It is perhaps the biggest game in the history of the New York Red Bulls/MetroStars: the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final. The Red Bulls had to overcome two tough home foes and two road games to get this far but have finally made it to the big dance in the longest running soccer tournament in U.S. history.
In what may go down as the most important coaching decision of his tenure, Jesse Marsch chose to name backup GK Ryan Meara the starter for the Final in light of his solid play in the tournament, during which he has allowed just three goals, won a pk shootout over Philadelphia and kept two clean sheets in four games.
Standing between the Red Bulls and their first ever trophy are Sporting Kansas City, a club whose very founder the tournament is named for. Under the guidance of head coach Peter Vermes, the team has won two U.S. Open Cups and an MLS Cup - so they have the experience to get the job done.
This year the Sporting Kansas City goalpost has been nigh impenetrable, with the team allowing just one goal the entire tournament. Their MLS form has been top notch as well, with the team allowing the fewest goals per game in 2017 - and only a handful at Mercy Park, where the game is set to be played. SKC have not lost at home in over a year, so the Red Bulls will certainly have their work cut out for them.
Here is the RBNY predicted XI for the U.S. Open Cup Final:
GK Ryan Meara - It may be problematic if the Red Bulls are forced into penalty kicks, but Ryan Meara has proven in wins over the Rochester Rhinos, Louisville City FC and Philadelphia Union that he can hold his own in those big spots.
WB Kemar Lawrence - Taxi helped Jamaica win the 2014 Caribbean Cup, and was a key player in the nation's back-to-back CONCACAF Gold Cup runs.
DF Aaron Long - Long anchored the NYRBII defense in their title-winning campaign in 2016 en route to USL Defender of the Year honors.
DF Michael Murillo - While with San Francisco FC, Murillo won the 2015 Copa Panama.
DF Fidel Escobar - The Panama U-20 team won the CONCACAF U-20 title in 2015 with Escobar.
WB Tyler Adams - In last year's USL Cup Adams played as the No. 10, but if not for his efforts as a wingback, the Red Bulls might not have beaten FC Cincinnati at all.
DM Felipe - The last Final the Brazilian appeared in was the second leg of the 2014 Canadian Championship, where he scored the game-winning goal in the 91st minute to secure a win for the Montreal Impact.
AM Sean Davis - Akira! scored his first professional goal in the 2015 U.S. Open Cup against the Atlanta Silverbacks.
AM Sacha Kljestan - In five seasons with Anderlecht, Kljestan won four Belgian Super Cups.
AM Daniel Royer - Having not played at all on Sunday, it's very likely Royer simply isn't ready. But hope springs eternal and if he's 100% for this game Marsch would be a fool not to start him. He helped Ried win the Austrian Cup in 2011.
FW Bradley Wright-Phillips - With just 75 minutes on the field, BWP would pass John Wolyniec for most US Open Cup minutes played by a Red Bulls forward.
There are a lot of factors working against the Red Bulls: history, the officiating staff (Hilario Grajeda as the referee), and of course the team's recent shaky form.
For the Red Bulls to win a championship they are going to have to show a true champion's effort against one of the most dominant teams in the U.S. today.
Anything less simply won't be good enough to take home the trophy.
What do you think?