After an up-and-down season that saw frustrating scoring droughts and dropped points, the New York Red Bulls are a few goals away from clinching their their third Eastern Conference regular season title in four years, and second in a row under Jesse Marsch.
The last game the Red Bulls have to play before they begin their playoff run is the third and final regular season game against the Philadelphia Union. The Union - and striker Chris Pontius in particular - have been a nightmare for the Red Bulls to deal with this year, especially at the stadium in Chester.
Philadelphia have all but clinched a playoff spot. Even with a loss and a New England Revolution win, the Union would still be a near-lock to secure the No. 6 seed based on goal difference. The Union may try to rest some of their superstars in preparation for a knockout-round bout on the road, but will still be a tough team to beat given their talent.
A draw would benefit both teams, and it would be surprising to see either team going all-out to get the three points in this one.
Here is the New York Red Bulls' predicted XI at Philadelphia Union:
GK Luis Robles
DF Kemar Lawrence
DF Damien Perrinelle - Aurelien Collin needs rest for the playoffs (and to avoid more yellow card accumulation).
DF Ronald Zubar - The Red Bulls defender made his return from injury in the second half against Columbus and should be good to start on Sunday.
DF Chris Duvall
MF Dax McCarty
MF Sean Davis - Felipe might be moved up in order to give Sacha Kljestan some rest, leaving Davis to work alongside Dax.
MF Mike Grella
MF Felipe - Kljestan needs to be preserved for the games that matter, and Felipe always performs well as the backup 10.
MF Alex Muyl
FW Omer Damari - Jesse Marsch has stated that Damari will be a bigger part of the playoffs. Sunday would be as good a day as any to give Damari a tune-up performance in a game with little consequence.
We should expect eyes to be kept on the scoreboard for NYC FC vs Columbus Crew, as NYC striker David Villa only needs two goals (or one goal and several assists) to overtake Bradley Wright-Phillips for the MLS Golden Boot. Given how easily Columbus have been giving up goals of late, there's a strong chance Villa could get what he needs to pull ahead of BWP today.
What do you think?