The Audi 2017 MLS Cup Playoffs will begin on Wednesday night at Toyota Park as the Chicago Fire will welcome the New York Red Bulls for a win or go home game. Chicago finished the season as the third seed in the Eastern Conference finishing just two points off behind New York City FC. The Red Bulls finished in sixth and secured the final playoff spot.
Though the clubs have not faced each other in the playoffs since the Red Bull takeover in 2006, the two clubs have played some historic matches in the past. Perhaps the biggest of the bunch was when the two clubs met in the 2011 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup when Chicago made a run to the finals before losing to the Seattle Sounders. Chicago beat the Red Bulls 4-0 on the day when Dominic Oduro opened the scoring early in the match and the Red Bulls never looked like getting back into it.
The two clubs met twice in the 2017 regular season, once at Toyota Park and once at Red Bull Arena. The first of the two matches took place in late April in Red Bull Arena where the home side beat Chicago 2-1. The top goalscorers put their abilities on display with both Bradley Wright-Phillips and Nemanja Nikolic scoring once for their respective clubs. Kemar Lawrence scored the winner for the Red Bulls in the 71st minute and the home side went home with all three points.
The second and final meeting between the two clubs in the regular season took place in September. Once again, to nobody's surprise, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Nemanja Nikolic each found themselves on the scoresheet once again. The two clubs split the points as the match ended in a 1-1 draw on a sunny Saturday at Toyota Park.
Chicago Fire: The hosts will have a lengthier injury list than the visitors on Wednesday. The biggest news is that World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger is listed as questionable for Chicago's first playoff match since 2012. The designated player is currently battling a right thigh injury.
Another big miss for the club will be Michael de Leeuw. The midfielder ruptured his ACL in late September against New York City FC and will miss the entirety of the playoffs. Similarly, Daniel Johnson who is recovering from a left MCL injury will also miss the match.
24-year-old defender Christian Dean will miss the opportunity to play in his first MLS playoff game due to a fifth metatarsal fracture which he suffered in late August. John Goossens who had surgery on his right ankle following an injury he picked up in the club's first game of the season will continue to miss time. To wrap things up for the home side, goalkeeper Jorge Bava will not be available for selection due to the surgery he had on his left elbow. The 36-year-old Uruguayan started the opening eight matches for the club before having his surgery.
New York Red Bulls: The visitors will be missing three players on Wednesday. First up is Gideon Baah. The Ghanaian defender struggled with injuries in his first season in MLS last year, and this season was no different. Baah played in just nine MLS games last season, and this year he hasn't featured. The 26-year-old is recovering from a broken leg.
Another player who is suffering from a long-term injury is Mike Grella. The midfielder has been missing since he had surgery on his left knee in early July. The final player who will be sidelined due to injury for the Red Bulls is Aurelien Collin. The veteran MLS defender is suffering from plantar fasciitis.
If Chicago wins, they'll take on an NYCFC side who they have beaten just once since NYCFC's inaugural season in 2015. NYCFC have the better of the series with three wins while Chicago has just one to go along with three draws. Chicago has not beaten NYCFC since April of 2015 when they beat a 10-man NYCFC side through a David Accam goal. This was not the only time there was a sending off between the two clubs. In fact, NYCFC has received three red cards all-time vs the Chicago club including another one in 2015 when R.J. Allen was sent off.
Earlier in this season, NYCFC received yet another red card vs Chicago. Yangel Herrera received two yellow cards in the opening 12 minutes putting his side in a tough situation. David Villa got the crowd shouting "M-V-P" as he grabbed the opening goal early in the second half and impressively helped his side defensively who were forced to defend a man down for most of the game. Chicago was forced to go home with nothing as NYCFC won the game 2-1.
If the Red Bulls win, they'll take on Supporters' Shield winners, Toronto FC. The two sides met twice in the 2017 regular season. The first match, which took place at Red Bull Arena, saw each club go home with one point as goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Benoit Cheyrou forced the match to end as a draw. However, the second match which took place at BMO Field was much different. Justin Morrow of Toronto FC scored his first career MLS hat-trick in a 4-2 win. The Red Bulls will be hoping for more success against the Canadian club if they can get past Chicago.