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Crossing the Touchline: Talking Columbus Crew SC at New York Red Bulls with Jason Iapicco of Once a Metro

It's a big Eastern Conference clash and we preview it with someone who knows a lot about Crew SC's Saturday opponent.

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Late in the year, it's good to be a part of a top of the table clash. That's exactly what the match between Columbus Crew SC and the New York Red Bulls will be on Saturday night.

The two teams met twice already this year, both games at MAPFRE Stadium and each team captured a 2-1 victory.

The first match saw a wild second half with all three goals coming in less than a 20 minute span. Red Bulls forward Bradley Wright-Phillips opened the scoring with a penalty kick in the 49th minute. Crew SC midfielder Tony Tchani equalized nine minutes later before Mike Grella came off the bench to score the winner for New York in the in the 67th minute. Columbus playmaker Federico Higuain was shown a red card just seven minutes from full time, picking up his second yellow of the match.

In the second meeting, RBNY got off to a fast start thanks to forward Anatole Abang, who found the back of the net after just eight minutes. Ethan Finlay scored before halftime and then finished off the winner 79th minute.

Both of these teams have moved around the Eastern Conference this season, but this matchup sees them face off at the top of the division. The Red Bulls currently sit in first in the East, one point ahead of the second place Black & Gold with two games in hand.

This is the first meeting of the season at Red Bull Arena and both teams are looking to close the regular season on a good note.

We talked with Jason Iapicco, managing editor of SB Nation's Once a Metro, to see how things have gone with New York since we last saw them and what to expect in this contest.

Questions for Once a Metro

Massive Report: After finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference a year ago with 50 points, the Red Bulls are two points off that pace, first in the East, and the first team to clinch a playoff spot this year. Has this team exceeded expectation this year? How far can they take this run?

Once a Metro: I would say the team has not yet met expectations just by making the playoffs. This team was 1 goal away from MLS Cup in 2014, and making the playoffs in MLS isn't really that hard given that 60% of teams make the playoffs, especially with a history of not really missing the playoffs. Where this team has exceeded expectations is by being the top of the conference entering the final month of the season. After firing possibly the most successful coach in team history, and rebuilding the team after the departure of Henry & Cahill, most people expected to be 5th or 6th in the conference while figuring things out. Unless they drop massively in form, they'll be top 2, which is impressive.

Can the team make a run? Absolutely. They made a run after an early summer swoon and avoided a dip in August. This team can handle the (relative) short burst of energy needed to make a run at MLS Cup. Given that most teams don't have a lot of speed to counter RBNY's high press, they can be a tough out in the playoffs.

MR: New York will be without a few important players for this match. Anatole Abang, Chris Duvall, and Roy Miller are all injured, and Matt Miazga is away on international duty. What impact could this have on the match and who are players who will have to step up in these players' absence?

OAM: Abang, Duvall, and Miller won't actually make an impact by missing this game. Abang hasn't been a starter and hasn't made a sub appearance in a while. Duvall is out but Connor Lade has been covering for him capably since he had to be taken off. Miller lost his starting spot to Kemar Lawrence, and was seemingly number 3 behind Anthony Wallace. Miazga will have the biggest impact as the Red Bulls haven't been the same this season without him. Damien Perrinelle has been (despite the card count), arguably one of the better center backs in the league this season, and Miazga has grown into the game. Without Miazga, the back line is a little slower and more susceptible to the counter attack.

MR: Bradley Wright-Phillips and Lloyd Sam are quite the duo this year (similar to Crew SC's Kei Kamara and Ethan Finlay). What is it about these two that's made them so good consistently during their time with RBNY?

OAM: Bradley Wright-Phillips (who we have to reference by his whole name now) is a natural finisher. While his goal count this year isn't as good as it was last year, his assists are up. It's a testament not only to his skill set, but his willingness to adapt. He doesn't take a lot of shots, but that's because he looks for the better option all time. Last year, it just so happened he didn't have to usually. This year defenses know about him and are making it tougher, so he's opened himself up to passing it off more to open players.

Sam just has the ability to beat players off the dribble. His footwork gives him an extra step on defenders, even when he doesn't have the advantage of speed. If he ever gets a defender down by the goal line, it's something to watch as he plays around deciding what to do. He's also not afraid to play in tight spaces, and even has an assist from what was basically a ball on the goal line against NYCFC. This year, Marsch has asked him to cut inside more and it's added a threat that no one was ready for.

For Massive Report's responses to Once a Metro's questions, check out the article on their site.