A 17 day break will finally come to an end as the New York Red Bulls welcome the Chicago Fire. The Red Bulls went into the Gold Cup break on poor form, so a hot restart will be on the mind of Chris Armas heading into this match.
The Fire have slipped down the eighth place after their dip in form, and things are not going to be any easier thanks to the Gold Cup. Dynamic midfielder Djordje Mihailovic is with the US national team while starting defender Francisco Calvo is away with Costa Rica.
Mihailovic did play 10 minutes at the end of the last meeting between these clubs while Calvo did not make the 18 that day. With solid cover in both positions, the Fire should be confident heading into this match.
The reverse fixture saw the two teams meet during the rough patch for the Red Bulls. Chicago came out on top thanks to a second half own goal by Tim Parker and a solid defensive performance overall.
Nicolas Gaitan is starting to find his stride in MLS, scoring two and assisting two in a three week span in May. His play through the middle of the pitch will be tough for the Red Bulls to deal with, especially with so many key absences all over the pitch.
The Red Bulls defense is going to be stretched to capacity in this match. Kemar Lawrence, Aaron Long, and Michael Murillo are all away with their respective nations. Derrick Etienne is also away with Haiti, furthering the blow of the Gold Cup.
Fortunately, one player was not taken on national team duty. Kaku was not selected for the final roster for Paraguay’s Copa America run, so his services will be available for this match. Whether it was due to his slow start or his rash red card debacle, having Kaku in the line up is a great sight for Red Bulls supporters.
Bradley Wright-Phillips is nearing his return, but either Tom Barlow or Brian White will lead the line against Chicago. White grabbed himself another goal in the 3-2 loss against the Union, bringing his season tally up to four.
White seems to be the first choice forward between the two. However, with a flurry of games coming up, Barlow will surely get his chance in the next seven days. The duo have made the absence of BWP vastly better than originally thought.
Since a handful of first team players are on national team duty, the Red Bulls will be fielding a lot of second string players, but all will be familiar to the regular supporter. Amro Tarek, Kyle Duncan, and Connor Lade will step into the backline without hesitation.
Lade in particular has been struggling in his past few appearances. The Union match was especially bad as Lade made multiple errors in defensive judgement.
It would not be too surprising if Armas decides on a back three of sorts, pushing Duncan to right wing back and playing Alex Muyl as a sort of auxiliary left wing back. Straying from the 4231 is not something the Red Bulls prefer, but a one or two game switch could be helpful.
A two week break is coming to a screeching halt as the Red Bulls have four big tests in the next two weeks. It all starts with Chicago, though, so the depleted team needs to be ready to grind out some results.
The depth of the team will be tested to its limits in the next three matches alone. Even if all three nations lose in the Gold Cup in the next round, they players most likely will not be available until the July 7th match in Atlanta.
A win would see the Red Bulls jump Atlanta in the standings, but table watching is not something the Red Bulls get caught up in. They know in general it is important to win home matches, especially against Eastern Conference opponents. That should be their only focus, and the team is more than capable of getting it done.