The New York Red Bulls wind down their three-game road trip in the Prairie State as they face the Chicago Fire at Toyota Park in a Sunday matinee (2 p.m. ET, ESPN, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes).
New York hopes to leave its defensive lapses behind them after dropping a 4-2 result on Thursday to the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field. The return of Dane Richards and an own goal by Sounders defender Zach Scott helped New York answer two early goals by midfielders Eric Friberg and Osvaldo Alonso, but Roger Levesque's second-half brace clinched a win for the home club in its newly-renamed stadium.
Chicago carries and eight-game unbeaten streak into Sunday's contest after battling to a scoreless draw against Real Salt Lake on Wednesday. That unbeaten run includes an active streak of five draws at home and three overall. Fire captain Marco Pappa returned from Gold Cup duty with Guatemala to solidify a midfield that created several scoring chances against RSL.
A decisive Philadelphia Union 3-2 win over Chivas USA at PPL Park on Saturday evening leaves New York three points behind first place in the Eastern Conference.
Ready to Reload. The Red Bulls will receive an offensive boost from the return of Thierry Henry, who missed Thursday's match while serving a one-game suspension for receiving a straight red card towards the end of last Sunday's match at Portland. The return of Henry -- who will likely start up top next to Dwayne De Rosario as Luke Rodgers continues to rest the plantar fasciitis in his left foot -- enables Richards to move back to his regular right midfield position, which should help add speed and creativity to a section where New York fell flat against Seattle.
Key Matchup: NY's Back Line v. Chicago's Midfield. While goalkeeper Greg Sutton carries a chunk of the blame for New York's inability to keep Seattle from finding the back of the net, the struggles of Stephen Keel and Carlos Mendes have left a deficiency in the defense for other teams to attack at will. The Red Bulls will finally have Rafael Marquez and Tim Ream back later this week after Mexico defeated the United States in the Gold Cup Final on Saturday, but Keel and Mendes will need to hold down the fort for one more match in the interim.
That Fire attack has mustered a meager two goals in five June matches, but has seen some chemistry build between midfielders Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro over that stretch. Add in the return of Pappa and suddenly Chicago's offensive capabilities look considerably stronger. Fire interim head coach Frank Klopas may not use all three at the same time on Sunday, but will look to them to create chances for the home side while forward Christian Nazarit serves the second leg a of a two-game suspension.
If Keel and Mendes want to leave their starting jobs on a high note, they'll need to break up whatever Nyassi, Oduro, and Pappa try to create for Chicago in the offensive end.
Thirteen. According to MLSsoccer.com, that's how many set piece goals New York has surrendered via set piece since battling the LA Galaxy to a 1-1 draw on May 7. That came to ahead on Thursday as Seattle created two early goals in the ensuing scrums following corner kicks, with Sutton unable to steal a shot.
It's easy to say that New York should simply defend better, but one wonders if Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe can unlock the combination for his zonal marking system to defend against the set piece. It has to get better because it can't possibly get any worse.
Bouna Bound? Sutton has started every match since the May 21 draw to the Houston Dynamo at Robertson Stadium. Thursday's loss was Sutton's first in that stretch, with no clean sheets over that seven-game run to counter it.
Sutton has also started twice in the last seven days, with his lack of reaction in the area costing New York dearly in their loss at Seattle. Backe likely should strongly consider starting Bouna Coundoul in net, if only to give Sutton a chance to rejuvenate from his heavy workload. Sutton may still be Backe's guy, but he won't be for long if Coundoul can't give him a break anytime soon.
Big Mouth. New York took a hit in the pocketbook on Friday as MLS commissioner Don Garber handed down a $10,000 fine to Red Bulls GM Erik Soler for the latter's criticisms of the unbalanced officiating at Portland last Sunday. While that won't directly affect New York's play on the field, it remains to be seen whether Soler should continue to point the finger at the U.S. Soccer officials or his own players.