Different Feel to Second Meeting for Chicago Fire, NYCFC

Jonathan Campbell

The Chicago Fire and New York City FC have the honor of being the first MLS clubs to face each other for a second time in the early going of the 2016 season. 

But that's not to say that that Sunday's tilt at Yankee Stadium (6 p.m. CT, FOX Sports 1) is destined to be a replay of the seven-goal affair the teams staged at Toyota Park back on March 6. 

Quite the contrary, any number of factors are likely to provide a radically different feel for the early-season rematch, beginning with the home field advantage enjoyed by an NYCFC side that will be playing a fourth straight match in its own park.

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"I think (NYCFC) plays differently when they play at home," said head coach Veljko Paunovic, whose MLS head coaching debut was spoiled by his fellow rookie coaching counterpart, Patrick Vieira. "But the essence of their play is very offensive (attack-minded), they have very good individual quality also in that they know how to play as a team. Especially when they play at home they feel more comfortable. I see a team who wants to win, creates a lot of chances, and are very intuitive, they have very good players.”

The numbers tell a similar story. While NYCFC has yet to match its four-goal opening day outburst against the Fire, the club ranks No. 1 in MLS with 6.5 shots on target per game and No. 2 with 17.0 total shots per match. And even if the final score has not always fallen in their favor, NYCFC has managed to dictate possession in all four of their outings thus far: 

NYCFC Possession
Opponent Possession
Match Result
Chicago Fire
W, 4-3
Toronto FC
T, 2-2
Orlando City SC
L, 1-0
New England Revolution
T, 1-1

Given that three of the above performances have come at home, it's clear that the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Tommy McNamara, David Villa and Federico Bravo have learned to expertly navigate the narrow pitch at Yankee Stadium, something the Fire are prepared to do as well. 

“I think it’s something that we also have to adjust to," Paunovic said. "I believe small-sided games and playing in reduced space helps. But every game is different, not only because of the field but also because many many other reasons. We have to do what we always have been doing and how we’ve prepared so far and adapt to the conditions of the field and the stadium and also of our opponent.”

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NYCFC, meanwhile, must adjust to a Chicago Fire side that also has changed greatly since March 6, especially in terms of poise and confidence along the back line. At the attacking end, a fully fit John Goossens is likely to feature prominently after not being available on opening day, while David Accam -- who recorded a goal and an assist while generally causing one headache after another for NYCFC -- remains questionable after missing the last two matches with a knee sprain. 

Up top, Brazilian striker Gilberto was consistently dangerous in an abbreviated shift vs. NYCFC last month but is still in search of his breakthrough 2016 goal through two-and-a-half games played. 

“We spoke to him and managed that, because we know that strikers have that special relation with the goal and with scoring," Paunovic said of Gilberto, who recorded five goals and two assists in 10 appearances after joining the Fire last August. "So we are managing that, telling him we are confident the goals will come. He has to understand that he has to still keep on working with his teammates and the goals will come, we are sure that the goals will come. Just the right attitude and the right mindset will help him to do that.”

The desire to avenge last month's season-opening defeat and gain an upperhand on a side with which it is level in the standings -- coupled with the quest for the club's first road victory since July 12, 2014 -- provides Paunovic and his squad all the motivation they could need heading into Yankee Stadium.

“We had a meeting about it, we are very excited, for us it’s a great challenge," the Fire head coach said of chasing three points away from home. "In every game on the road we can beat that negative record, the next game is the most important game and that’s the opportunity. 

"We had our honor hurt here, when we wanted to win the presentation for our fans, and we lost the game to New York," he explained. "Our honor is hurt, and we feel like we have something there that we want to solve, like a payback. We know that [NYCFC] sees a great opportunity in this game because they are chasing also a good spot in the standings. So we know that we are going to have a very difficult game, we have a great opponent in front, and also a great coach and coaching staff, an opponent that we respect."