You have heard plenty of talk this week about Sunday’s match between the Chicago Fire and the New York Red Bulls being just another game.
Don’t believe it because it’s far more than that.
Sunday’s match will the first between feuding clubs, a coach and the team he spurned, an owner and the club that took his coach. For fans, players and coaches, the Fire-Red Bulls match will be worth much more than the three points that will go to the winner, if there is a winner.
So how did this rivalry get so heated? It’s origins have little to do with on-field actions, but rather off-field conflicts through the years.
You could go all the way back to the chilly days of November of 2002, when the New York/New Jersey MetroStars were trying to determine who would replace fired head coach Octavio Zambrano. MetroStars president Nick Sakiewicz was firmly leaning toward a former assistant coach who had gone to England to ply his trade just a year earlier. That man was Juan Carlos Osorio.
Osorio probably would have been hired by the Metros back then, and could had a chance to live his dream of being a head coach in New York five years sooner, if not for the developments that followed. Chicago Fire head coach Bob Bradley was synonymous with the Fire, having been the only head coach the club had ever known. The problem was he was a New Jersey boy, and was feeling some pressure to move his family back home.
Once Bradley let it be known that he wanted the MetroStars job, there was no stopping it from happening. AEG, which owned both the Fire and MetroStars at the time, made it happen. Fire fans were left angry at the coach they loved for so long, and bitter at the club that took him away. As for Osorio, he would have to wait a while longer to arrive in MLS.
Fast-forward to the fall of 2007. Osorio was in the midst of helping the Fire to an impressive turnaround from last place in the East to the Eastern Conference final. He was expected to help rebuild the Fire into the type of consistent title contender Bradley once built the Fire into, but that chance never came. The Red Bulls parted ways with head coach Bruce Arena, opening up the one MLS job Osorio wanted above all others. He left the Fire, angering fans who couldn’t believe their club had lost yet another head coach to a club that has had nowhere near the success the Chicago Fire has had.
What has followed since has only served to stoke the flames. From Chicago owner Andrew Hauptman privately insisting that MLS investigate tampering charges (an insistence that led to an investigatin by the league), to Chicago defender Wilman Conde publicly expressing his desire to leave the Fire and reunite with Osorio, to the tug-of-war over Paraguayan midfielder Lider Marmol, who wanted to play for Osorio and the Red Bulls before signing with the Fire, which had his rights, there has been plenty of ammunition for the fans of both teams to stir up an ever-growing hatred.
It isn’t just the fans either. Despite what you have heard in interviews, both teams WANT this game. Osorio has had this match circled on his calendar for months. Chicago’s players and staff have also been looking forward to it, eager to show the league and their former coach that they are doing just fine without him. Throw in Hauptman’s disdain for his former coach, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he is offering up a reward for whoever scores the game-winning goal against Osorio’s Red Bulls.
So what should we expect from Sunday’s game? A physical battle with plenty of cards and maybe even a shoving match or two. There will be plenty of quality on-field match-ups to drool over (Angel and Altidore vs. the Chicago defense, Cuauhtemoc Blanco vs. Claudio Reyna, Dane Richards vs. Gonzalo Segares), but the sub-plots will be just as tantalizing.
So here’s the question for Red Bulls and Fire fans. Does this match mean more to you than most? Do you absolutely hate the other team? Why do you hate the Red Bulls/Fire? Share your thoughts on the rivalry and the importance of Sunday’s match below.