The last lineup prediction of the regular season ought, perhaps, to be the easiest: the squad is mostly fit and settled, and there was encouraging news this week about the gradual thinning of the New York Red Bulls' injury list.
Roy Miller and Anatole Abang are "very close" to returning to full fitness. "A week or two away," according to Marsch. #RBNY— Eric Giacometti (@Eric_Giacometti) October 22, 2015
But those players (and Chris Duvall, whose recovery is from a more serious injury and therefore on a slower track) are not expected to be ready to play in Chicago.
Some reports suggest Jesse Marsch is agonizing over his selection. With regard to the right back position, this might well be true: Sal Zizzo has surprisingly held on to the starting place he was given when the team's left back options dwindled to the point where Connor Lade had to move over the left of the back line to cover. Lade hasn't been seen since at right back. Marsch has stated this isn't a slight on Lade...
I’m not always sure that not having Connor on the field is the right thing. Our record with Connor is very good, and he’s done very well against a lot of good players that he’s matched up against.
...but this column chooses to believe the RBNY head coach sees Zizzo as the man in form and will stick with him in a game that is essentially a Cup final for the Red Bulls: a win will secure the Supporters' Shield.
That logic may cost Lade a start in the climactic game of a long regular season, but it seems likely to protect the positions of every other member of the presumed preferred starting lineup since Chris Duvall's injury in July. This includes Matt Miazga, who has been absent for four consecutive matches. It can be assumed RBNY's coaching team spotted the significance of starting Miazga, Dax McCarty and Damien Perrinelle a long time before we did. Ronald Zubar has been a generally solid replacement for Miazga, helping the team win crucial points down the stretch. But he has not been perfect.
Marsch must choose between an experienced center back (Zubar) who might be just a handful of games short of his best form, and a young player (Miazga) whose best this season has been comparable to that of anyone in his position in MLS. It will be a surprise if he doesn't opt for the latter.
We have been surprised by Jesse's lineups quite often this season. For a coach who evidently values a settled squad, he tinkers with his selection more frequently than might be expected (especially when the expectation is "never"). Never is Marsch more unpredictable with his lineups than when he appears to have found a predictable pattern. But this column still believes it will be a familiar group on the field when the match kicks off in Bridgeview.