The final weekend in MLS involves plenty of complicated playoff scenarios, but it will be pretty straightforward for the New York Red Bulls and visiting Chicago Fire when they meet Sunday to conclude the regular season.
New York’s situation is the most simple. It already has secured a postseason spot, and a win over Chicago will clinch the Supporters’ Shield and the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. Sporting Kansas City currently is in first place by two points after beating Philadelphia 2-1 on Saturday.
The Red Bulls (16-9-8) defeated Houston 3-0 last Sunday and are 5-0-2 in their last seven matches.
“Winning the Supporters’ Shield, it’s a goal we want to achieve,” midfielder Eric Alexander said. “If we can achieve that, what’s to stop us from getting to the next goal? It’s kind of putting that taste in your mouth for winning a championship.”
New York lost at Chicago 3-1 on April 7, a rare victory for the Fire (14-12-7) during their 2-7-1 start. They went 7-0-1 following that stretch, though, and are carrying a three-game win streak into the finale after defeating Toronto 1-0 on Oct. 19.
“It shows you the character of the team,” defender Gonzalo Segares said. “We kept fighting, we were able to turn things around, and now we are in good position to make the playoffs. It’s all in our hands.”
Chicago would clinch the No. 3 seed in the East with a victory, but another result would complicate things. The Fire still can finish in third place with a draw, though they would need New England to lose or tie at Columbus and a Houston loss or draw at D.C.
The Fire could slip to fourth or fifth with a loss or draw depending on the Revolution’s and Dynamo’s results, and they could slide completely out of the playoff picture with a loss and wins by both New England and Houston.
Chicago is aware of what is at stake, and it also knows how dangerous Red Bulls players like Thierry Henry, Fabian Espindola and Tim Cahill can be. Espindola and Cahill are tied for the team lead with 11 goals.
“Very, very good team offensively,” forward Patrick Nyarko said. “We’ve got to be at our best. It’s not an easy task to shut them down, but that’s what we’ve got to do.”
New York cannot finish any worse than second, but it clearly is focused on earning the Supporters’ Shield.
“It’s about 90 minutes and doing what we can to influence the game,” coach Mike Petke said. “If we take care of what we’re looking to accomplish and we put the work in, it should be a nice day.”
The Red Bulls, though, are just 2-8-4 in the last 14 meetings with the Fire.
“This is going to be an historic moment if we can pull this one off in Chicago,” Cahill said. “Knowing that they need to win as well and what it means (for us) to win the league, we’re just going for the three points and trying to do what we do best.”
Cahill has scored in three straight and five of his last six matches.