Date: October 18, 2015
Time: 3:00 P.M. EDT
Place: Red Bull Arena, Harrison, New Jersey
TV/Streaming: The Comcast Network, MLS Live
On Sunday, the league-leading New York Red Bulls will play host to their still-not-rivals, the Philadelphia Union. New York will do everything they can to take an insurmountable lead in the Supporters' Shield race, while the Union will try to stop them, presumably. Maybe they'll tank for a draft pick. Who knows!
Supporters' Shield spoilers
As of today, the Red Bulls are even with FC Dallas on total points and wins; their goal differential gives them the momentary edge. Though neither side can win the Supporters' Shield this weekend, one can remove all doubt. With an FC Dallas loss and a Red Bulls win, New York would take a three-point lead. Dallas can close that gap next week, of course, but FCD are unlikely to be the beneficiaries in the case of a tiebreaker. As it stands, the Red Bulls' goal differential stands at +15, while FC Dallas's rests at +11. The aforementioned scenario would give New York a six-goal lead, at the very least, in goal differential heading into the season's final week. Barring a barnstorming Dallas win or a devastating New York loss in their respective finales, the Shield would return to Harrison.
Though FC Dallas are by no means passive here, they could still use some help. Regardless of FCD's result the night before, a Union win or draw on Sunday gives Dallas a realistic chance of lifting the Shield next weekend. More importantly, a point in Harrison would make life significantly more complicated for the Red Bulls.
All of this was written under the assumption that the Red Bulls even care about the Supporters' Shield, which, well, they don't. OK!
A time to evaluate
In his mid-week press conference, Coach Jim Curtin said he'd use the final games of the season to assess the situations of multiple players.
Among them are likely Fernando Aristeguieta and Steven Vitoria, a pair of high-priced loanees who failed to establish themselves in the starting lineup this year. Curtin started both of them in the previous two league games, and he'll likely keep them in the first team for the remainder of the season.
The Andrew Wenger Full Back Experiment shows no signs of slowing down, as it looks like Jim Curtin wants to take an extended look at the Duke alum on the back line. After a nightmarish season on the wing and, later, the bench, Wenger is trying out the one position he hasn't played. Though it's been a work in progress, the move is encouraging both for a player who hasn't been able to figure things out and for a team that has a tortured relationship with full backs.
Eric Ayuk has started the past two games, so I'd expect him to see a good chunk of these final 180 minutes as the technical staff tries to figure out what they have in the young winger.
Home away from home?
In years past, trips up to Harrison always ended the same way. After scaling Red Bull Arena's dizzyingly steep steps, Union fans settled into their perch high above the pitch. Mercifully, RBA's bedpan-shaped roof shields fans from Newark's hideous skyline, allowing traveling supporters to focus on the sea of empty seats and the field, where, up until this year, their team would never win.
Things are different now. On Sunday, the Union will try to claim victory at Red Bull Arena for the third time this season (Though the Union defeated the Red Bulls in penalties to advance in the U.S. Open Cup, that game is officially scored as a draw. I am chalking it up as a win because only one team advanced and also because I want to). Though the two clubs are presently some distance apart in stature, this reversal--the Union refusing to let the Red Bulls stomp all over them--may go a long way toward establishing a rivalry that Red Bulls fans have long denied.
Lineups and Guess
Red Bulls: Robles; Lawrence, Perrinelle, Zubar, Zizzo; McCarty, Felipe; Grella, Kljestan, Sam; B. Wright-Phillips
Union: Blake; Wenger, Vitoria, Marquez, Gaddis; Carroll, Lahoud; Barnetta, Maidana, Ayuk; Aristeguieta
Guess: Red Bulls 2 - 0 Union.