HANOVER, N.J. — A year ago, Orlando City SC and the Chicago Fire combined for 16 regular-season wins, six fewer than the New York Red Bulls accrued en route to winning a third Supporters’ Shield title in six years.
But both teams secured wins over the Red Bulls in the first of two meetings in 2018.
The Lions continued that trend last Saturday, grinding out a 1-0 victory at Red Bull Arena. Up next for the Red Bulls are the Fire.
“The guys have responded like winners do, they come back to work and they’re professional,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said of his team’s response at training to Saturday’s shock defeat. “We looked hard like we said we would, but the guys have a certain standard themselves that they’re holding around here that causes them to come in and get back to work. The energy has been good. The reminder on the inside, without even saying anything, is we’re a good team and we know who we are. So right away we look forward to the next game.”
The Red Bulls (1-1-1) look forward, but cautiously so. A year ago, the Fire handed them one of just two regular season losses at Red Bull Arena — 2-1 last April. And New York managed just a 1-0 win in Bridgeview four months later.
“They have very talented players so if we over press or we get caught sleeping, they have a lot of guys that can do damage one-on-one and finish chances, very lethal up front,” defender Aaron Long said. “I think just a combination of good players and a mix of styles. They can hit you on the counter and they can also build up so they’re just a good team.”
With losses in two of their first three games, Chicago (0-2-1) are desperate for its first win of the season and the Red Bulls know they face a dangerous, hungry foe Saturday afternoon at SeatGeek Stadium.
“They’re just a team, I think, that knows us well and that we know well and it’s never easy when you play against a team that you kind of have some history, you understand the way each other wants to play and it makes it more difficult,” midfielder Alex Muyl said. “I think going to their place first this year is a good opportunity for us to hopefully steal three points at their place and then set it up for the return match.”
One player very familiar to the Red Bulls, albeit in a different uniform, is CJ Sapong, who was traded from the Philadelphia Union a month ago. The speedy forward is off to a hot start with two goals and one assist in three starts.
“CJ’s a tough player. When he was at Philly he caused some us problems,” Long said. “We know he’s big, strong, fast, and he can score goals in the air so he’s a very good player and with [Nemanja] Nikolic running in behind, it’s a tough combo to deal with on the day.”
The Fire’s strength, though, is their buildup play and tantamount to that is the duo of Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty in the midfield. McCarty said earlier in the week he’d like to follow in Sacha Kljestan’s footsteps and be the second Red Bulls former captain to score against New York.
It would be his first goal for the Fire.
“When you watch their games they control games with possession, they can hurt you with switching the field, they have guys up the field, many options up the field,” Armas said. “They can hurt you in many ways, and then out of the back with Schweinsteiger and Dax, they can get on the ball in any moment and they can control the tempo of games.”