Red Bulls-Toronto FC Preview
The New York Red Bulls are a win away from securing the top spot in the Eastern Conference, and doing so will keep them on pace for a second Supporters' Shield in three years.
The first chance at clinching the former comes Wednesday night on the road against Toronto FC, which could welcome back its playmaking midfielder but remains without its elite scorers as it attempts to clinch the franchise's first playoff berth.
After last Wednesday's 2-1 home win over Montreal, New York (16-9-6) leads D.C. by six points with a game in hand and three remaining, so it'd take quite a slide to fall to the East's second seed.
For the league-wide regular-season trophy, the Red Bulls hold a three-point advantage over Dallas and Los Angeles with a game in hand on the Galaxy.
"We've put ourselves in a good spot for the postseason, but there's still things for us to play for and we just need to keep going," coach Jesse Marsch told the league's official website. "If we start to think now that we can take it easy or slow down, that will start to let a poor mentality slip in, so we're going to keep our foot on the gas pedal and keep going."
Sacha Kljestan scored from the penalty spot in the 16th minute against the Impact and Lloyd Sam extended the lead in the 39th.
Sam, who has scored in three straight matches to reach 10 goals for the first time in four MLS seasons, will join the team in Toronto. Whether he'll play is uncertain after being called up by Ghana for Tuesday's friendly with Canada in Washington.
He could face Red Bulls teammate and Canadian defender Karl Ouimette, whose potential absence further complicates matters as New York defender Matt Miazga is with the U.S. U-23 team.
Toronto (14-13-4) could be more negatively impacted. Michael Bradley will return from a call up to the United States national team, though his health is somewhat in question.
The club will remain short-handed in the attack with Sebastian Giovinco (Italy) and Jozy Altidore (United States) still on international duty. The duo accounts for 33 of the club's 55 league goals.
That likely clears the way for Herculez Gomez to make his first home start since joining Toronto from Puebla of Liga MX in August. Gomez made his only start against Seattle on Sept. 5, and Toronto has lost all four games in which he's appeared. The former U.S. national team member figures to be accompanied up top by Luke Moore.
Regardless of personnel, the Red Bulls have dominated the series with a 33-10 aggregate and six shutouts over a 9-1-4 span. That includes a 3-0 win Aug. 15 with Bradley Wright-Phillips scoring in a third straight meeting.
Toronto, however, enters on a three-match winning streak after a 3-0 home win over Philadelphia on Oct. 3. It was the club's third straight match with three goals scored, but Giovinco and Altidore accounted for six.
That places even more pressure on a back line that's conceded a league-high 34 goals in 16 matches since the start of July.
"It's a balance we have to find between offensive skill and defensive skill," midfielder Benoit Cheyrou told the club's official website.
The streak has Toronto entering its final three matches in fifth place, a point up on Montreal and five ahead of Orlando for the final playoff spot. Toronto, which has never won four straight, also has a game in hand on the three teams it's looking up at, and second-place D.C. is two points ahead.
A tie will secure it a playoff spot.