Originally posted on Total MLS  |  Last updated 10/27/13
The anxiety and anticipation of tonight’s match is almost at its peak. At 5pm eastern, the New York Red Bulls host eastern conference foes Chicago Fire in what could be a historic day out at Red Bull Arena. It’s the Red Bulls most important home match Red Bull Arena has hosted to date and the most important home match for NY in a decade. The last time any silverware was on the line for a NY team, the Chicago Fire broke the hearts of around five thousand fans at the old Meadowlands in the US Open Cup. Fitting it would be the Fire once again on the road in NY in a crucial game.   What’s exactly at stake for these two teams? Chicago needs a win to cement their place in the playoffs. With Montreal losing, if New England and Houston can win on the road in Columbus and DC, Montreal ends up in 5th, bumping the Fire to sixth if they fail to pick up any points as Montreal controls the tiebreaker. The Red Bulls had already clinched a playoff berth when they tied the Revolution 2-2 a few weeks ago. With a win, the Red Bulls will clinch the Supporter’s Shield, the clubs first piece of legitimate silverware in its 18 years of existence. Also with that win, home field advantage through the playoffs and the ability to host MLS Cup if they make it there. NY will also be playing for the capacity crowd that is expected to show up today. Those fans who have endured the Curse of Caricola, the “That’s So Metro” phase, or the Hans Backe years. Whether the fans have been with them since 1996 or 2012, they have known only frustration and bitter defeat.   The Red Bulls come off a week in which Tim Cahill won MLS Goal of the Week for his historic 8-second strike, as the Red Bulls topped the Dynamo in Houston, 3-0. It was a match that saw two summer acquisitions; Ibrahim Sekagaya and Bradley Wright-Philips both net their first MLS goals for the Red Bulls. Mike Petke shuffled his defensive backline once again due to injury; Holgersson played right back, Sekagaya was in central defense alongside Olave, and Barklage played his first match at left back. It’s a backline Luis Robles may have in front of him again as both Roy Miller and David Carney are doubtful for today’s match. If Barklage starts on the left, he will have to del with the speedy Patrick Nyarko who excels at taking players one-on-one. For the front six, only Fabian Espindola is in question for the match as he still recovers from an injury. Petke can either go with BWP or Peguy Luyindula to partner with Henry up top. I do not think he will partner Cahill with Henry up top, as Cahill’s midfield bite will be required for defensive posturing in the midfield. Cahill’s job defensively will be simple; contain Alex and make sure he cannot move the ball forward to the wings or Mike Magee. As for Magee, not much can be done to stop the current Golden Boot leader from shooting. However, there is a difference from a player shooting and giving him clean looks on goal. The Red Bulls have been doing well of late with their defensive shape and not allowing players clean looks on goal. The exception, being a few Dynamo chances last week but that is a team w/o finishers.   The wild card tonight is the matchup between Thierry Henry and Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson. Henry has had a quitter season then he is used to and has scored only 9 times, the fewest he’s had for the Red Bulls in a season. However, with silverware and home field on the line, Henry is primed for an explosive game where he should get more than a few good looks on net. Enter Sean Johnson, the Fire’s goalkeeper who could potentially be the keeper of the future for the USMNT. Johnson has some experience but is young and is prone to make mistakes. The Fire will need for him to come up big or they could see themselves out of the playoffs.   No matter the outcome tonight, the Red Bulls have at least two more games they play in. If they win the shield, there will be a celebration but the players know there is still more to go. It will be critical for Mike Petke and his players to get through these 90 minutes without picking up injuries for some key players. However, if you told any Red Bull fan that on the last day of the season they would be playing for the Supporter’s Shield, they probably think you were crazy.
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