The Chicago Fire’s bid for their first victory in nearly seven weeks takes them to the East Coast, where they will look to gain ground in the Eastern Conference playoff race Friday night in a matchup with the New York Red Bulls.
The Fire (4-7-6) have not recorded a victory since beating Minnesota United 2-0 on May 11. After absorbing a 2-1 loss to USL side Saint Louis FC in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup, they moved to 0-3-3 in their last six matches across all competitions after playing Real Salt Lake to a 1-1 draw at home Saturday.
Aleksandar Katai’s fifth-minute goal for Chicago was canceled out by Albert Rusnak’s penalty after the half-hour in a cagey defensive contest that saw the teams combine for just four shots on target and 14 overall. The Fire did extend their home unbeaten streak to seven (4-3-0), but they are still on the outside looking in for the playoff race as they trail Toronto FC on goal difference for the seventh and final spot in the East.
“We’re all a little bit disappointed and a little bit frustrated with the first half of the season,” midfielder Dax McCarty said post-game. “We expect more. We expect more out of ourselves in this locker room, and I know there’s more out there for us. … We have 17 games to make it better.”
The Fire will be without two key players due to Gold Cup commitments – midfielder Djordje Mihailovic is with the U.S. national team and defender Francisco Calvo is representing Costa Rica. Calvo’s absence could loom large considering the Fire have not kept a clean sheet during their winless spell and have conceded 13 goals in those contests.
Chicago is winless on the road this year and has taken just three points from its eight road matches in league play.
Technically, the Red Bulls (7-3-6) are completing a home-and-home with the Fire with this being their first league match in three weeks. Like Chicago, New York made a fourth-round exit from the U.S. Open Cup as it lost 3-2 after extra time to New England on June 11.
Despite being ousted from the domestic tournament, the Red Bulls are looking forward to trying to climb the Eastern Conference table – they are still within touching distance of first-place Philadelphia, trailing the Union by seven points with a match in hand.
“In the last few months, we have seen the by-product of a lot of good work built from the preseason,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “Even in the last couple we don’t win, at Philly, we were really happy with 95 percent of that game. We’re happy with the progress of late.”
The Red Bulls also will be missing players who are participating in the Gold Cup, most notably All-Star defender and Jamaica international Kemar Lawrence. He will be part of the side that will face Spanish La Liga opponent Atletico Madrid in the mid-season contest at the end of next month.
An own goal by Red Bulls defender Tim Parker in the 48th minute proved decisive as the Fire won 1-0 at home March 30. It was just the second win in the last 10 meetings for Chicago (2-6-2).
(Bastian Schweinsteiger photo courtesy Mike Dinovo/USA TODAY Sports)