Fire-Red Bulls Preview

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Raphael Wicky is not willing to look beyond this season as he still believes Chicago Fire FC have a chance of landing a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Fire have lost back-to-back matches and are seven points adrift of seventh-placed D.C United heading into the latest round of games.

Wicky’s men have struggled for momentum all year, but the Swiss coach will not give up on prolonging his side’s season until it is mathematically impossible, before then turning focus to 2022.

“Of course we are planning a little bit ahead and we are obviously analyzing and seeing what do we need to make the next step,” he said.

“But there are still quite a lot of games to play and those are very important games right now. I can just assure you that I am focused on the next game. I want to win the next game.

“Our chances are still there. We know where we are at the table. But our chances are still there intact, and so that’s how I’m planning. I’m not thinking five or six weeks ahead.”

The Fire have a chance to climb the division on Saturday when traveling to New York Red Bulls, who are two points better off than their opponents with two games in hand.

RBNY ended a seven-game wait for victory against Columbus Crew last time out and have had a 10-day rest since then following the postponement of the Hudson River Derby.

Like their next opponents, the Red Bulls cannot afford to drop points at Red Bull Arena in their final match before the latest international break.

“The last few weeks with all the delays wasn’t in our hand,” said head coach Gerhard Struber. “When we look forward, it’s very important to have every player on the same page.

“We hope for a great game against Chicago. We hope to have a great performance at home.

“We have some challenging matches, but the challenge makes my boys better, makes us better. The spirit is outstanding in our group.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

New York Red Bulls – Sean Nealis

The Red Bulls this week tied down defender Nealis to a new three-year deal, with the option of a further 12 months, as a reward for his solid displays at the back this term. The 24-year-old was considered a back-up option in his first two MLS seasons but has already been used 13 times in 2021, with his role growing in importance following Aaron Long’s season-ending injury in May.

Chicago Fire FC – Luka Stojanovic

Serbian midfielder Stojanovic has scored four times, as well as assisting another, in the Fire’s last four matches to lead the team scoring charts this season with seven in total. The 27-year-old’s haul includes a brace inside the opening eight minutes when these sides met earlier this month in a 2-1 win for Chicago.

KEY OPTA FACTS

– This will be the third meeting between the Red Bulls and Fire this season, with the home team winning each of the first two games, including a 2-1 Fire win on August 8. Neither team have managed consecutive wins over the other since the start of the 2016 season.

– The Red Bulls ended a three-match home winless run with a 1-0 victory over Columbus on August 18. The Red Bulls have lost only two home matches this season (W5 D2), losing to the current first place team in the East (New England Revolution) and second place in the West (Sporting Kansas City).

– The Fire are winless in 19 straight away matches (D6 L13) dating back to the start of last season. Chicago could become the first team in MLS history to record three separate 20-match road winless streaks having already had runs of 36 games from 2014 to 2016 and 23 games from 2018 to 2019.

– Fabio recorded his team-leading seventh assist setting up John Tolkin’s match-winning goal against Columbus. Tolkin is the fifth different Red Bulls player to score off a Fabio assist this season.

– The Fire are the only team yet to win a penalty this MLS season. Chicago have gone 28 games since last winning a penalty (which was missed by Robert Beric on October 5, 2020), the longest the team has ever gone without winning a spot kick.

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