CHICAGO (Sept. 29, 2023) – Chicago Fire FC II will make its MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs debut against New York Red Bulls FC on Sunday, October 1 at MSU Soccer Park in Montclair, New Jersey. Following a successful 2023 campaign, the Fire will look to avenge its last defeat in regulation against a talented Red Bulls side featuring MLS NEXT Pro Best XI selection Ibrahim Kasule. First kick is slated for 1 p.m. CT and the match can be streamed for free on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.
Chicago (9-8-11-5) begins its first MLS NEXT Pro Playoff run as the sixth seed in a competitive Eastern Conference. To get to the playoffs, the Fire first had to earn a point in a highly-contested road match at Huntsville City FC on MLS NEXT Pro Decision Day last Sunday afternoon.
The hosts struck first in the seventh minute, but Omari Glasgow equalized only three minutes later, assisted by Billy Hency. The Guyanese striker would return the favor in the 25th minute on a cross that Hency would head in for the lead. Although Huntsville answered back, the Fire tenaciously held on for over 50 minutes to clinch a point and a place in the Playoffs. The ensuing penalty shootout was capped off with two consecutive saves by Mihajlo Mišković, giving the team a crucial extra point over seventh place Philadelphia Union II.
New York Red Bulls II (14-8-6-3) previously clinched a spot in the Playoffs at home on August 27 – a 5-4 win against the Fire. With a place secured, the Red Bulls hosted the Union in a must-win match for the visitors on Decision Day. Philadelphia jumped out to a 2-0 halftime lead before the hosts answered back, but a stoppage time goal gave them a 3-1 win to clinch a postseason berth just one spot below the Fire.
The Red Bulls earned an early pass into the MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs on the backs of league Best XI player Kasule and teammates Frank Ssebufu and Wikelman Carmona, who recorded a combined 31 goals and 11 assists in 2023. The trio was aided by one of the best defenses in the league, allowing only 36 goals all year long – good for third best in the league (tied with San Jose and Tacoma) and second in the Eastern Conference, behind only top-seeded Crown Legacy FC.
KEYS TO THE MATCH
The Team No One Wanted. The second season of MLS NEXT Pro had many firsts, including a new pick-your-team opponent structure in the first two rounds of the Playoffs. With a staggering 66 points, Crown Legacy FC earned a first-round bye, leaving second-place New England Revolution II and third-place Columbus Crew 2 their choice of opponents for the first round. While New England picked the lowest seeded team in Philadelphia, the Columbus Crew curiously picked Orlando City B – the fifth seed – to open its postseason. This left New York no choice but to host the Fire, which will use this as bulletin board material to motivate an already confident squad seeking their first October win.
Billy Billy! With a wealth of Homegrown players and returning starters, it is no surprise few had Billy Hency pegged as Chicago’s Golden Boot winner at the start of the year. But the 67th overall pick in the 2023 MLS SuperDraft left no doubt about his value last Sunday, capping off a successful rookie year with possibly the most important goal in Fire II history to date – a clean, one-time finish that would be enough to earn the team’s first postseason spot. The Fire will look to his finishing and link-up play in the final third to upset the Red Bulls on the road on Sunday.
Road Warriors. The Decision Day draw at Huntsville City FC gave Chicago a 5-5-4 record on the road in 2023 – a definite improvement over a 3-7-2 mark in 2022. The team’s form away from home was on display late, when the Fire only lost a single road match in the last two calendar months of the season. More importantly, three of the team’s five wins as visitors came against playoff teams like Columbus, Philadelphia and Sporting KC II. The Fire will hope to continue this strong form at a venue where they dropped four goals on one of the best defenses in the league.
HOW TO WATCH
Chicago Fire FC II will make its MLS NEXT Pro Playoffs debut against New York Red Bulls FC on Sunday, October 1 at MSU Soccer Park in Montclair, New Jersey. First kick is slated for 1 p.m. CT and the match can be streamed for free on MLS Season Pass on Apple TV.