Clinching first place and home field advantage in the playoffs always feels good. Clinching the Supporters' Shield feels even better.
The New York Red Bulls have a chance to clinch the Supporters' Shield this Sunday, as they head to Illinois to take on the Chicago Fire. It's all come down to the final match day, with the Red Bulls and FC Dallas tied on 57 points. The Red Bulls currently lead Dallas thanks to their league best goal difference of 18. Dallas has a difference of 12.
If the Red Bulls win by only 1 goal, Dallas would have to win AND do so by 8 goals to finish in first. The odds of that happening are very slim, so a win against Chicago virtually guarantees Jesse Marsch's side the Supporters' Shield. A tie along with a Dallas loss or tie would also clinch the Supporters' Shield. The Red Bulls could even clinch the Shield with a loss, provided that they don't lose by 8 or more goals and Dallas also loses.
The team standing in their way doesn't look too formidable at first glance. Currently residing at the bottom of the table, the Chicago Fire have not had a good season. One of the earliest teams eliminated from playoff contention, the Fire have nothing to play for but pride. Even with a win, they would still finish the year in last.
Despite their struggles, Chicago has consistently given the Red Bulls a hard time this season. They ended the Red Bulls' six-game unbeaten run back on August 26th, beating them 3-2 in what was easily one of the worst games of the season for New York. Even when they lost to the Red Bulls, they took a 2-0 lead in the first half before losing 3-2. Couple that with the fact that the Red Bulls haven't won in Chicago since 2005 and we have ourselves a match, ladies and gentleman.
The Red Bulls will be rejoined by Matt Miazga, who should slide into the starting lineup right away as Ronald Zubar's replacement. Having the back line at full strength bodes well for the Red Bulls, who did not take Damien Perrinelle with them the last time they traveled and lost to Chicago.
Players to Watch
David Accam gave Connor Lade plenty of problems the first time they met, and seemed to be burning the right back again in their second encounter. While Lade was able to make adjustments and has looked better since those matchups, the speedy Ghanaian will pose the biggest threat to the Red Bulls' supporters' shield hopes.
The Red Bulls will be relying on none other than Bradley Wright-Phillips. His 4 goals in 5 career games against Chicago point to him likely notching another this Sunday. Going up against a less than stellar back line, he'll have plenty of opportunities to find the back of the net.
The Red Bulls played like a team on a mission against the Philadelphia Union, so expect to see more of the same tomorrow. They'll be treating the match like a final. Chicago, on the other hand, have nothing to lose and that could provide for a dangerous match up. In the end, the Red Bulls' quality and consistency will make the difference and overwhelm a team that already has their eyes set on next year. Score: 2-1, Red Bulls.