Brotherly Game) New York has all but clinched the Eastern Conference. Do you expect Jesse Marsch to use the match against the Philadelphia Union as a chance to fine tune the Red Bulls or do you think he'll look to rest some guys and give bench options a run-out?
Austin Fido, Once A Metro) Jesse Marsch has suggested there may be a little minute-managing for key players, and hinted that we may see one or two less-familiar faces in the starting lineup. I'd guess we might see maybe Sean Davis in for Dax or Felipe; possibly a start for Sal Zizzo over Chris Duvall, or Ronald Zubar getting his first start since his last injury.
But Marsch has also been talking about the importance of piling up the points and optimizing the team's shot at stretching home advantage all the way to the last game of the year - if it can get that far.
So, not for the first time when interpreting Marsch's comments, I'm not really sure what to expect. If I were the coach, I wouldn't be resting starters right now. The team just had a long break for the international window, and didn't have the best start against Columbus last week...or the best finish. And that was a game that meant a lot to us, at home, against a team that had nothing of consequence to play for.
This is the last and only dress rehearsal the starters will get before the big show: they need to be out there. But if I were the coach, the team wouldn't be in the playoffs at all.
Still, I think Jesse will put out what he thinks of as his best team in the name of ensuring they are ready to come out of the blocks fast in the first playoff game. But he may be managing the game more from a fitness and sharpness perspective than with the usual expected focus on the result. His substitutions are often curious, and this time around they might be more puzzling than usual.
tBG) Where does this year's Red Bull team rank against some of the all-time NYRB teams of years past?
OAM) From the perspective of our history, this is one of the best teams the club has ever seen. Robles is the club's most successful 'keeper ever. McCarty is going to be RBNY's (and MetroStars') all-time appearances leader very soon. BWP is the most productive scorer we've ever seen in any of the colors this team has dressed in. Sacha just tied the club's all-time, single-season assists record. There are RBNY legends on this team, whose achievements ought to stand for quite some time. So from that angle: best RBNY team ever, I'd suggest.
But it's also a team that can't be trusted with any lead short of 7-0, and a team that has ended up sort of back where it started. The last time we had a guy with 19 assists and another with more than 20 goals was 2014, and that was supposed to be the end of top-heavy, star-driven squads in Harrison. But here we are again.
This is surely one of the best teams in RBNY history. But I'm not sure it's as good as it was last year, and I can't say how it would fare against the team that finished 2014, or the Shield winners of 2013, or the Mathis-led 2000 squad. I'll call it a top-five all-time Metro squad, with the potential to be top-three if it can win a trophy this year.
tBG) Why is this the year that the New York Red Bulls finally hoist the MLS Cup?
OAM) Because it's the year they make MLS Cup a long-service award?
This is RBNY's year because the team has got comfortable with itself. It started the season trying to better mimic the tactics of its European Red Bull brethren, but that doesn't suit the players it has come to rely on. Once that lesson was learned, and certain limitations accepted, the team - very simplistically - plays its game for as long as its legs will allow, and hopes for the best.
Since July, that has been pretty effective, though we have had many nerve-wracking finishes. But I think any team in the league right now would trade places with us, even FCD and Colorado - since one has lost its two best players over the course of this season and the other has a pedestrian scoring record.
We're good enough to win any game we're asked to play in MLS. We can handle any side in the league for 75 minutes. And any side in the league can run all over us for the last 15. We're built to win games 3-2, which is what we've done the last couple of games. If we can keep doing that, we're golden.
Injuries: Gideon Baah and Connor Lade are out for the season. Justin Bilyeu is recovering from concussion. Daniel Royer is said to be out until the playoffs. Ronald Zubar and Omer Damari are the subject of twice-weekly reports about their respective recoveries that will one day have evidence to support them.
Predicted Lineup: Luis Robles; Kemar Lawrence, Damien Perrinelle, Aurelien Collin, Chris Duvall; Dax McCarty, Felipe; Mike Grella, Sacha Kljestan, Alex Muyl; Bradley Wright-Phillips