New stars collide as Fire host Red Bulls

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Given the current standings and the rivalry between the cities, a FireRedBulls match was always going to be a big one for supporters of the two teams. However, when the two teams play on Sunday at Toyota Park, there will be soccer fans from across the country- and beyond- tuning in.

These people won’t be watching just because the Fire can make up some crucial ground in the Eastern Conference, but because of the two new Designated Players– a.k.a. international stars- that each team will be fielding. (With New York’s veteran DP Juan Pablo Angel included, it will be the first time in MLS history that five Designated Players will be on the field together.) With two of the newly-arrived four having starred for Mexico and three having delivered illustrious club careers in Europe, fans from all over will be curious to see how each adapts and contributes to his new team- and new league.
By: Sam Svoboda

Below is a look at all four players. The match kicks off in Bridgeview at 8:00 pm on Sunday.

Thierry Henry: Just a few years back, the man who is now most famous for a handball was the best striker in the world. (I am certainly biased, but I welcome any argument against this). In the early-mid 2000s, the Frenchman was routinely scoring 30+ goals a year for Arsenal, and tallied as many as 24 assists in one of those years too. While he is no longer the player he was in his 20s, Henry still has some of his famous “va-va-voom” remaining at age 32 and notched two assists in his first match with the Red Bulls last week. And if you’re still not excited about Henry, all you need to do is type his name into YouTube, sit back and enjoy.

Freddie Ljungberg: Ljungberg actually began playing in MLS last year, but was traded from Seattle to the Fire last week. The midfielder was never quite at the level of his former teammate Henry, but was still an integral part of last decade’s dominant Arsenal teams- he even received a  Premier League Player of the Year award in 2002. Of course, the Ljungberg that Fire fans will see is not the same as the young winger who tortured EPL defenses, and he did not get many touches in his substitute appearance with the Fire last week. Still, the Swede is one of the most decorated players ever to play for the Fire, and it will be interesting to see what he can do in his first home match (and likely first start) with the team.

Nery Castillo: In 2007, Castillo looked to be a rising star after some great performances with Greece’s Olympiacos and the Mexico national team. Now, he is looking to reignite his career after being loaned to the Fire from Ukranian club Shakhtar Donetsk. At age 26, he is certainly not past his prime, but with only 26 first team appearances in the last three seasons, he needs an extended run of first team soccer. As for the Fire, they will be happy if his career in Chicago is anywhere near as good as that of the team’s last Mexican Designated Player, Cuauhtemoc Blanco.

Rafael Marquez: And finally we come to the MLS’ Designated Player. Marquez was announced as New York’s third DP this week, following Angel (who has basically pulled a Chris Bosh, going from star of his team to unquestionable third banana in just a few weeks) and Henry. Marquez and Henry were teammates at Barcelona, where Marquez enjoyed a stellar 7-year career, and he has also teamed with Castillo on the Mexican national team, where he is currently the captain. While it is unclear how dominant Marquez will be in MLS, what is clear is that he will likely be the most polarizing player in the league. Adored by Mexican fans, he is one of the most loathed players by US national team supporters- let’s just say his 2002 headbutt on Cobi Jones and his studs-up aerial challenge on Tim Howard last year did nothing to calm to US-Mexico rivalry. Look for him to get some of the loudest boos, and cheers, from MLS crowds.

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