After subsisting on a less than favorable start to their respective seasons, the Chicago Fire (3-5-0, nine points) and New York City FC (1-6-3, six points) have yet to leave a sizable imprint on Major League Soccer's Eastern Conference.
Winless in the league since a 1-0 victory over the expansion side in the reverse fixture, the Men in Red travel to the Bronx Friday night for their first-ever visit to Yankee Stadium, marking the duo's second and final encounter this season.
Nearly a week after characterizing the Fire's start to the 2015 MLS campaign as "topsy-turvy," head coach Frank Yallop is drumming up a plan to curtail Jason Kreis' high-pressure system within the established tight field dimensions, which, by MLS and FIFA standards, only just meet the 70-by-110 yard requirement.
“It’s tight. We’ve condensed the field and we’ve made the players who are going to start the game aware of their [NYCFC’s] pressing," said Yallop at Fire training on Wednesday. “They’re going to press us and it’s a tight field; there’s not a lot of room out there. You don’t have time on the ball.”
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Time on the ball - difficult as it may be to come by for the Fire - could conceivably be a luxury that may not be too much cause for concern provided Yallop's outfit put in a shrewd defensive performance on Friday.
"As a defender, you need to know you're going to have to defend the box," said captain Jeff Larentowicz. "Balls are going to be served in, they're going to be on top of you."
Through the first 10 matches, NYCFC own the second highest possession percentage in MLS, yet, like the Fire, it has only afforded them seven goals. Since topping the New England Revolution in their home opener on March 15, Kreis' side has collected two points from 24 available. In an all-out attempt to convert possession into goals, Kreis' mission to bestow the dogged, attacking philosophy that won him ample praise at Real Salt Lake has yet to amount to a finished product.
On the back of a crushing defeat to newfound rival New York Red Bulls on Sunday, NYCFC will likely impart its brio right from the start, with Joliet native Ned Grabavoy and Mix Diskerud patrolling the midfield. With Matt Watson likely to miss out on the trip and Michael Stephens still on the mend, Matt Polster and his undetermined collaborator in the pith of Yallop's midfield will be put to the test in a game of pinball on a patchy Yankee Stadium outfield.
"It's going to be a little bit more chaotic than you would see on a bigger field where there's more space to operate," Stephens said. "The ball is going to be bouncing a lot and there's going to be a lot of 50-50 balls."
Stephens, who missed the last three matches with an ankle injury, completed his second full week of training and disclosed he is nearing his peak fitness level. Should he be available, the dynamism and creativity the 26-year-old Chicago native exhibited before being sidelined could be the stroke of luck Yallop and the Men in Red need to come away with their first three points on their travels.
“We've got to press them as well," Yallop said. "It is what it is. We’re just looking forward to getting out there and getting ourselves back on track.”
Hear what Yallop, Stephens and Larentowicz had to say in the video above. Be sure to follow @CSNChicagoFire for live, in-game updates during the match, which is slated for a 6 p.m. CT kickoff.