HARRISON, NJ — New York Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch was under no allusions about what today’s matchup against the struggling Chicago Fire represented, and he tried everything he possible could, before the game as well as during it, to make sure his team was up for the challenge of defending home turf against a team that, on paper, it should have beaten.
Alas, Marsch’s plans did not work, and the Red Bulls unbeaten home mark this season went by the boards in the process.
Despite being outshot 22-4, the Fire came away with an impressive 2-1 win over New York on the road at Red Bull Arena, only the team’s second win of the season. New acquisition Aleksandar Katai played a huge role in Chicago’s win, as the forward scored a wonderful goal on a left-footed volley in the first half, then was fouled in the box midway through second half to set up the Fire’s game-winner.
Only one team had fewer points than the Fire’s four points in five games so far this season, giving the Red Bulls a glorious opportunity to come away with three points, especially since New York enjoyed a seven-game unbeaten streak against the Fire coming into today’s contest. In their last meeting, the Red Bulls, the sixth and final seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs, went into the Chicago area and whitewashed the third-seeded Fire 4-0 in the single-elimination first-round matchup. The Fire, with last season’s playoff loss in the back of their mind as well as trying to snap out of their funk to start this season, played like a team needing the three points – something Marsch tried to hammer home to his team in trying to create a sense of urgency with his own club.
“I even talked about some of their quotes in the press, their coach, their players, and we weren’t up for it,” Marsch said. “We weren’t up for it. We thought that the game was going to be about passing and football, and it was more about like a team that’s desperate, that needs points, that has a point to prove, and they showed it. So, you know, good for them. But our little bit naiveté and inability to understand what we were in for meant that on the day, we came in second most of the day.”
Chicago went ahead in the 30th minute when, off a corner kick, Katai sent back a clearing header from New York Red Bulls defender Aaron Long by hitting a first-time volley with his left foot that screamed past goalkeeper Luis Robles for a 1-0 lead.
In the second half, Katai was tripped up in the penalty area by Robles after making a move around him, with a penalty being awarded after the foul. Chicago’s other forward, Nemanja Nikolic, dispatched the succeeding penalty kick in the 69th minute to double the Fire’s lead.
Chicago’s 3-5-2 formation frustrated the Red Bulls just enough to keep New York from scoring for the first 80 minutes, with Fire goalkeeper Richard Sánchez making a number of acrobatic saves, especially in the first half. Sánchez ended up making nine saves overall in the contest.
Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips gave New York a consolation goal in the 81st minute, jumping on a loose ball in the box to put home New York’s only goal of the game. Chicago was able to hold on for the final nine minutes plus injury time to earn its first road points of the season.
“Very proud of the guys and the job they did,” said Chicago Fire head coach Veljko Paunovic. “We stick to our plan and we adjusted every time Red Bulls changed. So fantastic reaction. Fantastic win, and especially after the sloppy start we had this season, I think this win helps us to boost our confidence, to build on top of this, and face the next phase of the season with a different — different perspective.”
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Saturday afternoon’s game, with all photos taken by our senior photographer, Robert Cole. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 21 pictures in total.