Saturday, April 6, 2013

On the Road Again: Red Bulls Visit Chicago House of Horrors

Wille Nelson Loves Being on the Road. The Red Bulls Don't.
Like Willie Nelson, the Red Bulls can't wait to get back on the road again. OK maybe not, considering their general futility away from Red Bull Arena in recent times. Take away last year's 3-0 win in Philly (the final game of the 2012 regular season) and New York hasn't taken a full three points in an away game since May. That's coming up on a year.

The powers that be at MLS, in their infinite wisdom, have given the Red Bulls multiple chances to turn their bad road form around early in the 2013 season, handing them five of seven matches away from Harrison to start the campaign. Isn't that nice? The run of road games includes Sunday's visit to Chicago and next weekend's visit to RFK. So thanks for that, I guess, Mr. Schedule Maker.

An optimist might argue that getting all of the tricky road fixtures out of the way early will set RBNY up nicely, with a nice run of home matches to come when it matters most - at the end of the season. The flip side of that argument is that the team runs the danger of falling off the pace early and has to scramble the rest of the season just to make up lost ground on the conference leaders. While last Saturday's big home win against Philly helped calm fans' nerves a bit, a failure to get maximum points from at least one of the next two matches could have alarm bells ringing again. Hardly the easiest of starts for Mike Petke.

Making matters worse, the Red Bulls have been notoriously awful at Toyota Park, having never won a game in Bridgeview. They may never have a better opportunity to rectify matters than they do now. Chicago has stumbled out of the gate, earning just one point through four games and has scored just a single goal this season, while surrendering nine. Former Red Bull Joel Lindpere will likely be suiting up for the first time against his former club, and wouldn't it just be our luck if the Estonian assassin were to notch a couple of goals on Sunday?

Thierry Henry, having recovered well enough from his leg injury to score the stunning go-ahead goal against Philly that saw him win MLS Goal of the Week honors (no wacky ballot box stuffing this time), is likely to play on Sunday, as is Tim Cahill, who has been playing through pain. Miidfielder Juninho should also feature in Petkes plans, but question marks still linger over the health of Fabian Espindola.

For more good stuff on this weekend's matchup, Once a Metro and Fire blog Hot Time Old Town exchanged questions here.

On to predictions!

Viper feels confident - well sorta, for him anyway:
You'd think that the Red Bulls away game at Chicago should be three easy points, against a team that's dead last in the Eastern Conference standings (1 point in 4 games).  Well, not so fast.  The stats will show that the Red Bulls have NEVER won at Toyota Park.  Much like Gillette Stadium, Toyota Park has been a house of horrors for the Red Bulls, where they've managed to snatch losses and draws from certain victory.  That said, there has never been a better time for RBNY to break the curse.  Chicago just totally sucks right now.  Henry, Espindola and Cahill should be fully healed and ready to git stuck in.  Peguy Luyindula has had another week to shake off the rust and will be desperate to score his first RBNY goal.  I'm thinking 2-0 to the Red Bulls (although a "That's So Metro" loss wouldn't surprise me either). 
 Tom Faust is also wellspring of optimism:
The Petke Era has left a lot to be desired, despite the first half vs. Portland and the domination of DC. As the coach himself stated, it was good to get a win vs. Philly, but the team did not play very well and the fans - as usual - are left waiting for the greatest team on paper to hit on all cylinders. 
I haven't seen Chicago play at all, but with 1 point from 4 games and a -8 goal differential... well, if I don't feel good about the Red Bulls' chances this weekend, I never will. I'm calling a 2-1 win for Red Bull with Cahill getting off the schneid and a second from whatever unexpected healthy body Petke throws up front. The Fire's tally will come courtesy of Joel Lindpere. 
I'd love to feel as positive as they do, but I just can't. Every time the Red Bulls seem primed for a strong road performance they blow it. They're playing in Chicago, where they've never experienced anything but disappointment. And New York has a knack for playing the role of MLS slump buster, making even mediocre teams look pretty damn good. So as much as I'd love to jump on the positivity bandwagon I'm going to predict a 3-1 loss.

The big match kicks off at 5pm ET on ESPN2.
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