Eastern Conference playoff hopes are at stake

New York Red Bulls Preview

Chicago Fire (5-5-5, 4th in Eastern Conference) vs. New York Red Bulls (8-6-3, 2nd in East)

All-time record: Fire lead 20-11-6

TV Info:

9 p.m. ET, ESPN2, ESPN Deportes


Never before have five Designated Players taken the field at the same time. That will likely change Sunday, when Juan Pablo Angel, Thierry Henry, Rafa Márquez and the Red Bulls travel to Chicago to face off against Nery Castillo, Freddie Ljungberg and the Fire.

But this match is far more than a mere spectacle of DPs. Eastern Conference playoff hopes are at stake, with the Red Bulls needing a win to keep pace with the Crew and the Fire needing all three points to continue their push towards a playoff spot.

Chicago Fire

Both Castillo and Ljungberg are expected to see time. The DP duo should give the Fire a big time boost in the attack, which – despite last week’s three goal performance – has struggled at times this season.

“I think we’re going to try to make triangles and try to make the ball move and just keep the ball,” said Ljungberg. “Hopefully we can wear people down.”

Just as important as the new additions on offense are the old hands in the back.C.J. BrownWilman Conde and Logan Pause will attempt to slow down the dynamic pair of Henry and Angel.

“We just got to be focused and in tune the whole game and limit their chances as much as possible,” said Brown.

New York Red Bulls

The third Red Bull DP – Márquez – will likely make his MLS debut in this one. Head coach Hans Backe said it’s likely the Mexican international will start against the Fire, where he’ll be handed the unenviable job of defending Ljungberg and Castillo.

How Márquez does against his Tricolor teammate and the former Swedish international will play a huge role in the outcome of the match. If he defends well, the Fire attack will struggle to take off. If he defends poorly, it could be a long night for New York.

Heroes & Villains

Freddie Ljungberg vs. Rafael Márquez: In 2006, Márquez and Barcelona took on Ljungberg (and Henry) and Arsenal in the Champions League final.

Four years later, the pair is set to meet again, this time in a MLS match at Toyota Park. The stakes are a bit lower than a European Cup, but both will be looking to impress when they face off against each other.

Ljungberg, who will likely line up in the center of the midfield, will attempt to be the playmaking midfielder the Fire have been lacking all season. If he is to do so, he’ll have to wrestle control from Márquez, who will line up as New York’s holding midfielder. The matchup will be key to determining which team controls the midfield – an important factor in any match.

Stat that makes you go “Hmm”

The Fire have never lost to the Red Bulls at Toyota Park, going 5-0-1 in six meetings in Bridgeview