The last time the Chicago Fire tasted a home defeat against the New York Red Bulls, Bob Bradley - who had helped the Men in Red capture the MLS Cup and two Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup titles between 1998 and 2000 - headed the then-New York/New Jersey MetroStars to a 3-0 victory over his former side in front of 8,341 at Soldier Field on May 14, 2005.
Needless to say, times have changed since even the likes of Chris Armas and Jesse Marsch - current members of the Red Bulls technical staff who featured that day - made their veteran presence felt in the Fire dressing room.
Ten years later, a new wave of leadership will be called upon to guide the Fire (6-13-5, 23 points) to a positive result against the Red Bulls (11-6-6, 39 points), who visit Toyota Park Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. CT; CSN+).
“Our leaders have not quit,” head coach Frank Yallop said Monday. “They’re vocal. They’re encouraging. We haven’t quit. I feel that the performances were good in this part of the season. We’re trying our best to put it right. Plus you’ve gone a goal down in a minute [against Colorado Rapids]. We could’ve crumbled and gave up, but we didn’t. We kept going. It says a lot for the guys on the field and the guys that are the leaders in Jeff [Larentowicz], Sean [Johnson], Jon [Busch] and Razvan [Cocis].”
Already facing mounting pressure heading into the final stretch of the season, the Men in Red - with two games in hand on the Philadelphia Union, Orlando City SC and New York City FC below the red line and five points back of the Montreal Impact - are still keeping playoff hopes in their sights. Having missed out on the postseason in four of the last five years, this year's run-in could be the most arduous yet.
A home-and-home with Orlando City still to come, Wednesday's fixture marks the first of three late-season encounters with the Red Bulls, with games against Eastern Conference leaders D.C. United and playoff hopefuls Toronto FC, New England Revolution and Montreal on the horizon as well.
“We’re not out of the playoff hunt yet, so you’ve got to go with your strongest lineup who you think is going to win games,” Yallop added when asked whether he would consider incorporating younger players into team selection. “Mathematically, we still have a chance.”
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For the visitors, who've parted ways with Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill - among others - to rebrand with an influx of young talent, winning five of their last six regular season matches sees them nipping at the heels of D.C. and in pole position to make a run at the Supporters' Shield.
From front to back, Marsch has assembled a unit worthy of making a deep run into the postseason, all while aiming to instill a revamped philosophy within the club, a dogged and aggressive style of play that few MLS teams have been able to defy. Wednesday's bout with the New York club will provide the Fire a template to work with before the clubs meet again on Sept. 11 and Oct. 25.
“They’re a little more youthful, a little more team-oriented rather than individual now,” Yallop said. “They move the ball pretty sharply, and [Bradley] Wright-Phillips is a sniper. Not much has changed. I like Lloyd Sam, he’s a good player as well. They’ve got some good players and good weapons, and they seem to stay pretty healthy, which is always a key in our league.”
NOTE: Mike Magee, who underwent an MRI on his knee on Monday, is fine and available for selection, according to a club spokesperson. That leaves Adaílton, who received an injection to help his adductor strain, the only player currently on the team's injury list.
Chicago Fire vs. New York Red Bulls
Kickoff time: 7:30 p.m. CT
Where: Toyota Park; Bridgeview, Ill.
Broadcast: CSN Chicago Plus