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The curious role of Chicago Fire in the New York Red Bulls' success

Is playing the Fire on the last day of the regular season the only way RBNY knows how to win a trophy? Yes.

Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

As you may have heard, the New York Red Bulls won the 2015 Supporters' Shield, the trophy awarded the team that wins the MLS regular season. It is just the second meaningful trophy RBNY has won its 20-year history. It was won just two years after the first: the 2013 Supporters' Shield.

Then, as now, the Shield was won by winning the last game of the regular season. Then, as now, the Shield was won by beating Chicago Fire. Coincidence? Sure. But...well, RBNY has only played Chicago in the last game of the regular season on three occasions. And those three seasons are arguably the most significant in RBNY's history to date.

In 2008, the Red Bulls faced Chicago as their final opponent of the regular season for the first time. They lost, 5-2, in Chicago. But that was the first - and, to date, only - year RBNY made the MLS Cup Final. Yes, RBNY lost that final (to Columbus) - but it hadn't been that far in the playoffs before, and it has yet to get that far since.

In 2013, the tables were turned: RBNY played the Fire at Red Bull Arena on the last day of the regular season; RBNY won, 5-2; RBNY won the league.

This year, another regular season final against Chicago: another win, another trophy.

What's that? There have been other big moments in RBNY history? Of course. There was the US Open Cup run in 2003: the only time RBNY has made the final of that competition. The Red Bulls lost - to Chicago.

There was the 2000 season, when a free-scoring MetroStars team won the Eastern Conference Division (there were only four teams in it, but still - an achievement) for the first time. In the post-season, that squad fell short of MLS Cup, losing a three-game playoff semifinal series (MLS was different back then) to - you guessed it - Chicago Fire.

Chicago had a way of spoiling the Metro party for a few years. Recently, it has become a bellwether: if the schedule pits RBNY against the Fire for the last game of the regular season, history tells us something special will happen. In 2008, the last-day loss to Chicago foretold a loss to Columbus in MLS Cup. In 2013 and 2015, last-day wins brought silverware.

Forget everything you think about why RBNY won the Supporters' Shield in 2013 and 2015. Forget Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill, Peguy Luyindula, Markus Holgersson, Jonny Steele, Eric Alexander, Jamison Olave, Fabian Espindola, Andy Roxburgh, and Mike Petke. Forget Bradley Wright-Phillips. Forget Dax McCarty, Sacha Kljestan, Felipe Martins, Lloyd Sam, Damien Perrinelle, Matt Miazga, Kemar Lawrence and Mike Grella. Forget Jesse Marsch. Forget Ali Curtis. Forget RalfBall.

Remember Chicago on the last day of the regular season: the secret to RBNY's success.

And here to prove it is a table drawn from the wonderful archive at

Year Regular Season Finale Opponent Result Did we win a trophy?
1996 Tampa Bay Mutiny 4-1 LOSS No
1997 DC United 3-1 WIN No
1998 New England 0-0 (4-2 shootout win) No
1999 New England 2-1 LOSS No
2000 New England 4-3 LOSS No
2001 New England 3-1 WIN No
2002 New England 3-0 LOSS No
2003 New England 5-2 LOSS No
2004 DC United 3-2 LOSS No
2005 Chivas USA 2-0 WIN No
2006 Kansas City 3-2 WIN No
2007 Los Angeles 1-1 No
2008 Chicago 5-2 LOSS No (but made MLS Cup Final)
2009 Toronto 5-0 WIN No
2010 New England 2-0 WIN No
2011 Philadelphia 1-0 WIN No
2012 Philadelphia 3-0 WIN No
2013 Chicago 5-2 WIN YES - Supporters' Shield
2014 Kansas City 2-0 WIN No
2015 Chicago 2-1 WIN

YES - Supporters' Shield

Thank you, Chicago.