The New York Red Bulls return to Bridgeview, Illinois on Tuesday night to take on Chicago Fire for the second time in three weeks, but it will be a much different squad making the trip this evening than it was in late June. Following Saturday's loss to DC United, Hans Backe indicated that he would be bringing just thirteen outfield players and two goalkeepers to Chicago, leaving virtually the entire first team home to recuperate and get ready for the upcoming trip to Los Angeles and the league game against Chivas USA.
On Backe's current list of priorities, winning the US Open Cup would seem to rank somewhere behind re-arranging his sock drawer. That's a shame, because the Red Bulls will never have a more inviting path to the final and, eventually, the CONCACAF Champions League. Chicago, having fired Carlos de los Cobos and replaced him - on an interim basis - with Frank Klopas, is near the bottom of the standings in the Eastern Conference. The Red Bulls likely semifinal opponents, should they make it past Chicago, would be Sporting Kansas City, who have had an up and down season.If Backe had done a better job of integrating younger players into the squad early in the season and allowed his veterans the odd day off, he might have been able to select a more competitive group for US Open Cup play. As it stands, the starting XI we see tonight should be even weaker than the one we saw struggle mightily against FC New York. It's a depressing reality for the Red Bulls' trophy-starved fans, who can see a cup final just two games away, but have no realistic way of reaching it. If the youngsters can somehow pull off the club's first ever victory in Bridgeview, Backe might get more aggressive in the next round, but it's likely we'll never find out.
Here's how we could see the Red Bulls line up tonight:
Bench: Horwath, Lassiter, Schneider
Chicago, meanwhile, intends to call on a much stronger squad, including seasoned players such as Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro, despite a hard-fought game in Los Angeles over the weekend. It all adds up to an extremely daunting task for New York. If Chicago shows fatigue, the Baby Bulls might be able to capitalize. If not, it could get ugly. Should the Red Bulls get knocked out, it will be MLS Cup or bust until November, as the Supporters' Shield seems to have drifted beyond their grasp, barring a miraculous comeback.
Kickoff is at 8:30 PM ET, and the game will be streamed live on the Fire's website. As always, we'll have a match thread going here, so stop by and tear your hair out while Backe throws away another chance to win a cup.