#DigDown – 2017 Playoffs

#CHIvNY Numbers and Words: Fire host Red Bulls in 2017 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Knockout Round

No. 3 Chicago Fire (16-11-7, 55 pts.) vs. No. 6 New York Red Bulls (14-12-8, 50 pts.)
Wednesday, Oct. 25 • 7:30 p.m. CT
Bridgeview, Ill. • Toyota Park
UniMas, FS1
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<a href="http://stream.uvneng.com/wrtoam-cf"><strong>Univision América 1200 (WRTO)</strong></a>
<strong>Playoff Format</strong>
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Here we are.

On Wednesday night, the third-seeded Men In Red will welcome the Eastern Conference sixth seed New York Red Bulls for a nationally-televised 2017 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Knockout Round contest at Toyota Park (7:30 p.m. CT | UniMas, FS1). The stakes could not be higher as the Red Bulls make their second visit to the Windy City this season, following a 1-1 draw back on Sept. 9. With a spot in the Eastern Conference semifinal on the line, here are a few key facts, faces and figures to keep in mind: 

Key number: 5

The number five sticks out in this matchup for a couple reasons. First and foremost, the Red Bulls earned five road wins in the regular season -- among the best in MLS -- yet picked up 10 road losses, the most of any of the 2017 MLS Cup Playoff teams besides San Jose (12). While their form away from Red Bull Arena has varied, head coach Jesse Marsch's side doesn't pack it in as soon as they leave New Jersey. On the road in the regular season, the Red Bulls owned the league's second best possession number (54.13%), won 904 50/50 duels (MLS' second-most) and had the most fouls committed (252). Whether it pays off for them or not, this is a team that comes out to meet its opponents no matter the location.

Five is also the number of seasons since the Fire last played in (and hosted) an MLS postseason match (2012), and there have additionally been five total goals scored in the two matches played between these teams this season (2-1 to New York on April 29, 1-1 at Toyota Park on Sept. 9).

Matchup to watch: Dax McCarty vs. Sacha Kljestan

With a nod to David Accam vs. New York fullback Tyler Adams along the Fire's left wing, Dax vs. Sacha feels like the most pivotal individual matchup on Wednesday night. The two represented the yin and yang of a stout Red Bull midfield prior to Dax's trade to Chicago this past offseason, but they'll now occupy the same spaces on opposing sides in each team's biggest match of the season. Operating from the attacking midfield, Kljestan wrapped up the regular season as the league's top assist-provider (17) for the second consecutive year. From a holding midfield position, it'll be up to McCarty to disrupt Kljestan's service to Red Bull playmakers in the attacking third and get the ball moving in the other direction.

One Big Question: How will injuries affect Paunovic's starting XI?

Head coach Veljko Paunovic has had the luxury of getting some of his recently injured contingent back into training ahead of Wednesday night's Knockout Round clash, but the fitness level of those players -- Bastian Schweinsteiger, Juninho, and Daniel Johnson -- remains a question mark. Pauno noted earlier this week that he expects them to be available for selection come kickoff. Should any or all of these three remain sidelined, expect the likes of Djordje Mihailovic, Arturo Alvarez, and Drew Conner to continue bolstering the Fire midfield.

Sizing Up The Series

The two sides have previously faced off once in post-season play. The Fire won two of three games against the MetroStars in the semifinal series of the 2000 MLS Cup Playoffs. The Fire hold a 26-17-12 advantage in regular season meetings between the two sides, and a 15-4-9 record in matches played at home.

Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch joined the Fire prior to the start of the inaugural season in 1998. Marsch appeared in 200 regular season matches for the Men in Red and helped the side to the 1998 MLS Cup, 1998, 2000 and 2003 U.S. Open Cup championships before departing in 2005.

Red Bulls Sporting Director Denis Hamlett joined the Fire coaching staff prior to the start of the 1998 season. He was named first assistant in 2001 and served as the interim head coach briefly in 2007 before being named head coach in 2008. Hamlett held the post for two seasons.

Red Bulls assistant coach Chris Armas was acquired by the Fire prior to the 1998 season. Through ten seasons with the Men in Red, Armas led the Fire to 1998 MLS Cup and was a part of all four of the Fire's Open Cup titles (1998, 2000, 2003, 2006). Armas retired in 2007 having tallied 9 goals and 42 assists for the Fire in 214 games over the course of ten seasons. In 2008, Armas served as an assistant coach for the Fire and Oct. 22, 2009, was inducted into the Ring of Fire.

Quote of the Week:

That's Accam on the home field advantage he's hoping for come Wednesday night. Get your tickets for the first home playoff match at Toyota Park since 2012 right here.

Valspar Matchday Primer: