As the New York Red Bulls continue their pursuit of the top spot in the MLS, they are feeling a bit wary about their next opponent and hoping to avoid a trap game.
The Red Bulls open a three-game road trip Saturday night when they visit the struggling Chicago Fire, who won at Red Bull Arena on April 21.
Since Aleksander Katai and Nemanja Nikolic scored and Richard Sanchez made nine saves in Chicago's 2-1 win, things are significantly different for the teams.
The Red Bulls (14-6-2, 44 points) are 11-3-4 since then and sit four points behind Atlanta, which is idle this week. They are tied for second with NYCFC, which visits Toronto Sunday.
Chicago (6-13-5, 23 points) is six points out of the playoffs with four teams ahead of them. Since beating the Red Bulls the Fire are 4-10-1 and own the league's second-worst goal differential of minus-13.
"When you look at the second half of the season, any one of these games, you know that you need to get points, especially against an Eastern Conference team," New York goalkeeper Luis Robles said on the team's website. "When you look at Chicago, it doesn't necessarily heighten it just because it's Chicago, what makes it important is because we're in the second half of the season, we're in the Supporters' Shield race, and because we do want to get in the first two spots."
The Red Bulls enhanced their chances in the race for the top spot by getting a 2-1 victory Sunday night against expansion club Los Angeles FC, rebounding from a disappointing home loss to Columbus. Daniel Royer scored twice, including the game-winner off a feed from Bradley-Wright Phillips in the 80th minute.
Chicago is on a team-record six-game losing streak since beating NYCFC at home on June 30. The Fire is getting outscored 17-8 during the skid, which continued with last Saturday's 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake.
Nemanja Nikolic leads the Fire with 10 goals and has scored three times during this skid. He scored on a penalty kick in the 69th minute in the last meeting with New York.
Besides facing a tough climb into playoff contention, Chicago also was eliminated from U.S. Open Cup play with Wednesday's 3-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union.
"We have to do a good job now to support and recover our guys," Fire coach Veljko Paunovic said on the team's official site. "It's not anything lost yet. I think we still have options, and we depend on ourselves. We've got to pick it up. ... We will keep trying to improve and get better and always be competitive and compete for every game, to win every game."
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