Even from the No. 1 overall seed, the New York Red Bulls were always going to have an uphill climb to advance through the MLS Cup Playoffs. On Sunday the playoff run begins at Saputo Stadium with a road match against Eastern Conference No. 5 seed Montreal Impact.
While the Montreal Impact may have been the preferred opponent for the Red Bulls two weeks ago, it's hard to feel super confident after seeing how they left DC United absolutely shell-shocked with a 4-2 clobbering in the knockout round.
Didier Drogba was watching from the stands as star attackers Matteo Mancosu and Ignacio Piatti took over the game and made quick work of one of the most prolific scoring teams of the past two months - on the road no less - becoming only the third road team in MLS Cup history to win in the knockout round. Suffice it to say, they can perform just fine without the Chelsea legend.
It has been four years since the Red Bulls won a game in Montreal, and they will sorely need a victory on Sunday if they want to return to Red Bull Arena with their confidence intact.
That's not to say that the Red Bulls aren't up to the challenge. They are a much different team from the one that went to Saputo Stadium in the second game of the season and lost 0-3. They are healthy with Ronald Zubar, Omer Damari and Daniel Royer all healed from their injuries, and are feeling confident after winning their last 4 games.
Here is the New York Red Bulls' predicted XI at Montreal Impact:
GK Luis Robles
DF Kemar Lawrence
DF Aurelien Collin
DF Ronald Zubar - While Damien Perrinelle has done a fine job in relief of Zubar, Jesse Marsch will have his best possible defensive squad on the field to start the game against Montreal.
DF Chris Duvall
MF Dax McCarty
MF Felipe - The Brazilian gets a golden opportunity to get the start against the team that let him go in 2015.
MF Mike Grella - Though the return of Daniel Royer from injury might result in some minutes for the Austrian throughout the Conference Semi-Finals, Grella has shown enough good form of late to justify the continued starts.
MF Sacha Kljestan
MF Alex Muyl - After several months of frustrating near-misses, Muyl has displayed solid form over the last two games, notching a goal and an assist in wins over Columbus and Philadelphia.
FW Bradley Wright-Phillips
Both the Red Bulls and Impact have significant attacking options on their benches who can change the game with a start or a subbing. Between Damari, Drogba, Royer and Shipp, both teams could prove just as dangerous with their backups as their starts.
What do you think?