Bradley Wright-Phillips: “We’re definitely the underdog and we’re away from home. I feel that kind of suits us on how we play.” (Photo courtesy of MLS)
HARRISON, N.J. – It’s all or nothing for the Red Bulls Wednesday night.
Sixth-seeded Red Bulls (14-12-8) will visit No. 3 Chicago Fire (16-11-7) in an MLS Eastern Conference knockout-round match at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. at 8:30 p.m. ET (FS1, UniMas).
Win and the Red Bulls will meet Supporters Shield champion Toronto FC in the conference semifinals.
Lose and the team goes home without winning MLS Cup for the 22nd consecutive time.
“Chicago won’t be easy,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said.
After a four-year layoff, the Fire qualified for the postseason. Chicago started strong but could not regain its momentum during the season half of the season.
“Chicago’s excited to be back in the playoffs and to have a home game, so they’re going to throw everything at us,” Marsch said.
“It’s never an easy place to play, Chicago, but we’ve had some good memories there. And we’ll make sure we’re ready to go. We’ll have fresh legs on the field and we’ll go after the game,” Marsch said. “We won’t be expecting anything but Chicago’s best.”
The Red Bulls, who won the Supporters Shields in 2013 and 2015 as the top seeded side in the postseason, enter this encounter as the underdogs. Striker Bradley Wright-Phillips embraced that role.
“They’re good all season,” he said of the Fire. “At one stage they were at the top of the league. They have a Golden Boot winner, so we’re definitely the underdog and we’re away from home. I feel that kind of suits us on how we play. We like [having] with a chip on our shoulder and I think that suits us down to the ground.”
New York, which qualified for the playoffs for the eighth successive year — is the second longest active streak in the league.
One major factor to Chicago’s success during the regular season and ending their playoff drought was the acquisition of former Red Bulls captain Dax McCarty in a January trade. The team saw an uptick in goals per game (plus 0.6) and decrease in goals allowed per game (minus 0.3), as per Opta.
New York and Chicago have faced each other three previous times in the playoffs, all of which came in 2000. The Fire bested the Red Bulls winning two of the three matches en route to reaching MLS Cup.
The Red Bulls are 2-0 in the MLS knockout round/wildcard matches, earning wins at FC Dallas, 2-0 Oct. 26, 2011 and at home against Sporting Kansas City, 2-1 Oct. 30, 2014.
New York is 6-11-3 all-time in MLS playoffs when starting the postseason on the road.
If the Red Bulls advance to the conference semifinals, they will face top-seeded Toronto. The first leg would be at Red Bull Arena either Monday, Oct. 30 or Tuesday, Oct. 31, while second leg would be in Toronto Sunday, Nov. 5.