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Preview: New York Red Bulls vs. Columbus Crew SC

The Red Bulls try to bounce back from their worst loss of the season against Columbus.

Steve Dykes-USA TODAY Sports

Things did not go as planned when the New York Red Bulls returned to Red Bull Arena to face Orlando City SC.

Cyle Larin netted a hat-trick for the visitors, as Kaka bagged a pair of assists in what turned into a 5-2 loss for the Red Bulls.  The result meant that RBNY would lose one of its games in hand without adding to points in hand, a heavy blow to its Supporters' Shield hopes. Luckily enough, there is another chance to top the league table this weekend against Columbus Crew.

The Red Bulls are currently tied on points with Vancouver on 48 points but have one game in hand. Both teams trail the Los Angeles Galaxy by two points - but the Red Bulls also have two games in hand on the Galaxy. Needless to say, a win against Columbus would put New York in control of this Supporters' Shield race.

RBNY will have to get the result without the help of Chris Duvall, Roy Miller, Anatole Abang, and Matt Miazga. While the first two have been injured for quite some time, Abang recently injured his hamstring in training. Miazga is away on international duty with the USA U-23 team for CONCACAF Olympic qualifying. He's also suspended, as a result of yellow card accumulation and his red card last week, so even if he was with the team, he would not have been able to play.

This opens up an opportunity for either Ronald Zubar or Karl Ouimette to fill in alongside Damien Perrinelle. The latter is coming off of a heroic performance with RBNY II, in which he scored two goals in extra time to give the team its first USL Playoff win. Despite this, Zubar is Jesse Marsch's preferred option, based on recent remarks.

"Zubar will become very important. Ronald's fully healthy so it's time for him to show everything he's about."

The Red Bulls have now lost three of their last six games, whereas the Crew has only lost two of its last six. Perhaps more interesting, potentially, is the fact that five of the Crew's last six games have been decided by only one goal. Columbus is third in goals scored this year with 50, but that means less when the defense concedes 51.

Having allowed 51 goals so far this season, Columbus won't be able to rely on its defense if the game ends up being close again. Instead, they'll be leaning on Kei Kamara, who is currently leading the league in goals with 22. Kamara may have a chance to thrive, as the Red Bulls have hardly played Perrinelle and Zubar together during the course of the season.

Players to Watch

While Sacha Kljestan has cooled down in terms of stuffing the stat sheet, he still manages to get the little things done. He's usually all over the field, running from box to box. The Red Bulls are going to need a dominant performance from their workhorse if they want to win the midfield battle. As for Columbus, they're going to be playing through Ethan Finlay a lot. Finlay has notched 9 goals along with 13 assists this season. While crossing to Kei Kamara would be an ideal situation for most MLS midfielders, Finlay does so much more than lob passes into the box. He spreads the field well and is confident on the ball, making him the Crew's most dangerous player behind only Kamara.

Prediction

Both teams like to have a lot of the ball, but the Crew are at a severe disadvantage without it. They can't really defend all that well. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, have one of the league's better defenses. Nonetheless, this Columbus front line will cause plenty of problems for Ronald Zubar and Damien Perrinelle. It'll be close, but the Red Bulls' defense gives them the edge. Score: 2-1, Red Bulls.