Red Bulls Preparing for an Intense Match Against Winless but Dangerous Chicago Fire (Apr. 7, 5:00 PM, on ESPN2)

The Fire may have a winless record, but Petke and company will not take their opponent lightly

The Red Bulls will look to establish a strong presence on the road and reverse the early-season misfortunes when they visit the Chicago Fire this Sunday for a 5:00 PM kick off on ESPN2.

Chicago, winless in its first four, was referred to as a “sleeping giant” by Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke during a conference call with the media earlier this week. Despite the team’s 0-3-1 start, the possible returns of Logan Pause and Arne Friedrich from the injury list, in addition to Joel Lindpere’s return from international duty, adds an interesting and dangerous dynamic to the Fire.

“That’s one of the most dangerous, maybe the most dangerous team to play, especially early in the season,” Petke said. “I’ve said it before and I firmly stand behind it, that this is a team of quality in Chicago that I believe you can almost compare to us a little bit in [how] we didn’t get the results we wanted the first four games, so they’re a very dangerous team with a lot of quality…”

Match Preview: NY at CHI

Clearly Chicago is not a team that Petke is taking lightly, and with good reason. Since Toyota Park’s 2006 inception, the Red Bulls have yet to win a match on the road against the Fire, posting an all-time road record of 0-6-3 at the Bridgeview, Illinois venue. New York is hoping this is the weekend when they turn that trend around in what will be a must-watch, end-to-end clash on the pitch.

“The quality that they have, especially on the flanks with [Patrick] Nyako and [Chris] Rolfe, with their speed, their pace, their ability to go one-on-one, [Sherjill] MacDonald up front – he’s a strong presence – and I think that direct play from the back makes it almost into a battle,” Petke said. “But they also have the quality when the ball does get settled down to work the ball through.”

The offensive side of the ball is an area in which Chicago has struggled in the early stages of the season, having scored only one goal courtesy of Patrick Nyarko in a 4-1 loss to Chivas USA on Mar. 24. You can chalk it up to bad bounces, good saves from the opposition, or a front line that made the most of missing personnel. Either way you look at it, the Fire team that was held scoreless in the first three regular season matches may not be the same team the Red Bulls see Sunday.

“They’re a much better team than their record shows,” said defender Heath Pearce. “They’ve got a lot of quality players, they’ve got a lot of experience there, so we expect them to come out flying. They’re at home, they haven’t got the results they wanted, so we expect it to be a difficult day. But we believe in what we’re doing. We believe that if we implement our game plan we should be able to get a result.”

The Red Bulls take on the Fire Sunday at 5:00 PM on ESPN2. Be sure to join us for the official Red Bulls viewing party at Mulligan’s in Hoboken, where you can enjoy great drink specials, win some team prizes, and cheer on your Red Bulls in this week’s home away from home.

New York returns to Red Bull Arena on Apr. 17 when they take on Sporting Kansas City. Get your tickets now at Red Bulls Ticket Central, or by calling 877.RB.SOCCER.