Luke will have to use The Force to get New York into the playoffs. PLAYOFFS?! etc.
Today is very much the day. The New York Red Bulls play the evil Philadelphia Union tonight at Red Bull Arena in a match that could well decide whether we see any more Red Bulls football in 2011. As I'm writing this, Portland and the swamp denizens of DC United have just tied a crazy game 1-1, which means that the Red Bulls can win or draw tonight in order to secure a playoff spot.
As this is just the fifth-ever meeting between New York and Philadelphia, we don't have much to go on in terms of past results. New York picked up a pair of 2-1 home wins over the Union last April (one in MLS play and the other in the US Open Cup), but Philly has won the last two meetings, both of which have been at PPL Park. The only inkling of a trend that we can see from the record in these games is that they tend to be tight, well-contested games -- so far all four have been decided by one goal.
Both New York and the Union have picked up their game recently, with the Union recovering from a poor stretch in late August and early September to go unbeaten in their last eight games. Sebastien Le Toux has scored ten of his eleven goals since August 13, but the Union defense has kept just two clean sheets since mid-July.
The Red Bulls team news is not exactly news: Thierry Henry misses out due to a ridiculous red card from one of MLS's worst referees, Kevin Stott, and the usual suspects (Sacir Hort, Mike Jones, Chris Albright) are injured. Curiously, Joel Lindpere, Luke Rodgers, Roy Miller, and Dane Richards will be suspended for a game if they pick up a yellow tonight -- but! that one-game suspension would be served at the beginning of next season, not during the playoffs.
After the ridiculous, topsy-turvy season we've had so far, Red Bulls fans should expect nothing less than complete insanity tonight, be it from Backe or the players on the pitch. Dane Richards, as Matt Coyne mentioned in his pre-game notes last night, will start up front next to Luke Rodgers, which probably means that Mehdi "The Mediocre Moroccan" Ballouchy (credit to our own Matt Conroy for that) will get the nod on the right side of midfield. Backe's Red Bulls sides -- both this season and last -- haven't done well in crunch games and against quality opponents, and it's hard to be optimistic about New York's chances, particularly considering the absence of Henry.
Kickoff is at 8 PM, and you can watch the game on ESPN2, ESPN Deportes, and WatchESPN.com. As always, we'll have a match thread here for the usual hair-tearing, eye-gouging, and general verbal (and non-verbal) self-flagellation. Onwards to....something.