Photo by USA Today Sports
By JUSTIN REASH
With the previous matchup between the New York Red Bulls and Chicago Fire resulting in an exciting 5-4 Fire victory, Sunday’s rematch between the two Eastern Conference playoff contenders had a lot to live up to.
Although Sunday’s clash had little in common with its predecessor, the Fire emerged victorious yet again by knocking off the Red Bulls, 1-0, via a 39th minute Mike Magee penalty kick.
The Fire proved to be the dominant side for the first 20 minutes by exploiting the Red Bulls through the left side. Defender Lovel Palmer routinely linked up with Alex from the start, with the duo nearly combining to earn an eighth-minute penalty kick when Alex was dragged down in the box by Red Bulls defender Roy Miller. However, referee Ted Unkel allowed play to continue, much to the disbelief of Alex.
By the half-hour mark, the Red Bulls seemed more likely to open the scoring. Fire defender Bakary Soumare was forced to make two consecutive last-ditch tackles on the energetic Bradley Wright-Phillips to prevent the Red Bulls from nabbing the lead.
The game’s key moment occurred in the 39th minute when Red Bulls defender Ambroise Oyongo brought down Quincy Amarikwa in the box. Magee’s ensuing penalty was initially saved by Luis Robles, but Magee pounced to put the ball in the net on the ensuing rebound. Much like last week’s draw against the Crew, the Fire entered the break on top after a Magee finish against the run of play.
The second half opened with the Red Bulls pressing for the equalizer, with the visitors forcing Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson to make three saves in 15 minutes. Red Bulls midfiender Eric Alexander was responsible for two of those Red Bulls chances, the first of which came from a shot from outside the box.
Alexander then forced Johnson to save yet again moments later, this time from the left corner of the box. In the 65th minute Wright-Phillips was sent through by Tim Cahill after making another cutting, diagonal run from the center, although Fire captain Jeff Larentowicz did well to push him away from good shooting position.
Chicago kept the Red Bulls on their toes with an effort from the lively Harrison Shipp in the 67th minute, as the rookie forced Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles to make a big save well to his left. Ten minutes later, Magee was released down the right flank and sent a dangerous low cross that nearly found Amarikwa for the Fire’s second.
In the end, the Red Bulls simply could not convert promising chances, as the Fire held on to pick up 1-0 lead, as well as three crucial points toward playoff qualification.