Thursday, May 24, 2007

Red Bulls Preview: Game 8 vs. Flamers

New York gets its last taste of home cooking for a while in an MLS Primetime matchup vs. the Chicago Fire tonight on ESPN2 (7pm ET). Practice reports point to another Reyna-less outing for the Red Bulls, who hit the road after tonight for three straight, and six of the next seven away from the Swamp. New York is not the only team with impactful injuries, though, as Chicago, losers of three straight, will be missing offensive engine Chris Rolfe with an ankle sprain.

Recent Form:
New York: WWDLW
Chicago: WWLLL

Here's a line-by-line look at what to expect:

The Chicago forwards vs. the Red Bulls' defense:
Chad Barrett and Calen Carr vs. Dema Kovalenko, Jeff Parke, Carlos Mendes, Todd Dunivant (and Jon Conway). Injured Chris Rolfe represents half of Chicago's eight goals, and three of the Fire's eight assists this season. Barrett and Carr have gone the full 90 once each this season, and are pretty green: the pair have played in an average of 38 MLS matches. The experienced New York back line (avg.: 92 appearances) pitched its fifth shutout in seven outings last week, and is clicking on all cylinders, despite missing wing Hunter Freeman. Advantage: New York

New York's attackers vs. the Fire's defense:
Juan Pablo Angel and John Wolyniec vs. Gonzalo Segares, Jim Curtin, and C.J. Brown (and Matt Pickens). Watching JPA's field awareness, pinpoint passing, and clinical finishing last week puts hope in all New York fans that he can just stay healthy. An in-form Wolyniec is good for a goal a game. I can't believe that C.J. Brown is only 32 years old. It seems like the former San Francisco Bay Seal should be pushing 40, or 50 by now. Chicago is giving up 1.42 gpg. New York is scoring 1.71. Advantage: New York

The Midfields:
Ivan Guerrero, Diego Gutierrez, Justin Mapp, Chris Armas, and Logan Pause vs. Seth Stammler, Clint Mathis, Dave van den Bergh and Dane Richards. Chicago has a good, experienced midfield that could cause trouble for New York. Pause has a game-winning goal, and Mapp can be a dangerous finisher. Still, if the Red Bulls can carry any mojo from its 4-0 pasting of Columbus last week, it could be a tough outing for the Fire. Slight Advantage: New York

The Coaches:
Bully for Arena for continuing to push the right buttons with a roster that is battling through injuries. Starting Woly made him look like a genius, and players are clearly fighting hard in practice for playing time. Dave Sarachan is doing a fair-to-middling job, awaiting Cuauhtemoc Blanco's arrival on July 1st. Advantage: New York

The first goal will be crucial. To date this season, New York is 4-0-1 when scoring first, and 0-1-0 when allowing. Chicago is 3-0-0 when scoring first, 0-3-1 when allowing. A grass field has been brought in for a series of international friendlies this week, and the MLS sides will play on the real stuff. Red Bull, in an effort to increase attendance for the national television audience, has offered every season ticket holder four free tickets to tonight's game. Hopefully the NY-area soccer crowd will respond. Weather will be picture perfect. Injury absences will hurt Chicago much more than New York. Advantage: New York

Prediction: Previously in situations like this (national audience, should-win game), the MetroStars would choke. Arena won't let that happen tonight. New York wins, 2-0.

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