Ezra Hendrickson sees no great reason for panic despite the Chicago Fire going five games without a win in all competitions, exiting the US Open Cup and falling out of the playoff places in the Eastern Conference.
A promising start to the 2022 season for the Fire has been marred by recent matches, including a shoot-out defeat to Union Omaha in the cup.
That was followed by a 3-0 loss to Minnesota United, ramping up the pressure before this weekend’s game against the New York Red Bulls.
But Hendrickson does not entirely agree with the concern around the Fire, highlighting how close they are to getting back into the top seven in the East.
“We’ve kept it positive, because you have to look at the reality of our situation,” he said, “and that is at the end of the day we’ve only lost two games.
“If we can score some goals and continue to play the type of team defense we’ve been playing, we’ll be in a good position – not that we’re not in a good position now.
“I think a lot of people are taking everything out of context here. At the end of the day, we’re one point away from being above the line, three or four points away from being in fourth place.”
By contrast, the Red Bulls are coming off a 3-0 win, against Orlando City, and a cup victory, sitting second in the table.
Coach Gerhard Struber said: “The game in Orlando gave everyone a good feeling, a boost for the next difficult task.
“I think we can see how we progress in our process. I think everyone understands more and more what we want together.
“You could see in this game how important it is that everyone is on the same page, the same mindset on the field. I think this is important also for the next game.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Chicago Fire – Gaga Slonina
Slonina was not directly at fault for any of Minnesota’s three goals last time out, but the highly rated 17-year-old Fire goalkeeper was shaky throughout. “If we’re being honest, it probably wasn’t his best game, but we can’t forget that he’s still 17 years old,” Hendrickson said, adding: “Like all players, we’re going to have not-so-great games, but I’m sure he’ll be back on Saturday and bounce back and we’ll get a victory.”
New York Red Bulls – Luquinhas
Designated Player Luquinhas is truly up and running now. After three sub appearances, the midfielder had an assist on his first MLS start. He added another in the US Open Cup and then scored his first goal against Orlando to make it three goal involvements in four starts. He is flying.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– The Fire won their last two matches against the Red Bulls, winning home and away in a 20-day span last August. Chicago had won only two of their previous 13 meetings with the Red Bulls (D3 L8, including playoffs) dating back to September 2015.
– Chicago conceded three goals in a 16-minute span in the second half of their loss to Minnesota on Saturday. Prior to those goals, the Fire had allowed just two goals in the first 701 minutes of MLS play in 2022.
– The Red Bulls won at Orlando on Sunday, becoming the first team since the Galaxy in 1998 (five straight) to win their first four road games of a season. The Red Bulls could tie the longest road winning streak to start a season (five straight by the Galaxy in 1996 and 1998), though the only five-match road winning streak in club history came in June-July 2000.
– Chicago have gone four straight games without a goal for the second time in their past 10 regular season games, also doing so spanning the end of the 2021 season and beginning of 2022. This is the third time in team history that the Fire have gone four straight games without scoring, also doing so in September 2010.
– The Red Bulls held 35.6 per cent of the possession in their win over Orlando on Sunday, the highest possession percentage in a victory for the club this season. New York have won all four matches this season in which they have held under 40 per cent of the possession and failed to win any of the four in which they held more than 40 percent (D2 L2).