There is plenty to discuss regarding this weekend’s match-up between the Chicago Fire and New York Red Bulls, from the intense battle that wound up being decided by one mistake to the return of Juan Carlos Osorio to Toyota Park (there is also my 48 hours in Chicago, which I will get into later).
I will start with Osorio’s return to Chicago. Here is my story on it for ESPN.com. While the boos were expected, there wasn’t a real sense of serious hostility toward Osorio. The fact that this game took place some nine months after Osorio actually left the Fire is obviously a reason the animosity has faded to a reasonable level. That and the fact that Chicago is doing pretty well without him. Now, if the Fire was in last place and Osorio showed up I think the hate would have been much more tangible.
The match itself was as close as you might expect from two teams playing good soccer over the past month. Tight defending and the absence of playmakers Cuauhtemoc Blanco and Jorge Rojas cost the game some creativity but there was still a good pace to the game as both teams tried to impose their will. Each squad had a few chances, but one amazing Jon Busch save (on Juan Pablo Angel) and one Diego Jimenez mistake (on Stephen King’s game-winning goal) were enough to give the Fire a well-earned three points in a match that was otherwise very even.
The Chicago back-line showed once again why it is the best in the league. The group made up for the absence of Gonzalo Segares by staying disciplined and with veteran Diego Gutierrez doing a respectable job at left back. The Wilman Conde-Bakary Soumare center back tandem is the league’s best and a key reason why you can’t forget Chicago when discussing MLS Cup contenders.
As for the Red Bulls, while the loss was disappointing, the Red Bulls did play at a good level and only the team’s struggle to provide quality service to Juan Pablo Angel really stood out as an issue (yes, a big issue). Chicago’s stingy defense deserves some of the credit for that. There’s a reason the Fire has allowed eight fewer goals than any other team in MLS.
Promising signs for the Red Bulls include the pairing of Gabriel Cichero and Jeff Parke in the back and the continued solid play of Juan Pietravallo. Dane Richards looked dangerous at times in the first half but quickly faded in the second half. With Dave Van Den Bergh trying to deal with John Thorrington on the left, the Red Bulls were left pretty toothless in the attack.
Hunter Freeman got the surprise start and struggled badly. At his best, Freeman was a right back whose attacking qualities were more impressive than his defensive ability. The problem is his offensive abilities have gone in the tank. He hasn’t hit a good cross in months and his rustiness in all facets was there to see.
What’s next for both teams? The Fire will welcome back Blanco, Segares and Marco Pappa for Sunday’s match at Colorado. Chicago has a very cushy schedule in the next month with matches against the bottom three teams in the West and a match against last-place KC. With Blanco back in the fold, the Fire attack should find a better gear against that competition and should be able to move past injury-riddled New England in the East standings.
And the Red Bulls? They should have a full-strength squad ready to play host to Real Salt Lake before meeting first-place Columbus. With San Jose coming on strong in the West, the Red Bulls hold on the final playoff spot is suddenly just four points so the next two games will be crucial to getting a grip on that spot (especially with the Earthquakes facing Houston twice).
Notes From Chicago
My trip to Chicago lasted 48 hours and even though it was short it was still a great trip, as my visits to the Windy City always are.
Thanks for all the suggestions on things to do. I was able to visit the German Day Festival and the Globe Pub on Friday night and Lou Malnati’s on Saturday afternoon (I hung out with Chicago Tribune writer Luis Arroyave, who made up for last year’s Pizzeria Uno debacle by suggesting Malnati’s). The festival brought me back to my time in Germany for the 2006 World Cup. Lou Malnati’s had some good pizza but I must confess to preferring New York-style pizza.
Toyota Park had a great crowd on Saturday night. The location isn’t the best (it’s not exactly an easy commute from downtown Chicago), but the stadium is beautiful and the crowd lively. It was impressive to hear the small group of Red Bulls fans who made the trip actually sing loudly enough to be heard.
The Red Bulls go back to Chicago on Oct. 23 and I will try to make it back for that one. I always leave Chicago feeling like I didn’t get to see enough of the sights. That was the case again this weekend.