An obvious storyline for Saturday's Chicago Fire match at the New York Red Bulls is the return of former Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty to his previous home, but does his familiarity with the opposition give the Fire a boost?
McCarty and the Fire take on the Red Bulls on Saturday at Red Bull Arena. CSN has the live coverage, beginning at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live.
In a league where most teams don't have a distinct or discernible style the Red Bulls have been identifiable as a team that typically wins the possession battle and punishes mistakes with a high-press since former Fire player Jesse Marsch took over as coach in 2015.
"I was a part of that system for the last two years and obviously I guess you can describe it as when Jesse came in and started coaching the system changed and became very distinct," McCarty said.
McCarty played with the Red Bulls for five and a half seasons and was the captain under Marsch. His familiarity with the players and the system could help the Fire, although he insisted it's nothing most teams can't see on film anyway.
"Obviously I know a couple little inside details that they try to do that most teams can see on video," McCarty said. "There's not going to be any real secrets. I think that they're very good at what they do and they're very good at the way that they play and not many teams are capable of playing with them. We're going to have to do a few things tactically to make sure that we're ready and prepared for everything that they throw at you because they have a very good style of play that's led them to be one of the best teams in the league over the past couple years.
"I'll be able to tell the guys a little bit about each guy that they're playing against, maybe one-on-one battles."
The Fire (3-2-2, 11 points) have struggled on the road so far this season with two losses, both by multiple goals, and a draw. The Red Bulls (4-3-1, 13 points) are 3-0-1 at home and had the most home wins in the league (13) last season. Last season, the Fire lost 1-0 at Red Bull Arena and played to a 2-2 draw against the Red Bulls at Toyota Park.
Coach Veljko Paunovic said McCarty's knowledge of the opponent will supplement what he and the staff learned from last year's matches.
"Of course it helps, but we also played against the Red Bulls so many times and saw them play against other teams," Paunovic said. "It's a very good and very well known opponent that we have in front. We believe we know their strengths. It's always helpful that you can have a player who knows their system like Dax and played in that system and performed very well."
The Fire don't yet have a clear style under Paunovic, especially with so many new key figures in this year's team. The three-man central midfield of Bastian Schweinsteiger, McCarty and Juninho is still figuring things out and even Schweinsteiger recently said he is playing at 70 percent fitness.
Paunovic does believe he has seen the team progress in that area though.
"I think we can notice that the team is more comfortable with the ball, more confident and creates more opportunities," he said. "We still have to do a better job converting these opportunities, especially on the road. I think on the road we have to manage better the games, especially to not concede early goals."
The Fire have allowed a goal in the first half hour of all three road games this season. McCarty is hoping to see the Fire’s first road win come at his former home stadium.
"We haven't been very good on the road this year," McCarty said. "There's nothing like going into a really good team's home and getting your first win of the year. That's kind of the way I'm trying to look at it and the way that I'm trying to talk to the guys about it. If we're going to be successful this year we can't just be good at home. We have to win on the road, too. What a better environment, what a better game to get that first win and try to be good and make sure that we leave Red Bull Arena with something."
Chicago Fire at New York Red Bulls
Where: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, N.J.
When: Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Fire Pregame Live
Records: Fire (3-2-2, 11 points), Red Bulls (4-3-1, 13 points)