Date: October 23rd, 2016
Time: 4:00 PM ET
Venue: Talen Energy Stadium
Officials: REF: Kevin Stot, AR1: Kermit Quisenberry, AR2: Craig Lowry, 4TH: Sorin Stoica
Television: The Comcast Network, MSG
Streaming: MLS Live
The final day of the regular season will be little more than a formality for both the Union and the Red Bulls. As long as neither the New England Revolution nor New York City FC break the MLS record for largest margin of victory in a single game, the home side will officially secure a place in the playoffs, and the away side will finish atop the Eastern Conference for the second straight year. While the Red Bulls’ fate is all but set in stone, the Union can still climb into fifth place provided that they win and the Montreal Impact lose to New England. A sixth-place finish would see the Union travel to either Toronto or New York City for their Knockout Round match, while a fifth-place finish ensures that the Union will take on D.C. United.
What to expect from the Red Bulls
With the Supporters’ Shield out of reach and a Knockout-Round bye assured, Red Bulls Head Coach Jesse Marsch might opt to rest his starters before their next match on October 30th. If Marsch does decide to go that route, he may be somewhat limited in who he can start, as a number of the Red Bulls’ younger players will be back in Harrison to contest the USL Cup Final. If Marsch would rather give his starters another run out before the playoffs, we’re fairly sure of the team he’ll field at this point. The eleven of Luis Robles, Kemar Lawrence, Damien Perrinelle, Aurelien Collin, Chris Duvall, Dax McCarty, Felipe, Mike Grella, Sacha Kljestan, Alex Muyl, and Bradley Wright-Phillips have started the Red Bulls’ last two games, including their 3-2 win over the Union just three weeks ago. With no injuries or suspensions to report, Marsch can start this unit once again on Sunday.
While the Red Bulls are locked into place, there are personal accolades on the line for more than one of their players. Bradley Wright-Phillips currently holds a one-goal lead over David Villa in the Golden Boot race, and he’ll certainly want another ninety minutes to consolidate his position. The Boot would be BWP’s second, making him the fifth player (Preki, Taylor Twellman, Jeff Cunningham, Chris Wondolowski) to win multiple MLS scoring titles. Meanwhile, Sacha Kljestan needs one more assist to become only the second player in MLS history to record at least 20 assists in a season. Carlos Valderrama was the first player to accomplish the feat back in 2000, when he assisted on 26 of the Tampa Bay Mutiny’s 62 goals.
What to expect from the Union
While the Union are in a position somewhat similar to New York’s, Head Coach Jim Curtin has a few more variables to weigh when he selects his lineup on Sunday. First, the Union can still move up to fifth place. While the Union may not want to rise up the table and force an early matchup with the hottest team in MLS, Curtin is not in much of a position to trot out the benchwarmers. The Union are winless in their last six, and no matter what they do on Sunday, they will be the least in-form team to enter the Eastern Conference playoffs. This is the Union’s last chance to gain a bit of momentum—at home, against the club’s biggest rival—before going on the road for their first playoff match on either Wednesday or Thursday.
Of course, the timing of the knockout round also complicates things. If Curtin does start his first team on Sunday, he’ll do so knowing that their next game will take place away from home in three to four days. Curtin will be weighing the possibility of momentum and pressure from fans against rest, and, knowing how he rotated his squad during busy stretches this season (he didn’t), it is unlikely that he chooses rest.
That being said, don’t expect to see massive lineup changes. Curtin conceded earlier this week that rest is being considered for a few guys. Among them are Josh Yaro and CJ Sapong, both of whom are going through the concussion protocol. Chris Pontius and Tranquillo Barnetta were also limited in practice on Wednesday. As has been the case for a few weeks, Maurice Edu’s status is up in the air, but he doesn’t look likely to reenter the starting lineup this late into the year. If Sapong, Pontius, and Barnetta all miss out on Sunday, Fabian Herbers, Leo Fernandes, and Roland Alberg, respectively, seem likely to slide into their spots. If Herbers, and not Charlie Davies, starts up top in Sapong’s stead, Ilsinho would return to the right wing. Among the non-injured, Brian Carroll is the most likely to slide to the bench on Sunday. The 35-year-old needs all the rest he can get, and Curtin hasn’t been hesitant to deputize Warren Creavalle in defensive midfield.
What to expect at the end of 90 minutes
The Union are winless in six and the Red Bulls are undefeated in 15. Neither of those streaks will come to an end on Sunday. I’ll go for a 1-1 draw, with Fabian Herbers and Bradley Wright-Phillips scoring the goals.