The New York Red Bulls control their own destiny in their bid for the team’s first-ever Supporters’ Shield.
The Houston Dynamo are one of their last remaining obstacles, however, playing well in pursuit of a playoff spot since a lopsided defeat to the Red Bulls last month.
New York can secure the first season sweep in the series by either team Sunday when it visits Houston.
The Red Bulls (15-9-8) trail Sporting Kansas City by two points for the league’s top record, but have a game in-hand and the tiebreaker over Portland - which also has 53 points. They can claim the Supporters’ Shield with wins in this match and their finale at home versus Chicago next Sunday.
New York’s 2-all draw with New England on Oct. 5 made it the first time to clinch a playoff spot. A draw against the Dynamo would secure one of the Eastern Conference’s top two seeds.
“I don’t need to put any more pressure on my players than are already on it,” first-year New York coach Mike Petke said. “However, I think we have a good mentality this year. I think my players have showed me and the coaching staff a good mentality as far as coming up big at the right times.”
New York won both earlier meetings this year - including a 4-1 victory in Houston on Sept. 8 - but the Dynamo (13-10-9) are 3-0-2 since with three shutouts. That rout was Houston’s lone loss over its last nine home contests (5-1-3).
“Last time we gave up some goals late, the outcome of the game could have been much different when it was 1-1 and that’s just how soccer is sometimes, it’s the nature of the game,” Houston forward Will Bruin told the team’s website. He is tied for the team lead with eight goals but has only one assist in seven career games against the Red Bulls.
“We’re not thinking about that game - play how we’ve been playing and I think the result will take care of itself.”
The Dynamo, who come off a scoreless home draw with Kansas City on Oct. 9, can clinch a playoff spot with a victory if Chicago ties or losses to Toronto on Saturday or if New England draws with or is defeated by Columbus.
“This is a great opportunity for us not just to beat New York but to separate ourselves a little bit more from the pack,” Brad Davis, whose nine assists pace the Dynamo, said. “We know it’s going to be a tough game but it’s a good game for all of us to step up and get the job done.”
Thierry Henry has five assists and one goal in six career games versus Houston.