The Chicago Fire are on the road this Friday night for a nationally-televised visit to Harrison, NJ to take on the New York Red Bulls (7 p.m. CT | UniMás, streaming on Twitter).
As the Fire look to reassert themselves into the Eastern Conference playoff hunt, take a look ahead with this week's match storylines, presented by NovaCare.
The Red Bulls (7-6-3, 24 points) enter Friday night’s matchup having not played a league game since a 3-2 road defeat on June 8 to the Philadelphia Union. Prior to the break in MLS play, head coach Chris Armas’ side had been one of the most in-form teams in the league, having gone unbeaten in seven of their last nine MLS outings (six wins). They’re currently in fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings, with 24 points earned through 16 matches played.
The Fire extended their home unbeaten run to seven straight matches with a 1-1 draw against Real Salt Lake on Saturday night, and will look to take three points from Friday night’s match to jump back above the Eastern Conference playoff line. Aleksandar Katai scored his fourth goal of the season on an MLS Goal of the Week-nominated free kick to help pick up a point on the weekend. The Club currently sits in eighth place in the East, with 19 points through 17 matches played.
"We know that they're in a better shape maybe than when we played them at home," Bastian Schweinsteiger said of the matchup. "It's going to be a difficult game. We respect them, of course. If we find more determination in our offensive work, then I think we can get a result over there. That's our goal."
Gone for Gold
Both sides will be without the service of some regular contributors come kickoff, with six combined international absences due to the 2019 Concacaf Gold Cup tournament. For the Fire, midfielder Djordje Mihailović started and went 90 minutes in the USA’s 1-0 Group D finale victory against Panama on Wednesday to join defender Francisco Calvo (Costa Rica) in the tournament’s knockout round.
Representing the Red Bulls in the regional tournament are defenders Kemar Lawrence (Jamaica), Aaron Long (USA), and Michael Murillo (Panama) as well as forward Derrick Etienne Jr. (Haiti).
After the full roster was announced on Monday, it was revealed the both the Fire and the Red Bulls would be sending a representative to the 2019 MLS All-Star Game in Orlando. Schweinsteiger earned his second All-Star selection since arriving in MLS in spring 2017, while Red Bulls defender Kemar Lawrence -- currently with Jamaica at the 2019 Gold Cup -- was named to his first All-Star team. The pair will join forces to take on La Liga side Atlético Madrid at Exploria Stadium on July 31.
Red Bull Returns
The Fire-Red Bulls matchup has not been short on club connections over the last couple seasons. Fire captain Dax McCarty returns to New Jersey to take on the side with which he spent six seasons and won a pair of Supporters’ Shield trophies. First-year Fire midfielder Amando Moreno is additionally up against his old club, with whom he climbed through the academy system before signing a pro contract in 2012.
The Red Bulls are helmed by Chris Armas, who played for the Fire from 1998-2007 and was inducted into the Club’s Ring of Fire in 2009. He’s assisted on staff by CJ Brown, who spent 13 seasons with the Fire and became the Club’s seventh Ring of Fire honoree in 2012. Former Fire assistant and head coach Denis Hamlett additionally serves as the team’s Sporting Director.
Friday’s contest marks the 58th all-time matchup between the Fire and the Red Bulls since 1998. The Fire currently lead the head-to-head regular season series with a 28-18-12 record, which ranks as the Club’s highest number of wins and points (93) against a single opponent in MLS. Friday’s match will mark the second meeting between the two teams in 2019.
The Fire were victorious in their last visit to Red Bull Arena, picking up a 2-1 win courtesy of a Katai wonder goal and a Nemanja Nikolić penalty kick. The Fire previously defeated the Red Bulls 1-0 in their most recent meeting on March 30 at SeatGeek Stadium.