We’re coming down the stretch of the MLS season, and this Saturday night serves up a real six-pointer in the Eastern Conference as the New York Red Bulls host the Chicago Fire at Red Bull Arena.
Neither of these sides are in the playoff picture going into this weekend. They’re actually tied for 11th place, and they’re even level on wins as well, with only goal differential separating the two. The good news is they’re both only three points off the final postseason spot with a game in hand.
If you didn’t guess by now, that makes this matchup a must-win for both.
New York will be missing Serge Ngoma, Lewis Morgan, Dante Vanzeir, and Sean Nealis, while Steven Sserwadda is a doubt for the contest.
Things aren’t ideal on the injury front for Chicago either, as they’ll be without the likes of Chris Mueller, Victor Bezerra, Mauricio Pineda, and Federico Navarro, while Rafael Czichos and Brian Gutiérrez are both listed as questionable.
New York Red Bulls: Miguel, Duncan, Reyes, D. Nealis, Tolkin, Harper, Amaya, Edelman, Fernandez, Barlow, Manoel
Chicago Fire: Brady, Dean, Terán, Omsberg, M. Navarro, Giménez, Doumbia, Herbers, Shaqiri, Haile-Selassie, Koutsias
What to watch for
The man comes around
It’s time for one of the funniest parts of the season.
I’ve gone over this whole ordeal time and time and time again, but it never gets old. In 10 appearances against the Chicago Fire, Cory Burke has scored 10 goals. It’s absolutely insane.
Some really great players have superb records against certain teams, and that’s because they score so much in general. No disrespect to Burke, but he’s an average MLS striker who is above-average at times when he’s playing well. That’s what makes this trend so wild.
The forward has been quite disappointing this campaign, only scoring twice. However, one of those goals came against Chicago, because of course it did. Usually a player performing like he has wouldn’t be thought of much going into a match.
This is Burke against the Fire, though. He didn’t play last game, but surely he gets a chance to continue his remarkable record here.
A much bigger name who will be on show is Xherdan Shaqiri, but it’s unclear how well he will play.
This season has been just like last season for him. There have been moments of promise, but those moments have been few and far between. He only has three goals and three assists in MLS play. That’s not enough.
Despite all the hype and fanfare that came with his arrival, Shaqiri has been a disappointment. He’s not the worst Designated Player the club has ever seen, and he’s not even the worst DP at the club at the moment, but he’s never been the gamechanger they’ve needed.
It’s not too late to change that, though. The Fire have four games left, and all of those games are going to be massive. Imagine if Shaqiri is able to finally kick into gear, dropping masterclass after masterclass on his way to carrying his team into a playoff spot. It’s a big ask considering how he usually plays for Chicago, but it’s not impossible given his talent.
There’s set to be a lot of change in the offseason for the Fire, and if the Switzerland captain doesn’t turn things around, he might be one of the pieces changed this winter.
This contest could be a really fun one at the end.
As mentioned earlier, both certainly need a win. They’re still out of the postseason positions, and they’re running out of games to catch up with the rest of the pack.
The two teams are also quite even on the field. They’ve both proven to be inconsistent on the year, and the other game between the two this campaign ended in a draw.
So, imagine we’re in the 80th minute, and the scores are level. It’ll be in that moment where New York and Chicago realizes that they just have to go for it. Send as many bodies forward as possible. Losing instead of tying won’t matter much, but winning could prove to be all the difference come the end of the year.
We could be set for a really fun ending.
It’s been a while since the reverse fixture, which came back in April.
Chicago jumped in front before the first half through a Kei Kamara header, and it seemed like they were going to hold on for the key early-season victory. However, Corey Burke scoring against the Fire is inevitable, and his stoppage-time header stole a point for New York.
The last few years have been pretty even in this matchup, and that ties into the overall record between the two, with the Red Bulls only winning once more than Chicago.
Last season did serve up a classic at Red Bull Arena. The scores were level at the end of the first half, and then each side scored in the opening 15 minutes of the second half. It seemed like the Fire had secured all three points after an 89th minute strike from Xherdan Shaqiri, but Patryk Klimala managed to grab a goal of his own afterward to snatch a draw for his side.
How to watch
The match kicks off at 7:30 pm Eastern time, and it will air live on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.