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Tuesday, July 12, 2011
W2W4: NY Red Bulls at Chicago Fire

By Matthew Artus

The Red Bulls hope an injection of youth can regain the swagger lacking in their MLS regular season play as they pay a visit to the Chicago Fire for a quarterfinal match in the US Open Cup on Tuesday.

New York finds themselves at Toyota Park after rookie midfielder John Rooney finished off derby dance partner FC New York in a 2-1 win of the US Open Cup third-round match at Red Bull Arena on June 28. However, the Red Bulls face the Fire with their heads hanging low after dropping their first shutout loss at home to rival D.C. United on Saturday and previously conceding a 1-1 draw to Chicago on June 26. Red Bulls castaway Dwayne De Rosario scored the game-winning goal in a 1-0 win for DC, while a Bouna Coundoul blunder enabled Guatemalan midfielder Marco Pappa to draw Chicago level on a soft goal.

Four-time US Open Cup champion Chicago hopes to continue its winning ways in tournament play after conceding a 2-1 defeat to the Los Angeles Galaxy on Saturday. David Beckham curled a corner kick into the net to answer a Cristian Nazarit header for the win, further frustrating a Fire side that has only one win in MLS play since March 30. Chicago has found more success in the US Open Cup, with three wins in the tournament that includes a third-round, 1-0 victory over the Rochester Rhinos on June 28.

Bad Timing. Due to a Monday morning thunderstorm that cut power to over 800,000 Chicago-area residents, officials changed the kick off time from the original 8:00 p.m. EDT first kick to a more daylight-friendly 6:00 p.m EDT. The match will also be streamed live on the Chicago Fire's website.

Key Matchup: Ballouchy vs. the "Best." Red Bulls coach Hans Backe already indicated his intentions to use all reserves for Tuesday's match at Toyota Park. Moroccan midfielder Mehdi Ballouchy was the only player in Backe's regular rotation to fly with the 13 players Backe invited to Chicago and is expected to start up top alongside rookie forward Corey Hertzog. Former defensive mainstay Chris Albright should also see some action at right back in his first match since undergoing hernia surgery in May.

Fire coach Frank Klopas will counter Backe's band of baby Bulls with a large part of his normal arsenal. Though that decision reflects a club initiative to mix-in regulars with reserves during US Open Cup play (having done so in two of their three matches so far), it will raise the talent level for the home side and give the baby Bulls a stern test.

That leaves Ballouchy, who has shown fantastic and frustrating moments for the Red Bulls in MLS play all season, in a situation where he must provide the polish and stabilizing play that Tim Ream and Juan Agudelo provided for the baby Bulls against FC New York.

CONCACAF Calling. Backe will rely upon his reserves as his club prepares for six matches in 19 days that includes road trips to Los Angeles, Colorado, and a doubleheader finale at Emirates Stadium in London.

With MLS All-Star First XI selections Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez nursing injuries along with Luke Rodgers, it's tough to criticize Backe's decision to balance what little depth is at his disposal. That said, New York is 11 points behind the LA Galaxy in the Supporters' Shield race and face the same doubts of every club hoping to reach the MLS Cup finals -- and receiving the automatic CONCACAF Champions League berth that comes along with it.

The Red Bulls haven't approached the CONCACAF Champions League as a top priority to date, but the US Open Cup could become their best chance to qualify and raise the club's profile within the region. Backe didn't pack his big guns for the Fire, but he may change his tune if the club makes to the semifinal match which would take place on Tuesday, August 30.