Despite falling to Toronto FC 2-1, things still look great for the New York Red Bulls.
Not only can they clinch first place in the Eastern Conference with a win or a tie against the Philadelphia Union, but they can also clinch the Supporters' Shield if other results go their way. A Red Bulls' win and a Vancouver Whitecaps' victory over FC Dallas would give the Red Bulls their second Supporters' Shield in club history.
But first things first. The Red Bulls are taking on the Union this Sunday at Red Bull Arena. Leading the Eastern Conference in home wins with 11, the Red Bulls have only lost three matches at home all season. One of those losses, however, was at the hands of Philly.
The Red Bulls are going to be without Matt Miazga, Anatole Abang, Chris Duvall, and Roy Miller. Filling in for Miazga again will be Ronald Zubar, while Sal Zizzo could continue to start as the right back. Outside of those changes, Lloyd Sam could potentially take his starting spot back from Gonzalo Veron, as the veteran was rested on Wednesday.
While the postseason is starting to shape up nicely for the Red Bulls, this season has not gone Philadelphia's way. The Union are currently languishing in 9th place in the East after having been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs thanks to a 3-1 loss against Toronto. They'll be playing for pride on Sunday and getting points against a one of the league's best teams could go a long way towards boosting morale around the club.
Philly's defense has been pretty porous this season. With a goal difference of -11, Philly is last in the league by that metric, while the Red Bulls have the highest with +15. The matchup shapes up decently for the Red Bulls, but the Red Bulls have been prone to falling for trap games this season (see: Chicago Fire).
Players to Watch
Sacha Kljestan has notched 16 points in his last 17 games, but he was not able to put an assist or a goal on the board in Wednesday's loss. He's only been shut out in two consecutive games on one occasion since his hot streak began in June at Yankee Stadium versus New York City FC. If he gets going, the Red Bulls will be able to clinch the Eastern Conference with ease. Andre Blake, on the other hand, will be the one trying to stop New York from scoring. The former first overall pick in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft is Philly's solution to their nightmarish goalkeeper situation. He'll have his hands full with Bradley Wright-Phillips trying to find the back of the net, but if he can make enough saves, he could keep the Union in the game.
The Red Bulls have managed to turn their arena into a veritable fortress. With only 3 home losses on the season, it seems highly unlikely that a struggling Union team with a leaky defense will march into Red Bull Arena and leave with 3 points. That being said, they have done it before and with no pressure to win, Philly could have a less mentally taxing night. Prediction: Red Bulls win, 2-1.