The playoffs are upon us as the New York Red Bulls start their quest for cup glory in the Windy City. The Chicago Fire have not exactly been as dominant as they were during the middle of the season, but a consistent goal scoring threat and solid midfield have the team looking dangerous heading into the postseason.
One big factor heading into this match for Chicago is the fitness level of midfield talisman Bastian Schweinsteiger. The German was left out of the clubs deflating 3-0 defeat to the Houston Dynamo on Decision Day as he was nursing a calf injury. His inclusion in the team against the Red Bulls will be vital for the Fire and the team will hope he will be able to at least make an appearance in the match.
Another big question will be whether or not David Accam shows up in this match. Accam has had a fantastic year, scoring 14 goals and assisting six. Recently, though he has been a bit quiet in his performances. His last goal came in August and his last assist in June. Accam’s lack of production is a bit worrying, but it can often go unnoticed due to the domination of their star striker.
That star striker is, of course, golden boot winner Nemanja Nikolic. With 24 goals on the season, Nikolic has proven week after week how important he is to his team. The end of the season has been no exception as Nikolic scored eight goals in his final seven matches. He also scored in the last meeting with the Red Bulls, so Jesse Marsch will know all too well just how potent he is in front of net.
Unlike the Fire, the Red Bulls ended their season on a high note. A 2-1 win over DC United was just what the team needed to end the season. The two players on the scoresheet for New York came courtesy of a Veron goal and a phenomenal Arsenal-esc team goal finished off by Michael Murillo. Carrying that momentum into the playoffs will be crucial, especially for Veron, who will likely feature off the bench against Chicago.
The Red Bulls made a host of changes to their team to face DC United, and only a few players that were in that match will see the starting 11. In fact, of the 11 that started, only Luis Robles, Michael Murillo and Kemar Lawrence will be in the starting lineup against the Fire. This was clearly done of purpose by Marsch, as the team had just two days to prepare for their playoff match.
One thing that Red Bulls fans may not want to hear is that Bradley Wright-Phillips needs to step up his production for the team. Often seen as the only man to score for the team, BWP has been in a bit of a slump recently. He has just four goals in his last ten appearances, which is anything but ordinary for the deadly forward.
Despite his lack in actual goal production though, Wright-Phillips has proven just how important he is to the team, even when he is not scoring goals. His movement both on and off the ball create space for Daniel Royer and others to both create and finish chances. There is no doubt that BWP plays his heart out every match, and this playoff game should be no different.
Marsch should not be afraid to make an early change should he see his side needs it. It seems that he is almost scared that a change to the team will negatively affect the situation, so he puts it off until it’s almost too late. If the Red Bulls look like they are struggling to break through offensively, an early substitution of Veron should be a no brainer.
Chicago finished with the third best home record in MLS, so this is not exactly an ideal situation for the Red Bulls. However, New York did play quite well on the road this season and was a top ten team in terms of away point production. This match is set up to be full of high quality football with two teams creating tons of chances each. No matter the result, a heated showdown is sure to take place in Chicago between two teams that deserve to be in the next round.