the USOC and the game itself very seriously, I'm hoping to see 8,000 to 10,000. That might be too much to ask because the front office only had two weeks to sell the game and it's not included in the season ticket package but there you have it.
3) Once a Metro: The Open Cup quarterfinal against the Red Bulls will be Chicago's fourth "win or you're out" match in this year's tournament, including qualifiers. Some teams play an ultra-conservative, defensive-minded style in elimination matches, but what has been the Fire's approach thus far, particularly under Klopas? Do you expect Chicago to sit back on Tuesday night or attack from the start?
Hot Time in Old Town: Until Chicago's 2-1 loss against the Galaxy on Saturday, every game under Frank Klopas was a 0-0, 1-0, or 1-1 affair. It appears that Klopas has taken a page from former teammate Peter Nowak's book on playing defensive, grind it out, type soccer. The problem for the Fire is that the MLS story being written here isn't nearly as rosy as the one for Nowak's Eastern Conference leading Philadelphia Union.
That said, the USOC match against Rochester was 1-0 victory that generously could be referred to as ‘ugly'. Rochester came out with a ton of energy and Chicago was lucky the Rhinos weren't able to score a goal. Diego Chaves knocked in an opportunistic strike in the 37th minute and that sucked a lot of energy out of Rochester. The game was essentially over at that point.
One last note of interest is Chicago displayed a knack for coming back under Carlos de los Cobos. To use a USOC example, the Fire had their Play-In Match against San Jose on May 24th. All looked very dark when the Earthquakes' Justin Morrow made it 2-0 for San Jose right before halftime. In the second half, Orr Barouch scored a goal for Chicago in the 61st minute and Yamith Cuesta tied it up with 14 minutes to go. Shortly after overtime started, the referee ejected Gonzalo Segares for "abusive language". A ten man Fire team hung on for over 20 minutes to head into penalty kicks. The team went 5 for 6 of PKs before San Jose's Scott Sealy hit the crossbar and Chicago advanced into the next round. The Fire haven't displayed comebacks like that with Klopas in charge but the head coach has promised a strong squad for tomorrow and this squad does fight well with their backs to the wall.
And three questions for us from Hot Time in Old Town:
1) Hot Time in Old Town: In New York's 1st Round U.S. Open Cup game against F.C. New York, coach Hans Backe only had three players on the bench: Alex Horwath, Tyler Lassiter, and Sacir Hot. Why does Backe handcuff himself like that? My inquiry also extends into his overall substitution pattern with the senior team. He seems to only use 1 or 2 subs late in games despite the team having a congested schedule.
Once a Metro: One thing that has been made completely clear during Backe's tenure with the Red Bulls: team management does NOT care about the Open Cup. I couldn't say with certainty that if New York reached a semifinal or final that this would still be true, but last year the Red Bulls played entirely bench and reserve players and miraculously qualified for the tournament only to be knocked out by the Harrisburg City Islanders in the Round of Sixteen. This year, New York automatically qualified but still fielded a reserve team in the Round of Sixteen against FC New York, with some starters having yet to play a single minute in a regular season MLS match.
Only two of the three players on the bench against FC New York were field players (Horwath is the backup to our always changing backup goalkeeper). Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo started and played the whole match but were both just coming back from the Gold Cup. And you know what? Against FC New York, I got it. The Red Bulls were in the midst of a disastrous four game road trip and prospects of winning the Supporters Shield, the previously declared objective for the season, were fading fast. Players were just returning from the Gold Cup, the injury bug was biting hard, and depth is the team's weakest area.
But now, the Red Bulls take on an Eastern Conference opponent in the tournament's quarterfinal where they are not only just three wins away from the first trophy in club history (preseason Disney cups do not count), but from qualifying for the next CONCACAF Champions League. Even with all of that on the line, Backe will only take thirteen or fourteen players to Chicago. It's insulting to fans, the players, and the tournament that he can't even bring eighteen players, or at least enough to make three field substitutions. Rubbing salt in the wound, the Red Bulls will travel to the UK at the end of the month during a two week hiatus from league play to participate in the Emirates Cup, a meaningless mid-season friendly tournament where they will likely trot out their top players for much of their matches against Arsenal and PSV.
Backe's approach to substitution in regular matches is also bewildering. A great example is last week against Toronto FC when the Red Bulls went up 3-0 in the 52nd minute. To his credit, Backe immediately brought in Juan Agudelo for Luke Rodgers, who was just returning from injury and was likely to start three nights later against DC United. However, even after a fourth and fifth goal were scored, the match ended with Backe only pulling off Teemu Tainio, who wouldn't have played Saturday night against DC United anyway because of yellow card accumulation. Guess what? The Red Bulls played an AWFUL match on Saturday night. The lack of substitutions, even in matches that are out of hand, are going to lead to a run down squad and an inexperienced bench which will be especially critical if there are injuries or suspensions later on in the season.
2) Hot Time in Old Town: NYRB started Sutton, Kassel, Keel, Ream, Jones, Paullo, Rooney, da Luz, Schneider, Hertzog and Agudelo in the last game. Should Fire fans look for an identical lineup on Tuesday? What lineup would you prefer to see taking into consideration New York's 8 other games this month?
Once a Metro: The lineup on Tuesday night should look very similar to what was used against FC New York with a couple of notable changes. Tim Ream probably will not start or make the trip, but veteran defender Chris Albright may be seeing his first action this season after a lengthy recovery from injuries. If Rafa Marquez is ready to return later in the week against Chivas, the likely centerback pairing of Carlos Mendes and Stephen Keel (which didn't work out too well for the club during the Gold Cup) will return. As Greg Sutton has seemed to reclaim his place as the club's #1 goalkeeper, Bouna Coundoul could find himself starting again but for the reserve side. Agudelo will stay in New York while
Mehdi Ballouchy gets the nod. A starting 11 could look like:
Bench: Horwath, Schneider, Lassiter
My ideal makeshift lineup would look more like:
Bench: Horwath, Hot, Lassiter, Kassel, Henry, Ballouchy, Schneider
3) Hot Time in Old Town: How has the MLS team based around the New York metro area traditionally fared in the U.S. Open Cup? How has the Red Bull ownership group treated the Open Cup in terms of hosting games, promoting matches, etc.?
Once a Metro: New York has never won the Open Cup (or any championship for that matter as our friends down I-95 so helpfully remind us), and has only made the final once back in 2003. Since Red Bull took over the team in 2006, New York has made it to the quarterfinals twice (including this year), the round of sixteen twice, and failed to qualify twice. The marketing has been bare bones the past two seasons under the Erik Soler and Hans Backe regime, but why spend an already limited marketing budget on games the team doesn't take seriously? But hardcore Red Bulls fans are paying attention, and earlier this year there was a small outcry when the club decided to charge $15 for the most dedicated of fans to make a weeknight trip to watch reserve players take on FC New York.
The bottom line is that if the Red Bulls were the elite team of Major League Soccer, I would care a whole lot less about the Open Cup. But until the franchise starts racking up Supporters Shields and winning the MLS Cup, New York needs to take every competitive game seriously. Maybe (and hopefully), if the Red Bulls pull off an upset tomorrow night and reach the semi-final, they will.
Thanks again to Hot Time in Old Town and enjoy the match!