June 24, 2011
BACK TO FRONT
Stingy Fire defense takes on the league’s hottest offense Sunday at Toyota Park
The Chicago Fire might want to move their goal-scoring concerns to the back burner on Sunday, when the New York Red Bulls come to Toyota Park (1:00 pm, ESPN).
|Cory Gibbs and the rest of the Fire defense expect to have their hands full with the Red Bulls on Sunday.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Despite Thursday night’s 4-2 stumble against Seattle Sounders FC, the Red Bulls (5-3-8, 23 pts) sport the league’s most productive attack, with 26 goals in 16 games. Designated Player Thierry Henry is tied with LA Galaxy captain Landon Donovan for the league scoring lead with eight goals. Henry was suspended for Thursday’s match, but is expected to be back with the team on Sunday.
If the Fire defense, which has allowed only one goal in the last five games, can hold its own against the Red Bulls, the team’s lack of goal scoring might take care of itself. Without Tim Ream (USA) and Rafa Marquez (Mexico) on defense, the Red Bulls have surrendered seven goals in their last two games. Both backliners are still with their national teams through Saturday’s Gold Cup Final, leaving the Red Bulls vulnerable for at least one more game.
The Red Bulls have been especially ineffective on defending set plays – Seattle’s first three goals developed off corner kicks, including poor clearances two minutes apart in the first half -- and Roger Levesque’s capper was a gift from goalkeeper Greg Sutton, who misplayed the ball at the top of the penalty area. Sutton’s starting status against the Fire is being reviewed by coach Hans Backe, who might send the lanky Canadian back to the bench in favor of Bouna Coundoul.
Despite Wednesday’s scoreless result against Real Salt Lake, the Fire’s offensive prospects improved with the return of Marco Pappa, who came off the bench in the 70th minute to give goalkeeper Nick Rimando several anxious moments in the late going. Pappa’s return to a starting role, combined with the burgeoning partnership between Patrick Nyarko and striker Dominic Oduro, hopefully will pay quick dividends to the Fire attack.