It was a near perfect result for the New York Red Bulls last week. A 3-1 victory over the Montreal Impact was just what the team needed after the disappointing end to their CONCACAF Champions League run. Goals from, who else, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Kaku, and Michael Murillo sealed all three points for the Red Bulls. Now, the team looks to continue their form against an unsatisfactory Chicago Fire team.
Chicago are still looking to kick start their season. Just four points from their opening five matches has the club sitting in 10th in the East, just a point above bottom dwellers Toronto FC. Their defense simply has not been good enough, allowing nine goals so far. This is a very good sign for the Red Bulls, as they are having a strong season offensively.
Ex-Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty is still a force on the pitch. Often playing next to Bayern Munich legend Bastian Schweinsteiger, the midfield for Chicago is loaded with talent and has plenty of players who can win the ball. Winning the midfield battle is something Jesse Marsch knows will be difficult.
“Certainly, keeping track of [Bastian] Schweinsteiger and Dax [McCarty] will be important...”, Marsch told reporters Wednesday. Recognizing the danger and acting on it are two different things, though, as an arduous match is ahead for Tyler Adams and the Red Bulls midfield.
The Red Bulls also need to keep tabs on the free scoring Hungarian forward Nemanja Nikolic. Picking up where he left off last season, Nikolic has already scored four goals to start the year. His poaching abilities have never been in doubt, and the 24 goals he scored the previous season proved that he has been able to adjust quite well to MLS playstyle.
Chicago is still carrying a handful of injuries into this match. Vital players like Michael de Leeuw will not feature against the Red Bulls, with Kevin Ellis and Daniel Johnson being questionable inclusions. The fitness struggles for the Fire will be tested over the next two weeks, as the team travels to Toronto following this match.
For the Red Bulls, they will be anxious to get back on the field and play in front of their fans. The form Bradley Wright-Phillips has been in this season is not a surprise, but the fact that he can continue to score goals and even add some assists show just how good of a player he is. Chicago will have a hard time stopping the Red Bulls top goal scorer this season, and the signs are pointing towards more heel clicks for BWP.
Daniel Royer has unfortunately continued his poor form this season. He is yet to find the back of the net and has been very lackluster in his time on the field. Derrick Etienne Jr. has been a usual replacement for Royer, and to great effect. The young Haitian has been a joy to watch and continues to improve every opportunity he gets.
Etienne also allows Wright-Phillips to drop deep and save his energy, playing almost as a number 10 at times. This lets BWP showcase his passing ability as well as poune on chances at the top of the box. Marsch should run with this duo against Chicago as they will cause havoc to an already frazzled backline.
Keeping Florian Valot also seems to be the way Marsch wants to move forward, and it is not hard to see why. Valot just seems to get it this year, creating chances and setting up teammates to great effect. His assist last match was a thing of beauty, intercepting the ball high up the field and setting BWP away on goal with a perfectly weighted pass. If he can continue his upward trend, he could give Marsch a much welcomed sight in the midfield.
With Kaku also adjusting well to life in red and the defense looking stronger than ever, the Red Bulls have to be feeling good heading into this match. The team knows they have been playing well, and Murillo knows the team cannot take their foot off the gas.
“Chicago is a difficult rival, they have good players, it is going to be a tough game like all of them”, Murillo said.
The fact that the Red Bulls will be at home and coming off a 3-1 victory should give both the fans and players a sense of unity. Knowing that they can put their bad results behind them and have a strong showing in MLS proves just how good the Red Bulls have it with Marsch in control.