The New York Red Bulls have locked up a playoff spot, but still have positioning to play for. The Columbus Crew need one point to guarantee post season play over their final two games, but would also like to move up as high possible.
The last time these two teams met, the Red Bulls handed Columbus what head coach Gregg Berhalter called the worst loss of the season in dominating 4-1 fashion. The Crew would love to get revenge for that and continue their hot streak over the final portion of the season.
New York has won two in a row, both at home and are looking to close out the home portion of their season on a good note. What should we expect of the Red Bulls? We got in touch wiht Matt Coyne of SB Nation's Once A Metro to figure that out.
Questions for Once A Metro
Massive Report: The Red Bulls are in the playoffs, but currently sit in the fourth seed. With the teams' personnel and coming off a Supporter's Shield winning season last year, are fans content with making it as a wild card? Is there a belief the team can jump to as second in the East?
Once A Metro: Fans are not happy with the team's current performance.
To be fair to the guys in the front office, those same fans would screaming bloody murder if a bunch of new guys were brought in. Sporting Director Andy Roxburgh and Head Coach Mike Petke decided to find tested MLS vets to provide depth. That didn't work, but it was an admirable attempt to stop the roster's ridiculous turnover rate.
That said, the fact fans -- who have put up with a lot of antics from this team -- aren't upset with the team says something. I'm not sure if they're confident the team can get to the two seed, but I am.
MR: Bradley Wright-Phillips scored one goal in seven games, a conversion rate of about 14%, but has 25 in 30 games this year, scoring in 83% of his games. What has been the biggest change from last year to this year? What's your prediction, does he break the MLS scoring record of 27 goals?
OAM: I'm not sure it's fair to compare 2013 Wright-Phillips to 2014 Wright-Phillips. Last season, he joined mid-year, was out of form and out of favor. This season, he actually started on the bench, but once he got on the field he found his scoring touch. I think his performance this year can be explained both by being match fit and some coaching. Thierry Henry is one hell of a mentor to have and Petke has a knack for reclamation projects.
As far as the record, I think Wright-Phillips ties it. He's cooled off a bit, but I don't think two in two is asking too much. Be warned, though, the guy can score in bunches.
MR: If this is Thierry Henry's last year, and potentially his last home game, what has he meant to the club since joining in 2010? Where does he rank all time on the Red Bulls' list?
OAM: He's got to be the best ever. I haven't seen anyone else in MLS who can impose himself on the game the way Henry can. I've seen games when he's created something out of nothing, I've seen games where teams didn't respect him the way he should and he tore them to shreds, I've seen games where teams threw their entire defense at him and he found a way to ricochet the ball off teammates and into the goal. I'm in awe of him whenever I see him play.
The shame of all this is that we have only one trophy to show for it. Henry, to me, is the best player to ever grace an MLS field, and the Red Bulls' dysfunction ruined his chances at winning a bunch of trophies.
Questions for Massive Report
Once A Metro: When your team struggles through most of the season, you tend to get myopic toward the end, when you need those wins to get into the playoffs. It looks like the Crew have been playing well. Would you agree?
Massive Report: They certainly have been playing well recently and the credit goes to head coach Gregg Berhalter. No matter what occurred this season, good or bad, he has preached stay the course. Finally, over the last two months, the team has turned possession soccer into goals which resulted in wins. They found a relatively consistent lineup that let's them best utilize their skill players and guys like Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram have taken the offensive pressure off Federico Higuain. Criticism of Berhalter and complaints regarding a lack of a true striker have gone silent.
The team has become fun to watch and the results are coming.
OAM: Looking forward, the Crew aren't a lock for the playoffs, but they're practically in. Sorry if it feels like I'm jinxing you, but at least Sports Club Stats agrees, giving the Crew a 99% chance of getting in (Link: http://www.sportsclubstats.com/USA/MLS.html). Supposing they get in (and the Red Bulls already are), how far do you think the Crew can go? Personally, I'm not particularly scared of anyone in the East.
MR: Columbus could certainly make a run if they get in, especially if they avoid playing the wild card game on the road (or can move up enough to avoid playing it at all). Although they don't have wins against everyone, the Black and Gold played well against each team in the Eastern Conference. They are currently playing some of their best soccer of the season right now and we've seen what teams that get hot at the right time can do in MLS (see Real Salt Lake in 2009 and the Colorado Rapids in 2010, both beat the Crew in the early rounds of the playoffs).
OAM: I'm disappointed to see White Run DMC go, but the logo that's replacing it is great. I know there was a massive campaign behind #NewCrew. Has that excitement spilled over into the general populace?
MR: Yes. The organization held a reveal party at a local concert venue and the place was packed. When the new badge was displayed for the first time and explained, the crowd went nuts. People are clamoring to get their hands on the new apparel and are excited to see it on field next year.
In general there is a sense of fresh air that began with new owner Anthony Precourt purchasing the club last summer. With Berhalter bringing some new blood into the club, the rebrand now official, and the first playoff appearance since 2011 nearly secured, fans in Columbus are excited about this team and its direction.