Know Your Enemy: New York Red Bulls #2
OTF’s Stephen Mangat can’t believe that this is the end, my only friend the end…
So a season that went from great expectations to hopelessness, from hopefulness to frustration and uncertainty, and now to cautious optimism comes down to its final game. Third place is within reach as is sixth, and only a fool would claim to know what kind of performance to expect from the Chicago Fire. So mix your whiskey with pepto-bismol, Fire fans, and let’s take a look at the team lying at the business end of this roller coaster season, the New York Red Bulls.
PLAY OUR MUSIC!!!
The New York MLS franchise has historically had marquee players and a solid roster to boot, yet has failed to ever put together a really strong team. This year is different, as MLS veteran and rookie coach Mike Petke has employed tactics that play to his team’s strengths – mainly that they have more talent than their opponents. It’s also worth noting that the former bleach-blond Petke has toned it down and acquired some designer menswear he models on the sidelines.
NYRB will be in a pretty simple 4-4-2. The midfielders are all good athletes who work hard, while solid defenders and goalkeeping keep things tight in the back. Up front is Thierry Henry, who acts as a human get-out-of-jail-free card to a sometimes prosaic attacking unit. Plan A is to move the ball quickly in order to create mismatches and space. Plan B is to just give the ball to Henry.
Recent real estate agent Luis Robles will be in goal. While he’s not one of the league’s elite, he’s damn good and has played well enough to keep promising youngster Ryan Meara on the bench.
Jamison Olave and Markus Holgersson should be in the middle, with either Kosuke Kimura or Brandon Barklage on the right and Aussie David Carney on the left. This unit has played well all season with Olave and Holgersson standing out in particular. They’re all quite good with the ball (save for Olave, who’s just average) and they’re not wimps either.
Expect either Eric Alexander or Lloyd Sam on the right and Johnny Steele on the left. Tim Cahill will be in the middle with the poor man’s Kyle Beckerman, Dax McCarty. RBNY is without a real playmaker, save for the very limited McCarty who can attack with speed and skill at times. It’s a dangerous group that put opponents under pressure, even if they sometimes lack a bit of subtlety.
Thierry Henry is still the man, and he more than makes up for whatever the New York midfield lacks in style with quality that has been matched by few in the history of the league. While he no longer dominates games from beginning-to-end, he can take over a match for significant stretches. As for Henry’s partner, whether it’s Bradley Wright-Phillips or Fabian Espindola, focus needs to be on tracking the Frenchman.
How can Chicago win?
Play like usual
Like a good boy scout when camp has been struck, Frank Klopas must be pitching a tent over this weekend’s game because it presents a perfect opportunity to play two defensive midfielders. New York is less effective when opponents sit back, as they tend to rely on Henry and set pieces a bit much. And though he probably needs zero encouragement, Klopas should play defensively and look to sneak a goal in this one.
Focus on set pieces
New York is dangerous on set pieces. In addition to having size, they have Tim Cahill, who along with Cristiano Ronaldo is the greatest non-tall header of the ball these past 20 years. The Fire need to focus on set pieces while defending and it’d be a good thing if they didn’t waste the ones they get.
Don’t waste substitutions
With Chicago playing later than Houston and New England, the Fire will know sometime in the second half the result they’ll need to make the playoffs. Until then, Frank Klopas should not use any subs unless the situation is dire since they may be needed to shore up the backline or go kamikaze for a goal. While this is not the Klopas M.O., he’ll need to hold back. Perhaps thinking about baseball or Margaret Thatcher naked on a cold day will keep him from throwing someone on at halftime.
Good luck, Fire fans. I’ll be watching the crap Philadelphia Union lose to Sporting KC on Saturday. While Frank Klopas is pretty useless, at least he’s not a complete incompetent like John Hackworth.
OTF’s Stephen Mangat is the vice admiral of the USS Enterprise. Follow him @smangat12.