The never ending road trip continues Sunday afternoon as the New York Red Bulls take a nearly full-strength side to Chicago for their first matchup this season. After conceding seven goals during two crazy games in the Northwest, the Red Bulls will try to get back on track and pick up their second away victory of the season.
New York has only won two matches since April 30, both at home against Eastern Conference cellar-dwellers Sporting Kansas City and the New England Revolution. The Red Bulls need to salvage as many points as possible from the remainder of their road trip to keep any remaining Supporter's Shield hopes alive.
After a ridiculous finish resulting in a 3-3 draw at Portland and a horrendous defensive and goalkeeping display in Seattle, the Red Bulls will welcome back Thierry Henry from his one-game suspension - good news for a team needing as many goals as possible based on its recent defensive performances. However, goals may not come easy for New York as they face goalkeeper Sean Johnson, who last season blanked the Red Bulls with seven saves in just his second MLS start.
If there is a game on the four-game road trip that the Red Bulls should be targeting for a win, this is it. But make no mistake, Chicago will not sit back or go down easily. Despite having the fifth-worst record in Major League Soccer, Chicago ranks fourth in shots on goal entering the weekend. They are coming off a draw at home against Real Salt Lake and are on a seven game unbeaten streak, even though they have scored one goal or fewer in five of those seven matches.
Luckily for New York, Chicago will be without forward Cristian Nazarit, who made a reckless challenge against New England last week that earned him a two-match suspension. After joining the Fire in early May, Nazarit had cracked the starting lineup and was starting to create havoc for opposing defenses. He even scored a stoppage time game-winner on June 12th against Columbus.
Even without Nazarit, Chicago shouldn't struggle to create opportunities if they are able to disrupt the Red Bulls possession style with forwards Diego Chaves and Dominic Oduro leading the attack along with midfielder Marco Pappa. Chaves started the season strong with goals in four of Chicago's first six matches but hasn't found the back of the net since April. Pappa will likely make his first start for Chicago since returning from international duty with Guatemala in the Gold Cup.
Defensively, the Fire rely on Gonzalo Segares, who leads the team in minutes (and yellow cards) having started and played the full ninety in almost every game this season. The offseason arrival of new addition and U.S. reject Corey Gibbs to the backline has been a bit overshadowed by a player worth keeping an eye on, Jalil Anibaba. After a sensational MLS combine and winning the starting right back spot at the beginning of the year, Anibaba landed on the bench but worked his way back into the starting lineup under new Chicago Fire manager Frank Klopas.
With the return of Thierry Henry and Dane Richards picking up where he left off before the Gold Cup, the Red Bulls should expect three points out of this match. Unless, of course, Hans Backe incredulously sticks with goalkeeper Greg Sutton after a miserable last two matches. Chicago has been good at creating chances, and with Sutton they might actually have a chance at finishing them. Needless to say, it's Bouna time.
Luckily college baseball isn't on beforehand, so tune-in Sunday at 2 PM on ESPN 2. As always, we'll have a live match thread going here, so drop by and get the Gold Cup blues out of your system by watching New York pummel Chicago.
If you can't tell from the style, this top class post was written by new Once A Metro contributor Dan Ferris. Don't be too mean to him.