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Fire 1, Red Bulls 0: A look back

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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.

Comments

  1. I think it was a pretty 1 way game. Fire had majority of the possession and by far the majority of the chances.

    Banner and McBride both had 1v1 chances, and Thor made 2 bad passes in situations where we had numbers running at players into the box. At least one of those should have been a goal.

    A header off the line saved a goal too from Banner in the 8th minute.

    Being a fire STH I know how little Blanco does to help this team, so unlike the rest of the country, I knew we would play fine w/o him. Losing Pappa and Sega is much more difficult for our squad, but I was really surprised to see how we controlled the midfield, which we almost never do (with Blanco).

    This year in all games the fire is 5-0-0 when Blanco doesn’t play.

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  2. for me, ny vs chitown style pizza is a toss up. depends on the day…they both have their extreme tastiness and distinct styles. i choose both! 🙂

    glad you got to see some of the city, ives. and even more glad that the Fire took all three points. losing would have made the playoff race way too close for comfort.

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  3. hey ives, why there is no post about the columbus crew. they are the mls leaders, but there is no post yet about the great victory over columbus.

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  4. ESC did their best with 12 members. Whenever there was action in that corner and their mic was on you could hear them loud and clear. Good for you guys, bringin it raw with a dozen heads.

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  5. Ives it was good to meet you on Friday. It was even better to see firsthand that yes, you and Luis DO get along. Glad you enjoyed Chicago, too, but I’m with you on the pizza – thin crust is my fave.

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  6. Ives,

    Any updates on Mike Magee’s injury? According to the FXE broadcast, he suffered an arm fracture. As for the game, the RB crossing was atrocious! Richards’ and Van Den Bergh’s attempts left a lot to be desired. I got tired of screaming at the TV.

    One observation about Stammler, he is a completely different player when he is next to Rojas. He actually keeps the ball on the ground and gives good passes. When el surdo is not in the game all Seth does is launch long passes giving possession away.

    BTW, there is an organization in Italy that oversees the standards for pizza, and according to them, deep dish does not deserve to be called pizza.

    And I have to agree, NYC pizza is still the best in the US.

    Cheers

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  7. I had to spend a few days a week in Chicago late last year and earlier this year for work, and I loved that town. Of course I stayed at great hotels and had an expense account, so that certainly helped. I hope to make it back out to hit a RB-Fire game sometime…

    Freeman is a very streaky player. When he’s on, he’s good, but when he’s bad, he is just awful. Leitch, for all his shortcomings, is a dependable right back when you think about how little he counts against the salary cap. He’s never going to make an all-star team, but the guy plays pretty solid if unspectacular soccer. And with cap restrictions, every team needs a handful of players to make the roster work.

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  8. 48 hours is just not enough to take in a big city. Especially when you have to cover a soccer game. At least you made it to German Fest for a litle bit of culture. The game was pretty decent. I’m glad to see the Fire take care of business at home, something they need to continue to improve upon. I’m excited for the WCQ Wednesday. I hope the boys don’t disappoint.

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  9. I thought the team played well enough to win, certainly tie. However Angel had little help up front. The crosses were just rubbish.

    The defense looked good, can’t blame Jimenez for the goal. These gift goals just seem to be a curse that NY needs to overcome.

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  10. I watched the goal 20 times. I know it’s a split second decision, but why would Conway jump up when he is that close to the ball. They always teach you to close in, close the angle. Just a weird decision. Still, Jimenez got nervous and cleared to the middle of the field. Horrific decision that cost us the game.

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  11. let’s not forget that jimenez did make a goal-line save on that chip early in the first half after conway’s weak punch clearance.

    that’s a huge mistake and let’s hope he can recover from it, but freeman was really the weakest link in that back line… currently, leitch is playing better.

    i hope jimenez isn’t benched (long) for his mistake.

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  12. Well, obviously the standings are too tight for anyone to be comfortable. But the Red Bulls are in excellent shape. You’ve got a bunch of teams (DC United especially in the East) who’ve got a bunch of extra games coming up. Red Bulls don’t have to play that.

    Additionally, while NE does have injuries, they also seem to have hit that period that all MLS teams do (but comes at a particularly unfortunate time for them) where they’ve lost form. A combination of callups, injuries, suspensions and especially bad form–put it together and I suspect that NE is going to drop to 3rd, 4th or 5th place. You’ve got the Red Bulls, United and the Revs jockeying for position (with Columbus going to run away with #1 and Chicago probably aceing the #2 spot now that NE is slumping).

    So from the Red Bull’s perspective, there would be two questions:

    –is homefield advantage obtainable? Probably not–it would require beating out Chicago to finish second (I don’t think anyone is going to pass Columbus who will have the ultimate home field advantage for the playoffs). But than again with the first series being home and home, I don’t think homefield advantage matters that much. It’s the conference final where it’s key and Columbus should lock that up.

    –who makes the best first round opponent? NE? Chicago? DC? If United gets healthy, I wouldn’t want to face them. My personal prediction is that United ends up 5th and goes to the West where they’d have to play Houston in the first round. I think finishing 3rd in the East makes a big difference because right now, the best team in MLS has to be Columbus. They’re not only playing well but have a real “game decider” in GBS who really performs in crunch time. I’d rather face Chicago or NE in the first round.

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  13. Indeed, a very costly mistake from Jimenez. That’s stuff they teach you in rec soccer; NEVER clear the ball to the middle of the field!

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