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RECAP: Red Bulls quell the Fire, notably earn a point in Chicago, somehow bring the snood back in style

A draw in soccer is often a puzzling concept. A stalemate can sometimes seem fair, bring disappointment or even feel like a small victory to one or both sides. A draw can further perplex because it might encapsulate all of the sensations at once.

On a cold afternoon in Bridgeview, ILL, the New York Red Bulls fought for a 1-1 tie versus the Chicago Fire. While the draw last weekend at home to Colorado felt like a missed opportunity, a point in Chicago was probably a fair result. Still win-less at Toyota Park, head coach Mike Petke can learn lessons about his team in what was most likely their best overall performance of the season thus far. The teams’ records are both 0-1-2 now.

Starting lineup: Luis Robles; Richard Eckersley, Jamison Olave, Ibrahim Sekagya, Roy Miller; Johnny Steele, Dax McCarty, Eric Alexander, Lloyd Sam; Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill

Somewhat ironically, two red-headed defensive-midfielders scored the only goals of the game. Jeff Larentowicz got the first for the Fire from a header directly off a corner, while Dax McCarty equalized following a corner by his own team, slotting home a rebound in the box.

Only three minutes in, the Fire opened the scoring. Homegrown player Harrison Shipp hit an out-swinging corner that found a streaking Larentowicz pulling away from a scrum. His header hit the top corner past both the outstretched hand of goalkeeper Luis Robles and McCarty’s head.

Chicago should have gone two goals ahead within the first 20 minutes. On 18 minutes, a deep Shipp cross was perfectly zeroed onto forward Quincy Amarikwa’s run at the back-post. His stooping header missed wide left, when he had an open goal in the six yard box.

The Fire would rue that missed chance. Designated players, Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry, paired as striking partners for the first time this season, played roles in the equalizer. A corner by the Frenchman found Cahill’s feet in the center of the box. A scramble eventually led to an open McCarty to slot in.

The goals were over after 20 minutes, but the opportunities did not decrease. Another set-piece three minutes later by Shipp led to Cahill accidentally flicking a header toward goal, which Robles tipped over.

Then a bizarre moment occurred. A Miller long ball pinpointed Eric Alexander’s run in-behind. Probably assuming he was offside, he slowed his run, only to desperately sprint at the ball before goalkeeper Sean Johnson collected. The first half ended.

Brilliant play by both sides occurred within the opening minute of the restart. Interplay between Chicago attackers Alex and Amarikwa led to the former shooting a low left-footed shot across Robles. The New York goalkeeper responded with a strong hand to palm the powerful shot away.

Choppy, slow play from both teams became prominent in the second period. An open opportunity in the away box for former New York player Mike Magee, making his season debut, was wasted in the 73 minute. Somehow the ball rebounded to him on the left side of the box. With bodies blocking the goal, he tried placing a left-footed shot, which was easily cleared by central defender Ibrahim Sekagya.

Two minutes later, substitute Peguy Luyindula spun away from pressure in the center circle and distributed to a Sam run on the right. The English winger gained a yard of space to drive a cross toward Luyindula sprinting into the box. Unfortunately, he was unable to make proper contact in the six yard box as Johnson easily saved.

An average of  58.8 percent possession advantage between the 81 to 90 minute interval by the Red Bulls saw them create the last two chances. In the 81 minute, Cahill received the ball and turned outside the 18. His pass to Henry split the central defense in the box. However, too many touches to control led the Frenchman’s shot to be blocked.

Finally, right before stoppage time, Henry almost had the second “olympico” (goal directly scored from a corner) of his Major League Soccer career. His right-footed, in-swinging corner was parried away by goalkeeper Johnson in the six yard box. The match finished 1-1.

General thoughts: 

  • In the 16 minute, television analyst Shep Messing’s criticisms about Eric Alexander began. Steele and left-back Roy Miller combined on the left side of the box. A Steele cross found Alexander at the top of the box, who’s header went well wide. Messing was not a fan of last year’s two-way winger positioned in the central midfield and repeatedly said such throughout the broadcast. Alexander’s mainly anonymous performance only highlighted his many mistakes. He found space to attack in the central channel (especially when Henry drew defenders dropping deep), but too often his final pass was behind the intended target. A switch to the left flank after Steele’s substitution was a new experiment that Alexander looked uncomfortable in. He will most likely be benched in favor of Luyindula against Chivas USA.
  • Sekagya filled-in well for the suspended Armando. He made significant clearances and interventions on multiple plays. In addition, Chicago’s game-plan of diagonal balls to the flanks was figured out and handled well. His partnership with Olave appears promising, so Armando should not expect to automatically start next week.
  • With Cahill playing at forward again, Henry became the play-maker. This striking tandem worked to great effect against Philly in the  second preseason game. The Frenchman’s presence dropping deep in midfield was refreshing in the sense that the attacking system  was less stagnated and posed different obstacles to Chicago. How much Cahill’s lack of work-rate in midfield hurts the team was not demonstrated in this game. New York created many near- and half-chances in this system of Henry playing deep. The experiment should continue versus Chivas, but Luyindula should start in place of Alexander to better capitalize on the space Henry’s positioning indirectly opens.
  • Speaking of Cahill as a forward, the Australian generally held the ball and distributed it well to the flanks. However, he was unable to unpredictably turn his markers and go to goal. Playing as a target man is somewhat of a foreign position for the former Everton player, and it showed in two second half chances where he received the ball to feet in the box. On both occasions, he could not turn and the play eventually broke down.
  • Steele and Miller consistently threatened on the left flank. Their interchanging and interplay contributed to an overwhelming 68 percent pass completion on the left side of the field. On the other side, Sam again put in an impressive performance as he constantly attacked the space. Chicago’s fullbacks’ inexperience were exposed by both New York wingers. Right back Matt Watson was plugging in for the injured Lovel Palmer, while left back Greg Cochrane is only in his second year professionally. The potential of two in-form, more attacking two-way wingers on both flanks is an exciting prospect for the upcoming games.
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