COMMENTARY | The New York Red Bulls are atop the overall Major League Soccer table, and fans of the club are over the moon at the start of the 2013 fall season. Of course, neither of those statements are entirely accurate across the board. There are, as one would expect, pockets of supporters who are waiting for the other shoe to drop because that's just the way things have gone for RBNY over the past two decades. It's also worth noting that the Red Bulls are second in the Points Per Game table behind Seattle Sounders, who have two games in hand on New York.
Those two sides will meet on the night of September 29 in Seattle for a first vs. second contest that will directly compete against the No. 1 show on US TV because it's 2013 and apparently we're still doing that sort of thing. My feelings on that particular issue aside, the upcoming clash of Supporters' Shield contenders is absolutely massive for both teams, and it could, looking ahead, make for either the end of the SS race before October or a shift in the balance of power between MLS Conferences.
The end of September 2013 is admittedly not the best time for New York to be taking on a Seattle side that hasn't lost a league contest since August 17. RBNY are the walking wounded at the start of fall, with over half of the team's mainstays carrying some sort of injury concern into the upcoming weekend. Head coach Mike Petke is, regardless of how reluctant he may be to do so, going to have to ask himself: Just how important is this one game when the ultimate goal for any team in the league is to win the MLS Cup?
Lloyd Sam, who is nursing a groin problem, has not yet been given the OK for Sunday's game. Bradley Wright-Phillips, who injured his hamstring last Sunday in New York's ugly 1-0 victory over FC Dallas, is unofficially set to be sidelined for at least one week. BWP, the best partner up top for captain Thierry Henry that the Red Bulls have had in 2013, hasn't yet officially been ruled out for the Sounders match.
Defenders Jamison Olave and Markus Holgersson and also the previously mentioned Henry all picked up knocks during the Dallas contest. Each of them did, fortunately for New York, manage to finish the game. There's also Tim Cahill, who, while back in the starting XI, has suffered two significant injury setbacks in two months.
All of this leads to the inevitable discussions about the FieldTurf that is found at CenturyLink. Henry, who has a history of Achilles problems, has routinely avoided playing on such surfaces during his MLS career. One Sounders blog is certain that the New York captain won't feature on Sunday, but any such announcement won't come from the Red Bulls until closer to the weekend.
However important you believe the Supporters' Shield to be, the fact remains that the Red Bulls are not in a place where the team can risk the health of multiple starters who are not at 100 percent. It also needs to be pointed out that a draw would be just fine for New York, as that result would keep the Red Bulls ahead of Seattle in the overall standings and also keep the pressure on the Sounders.
New York have three league games in October. Two of those contests will occur at Red Bull Arena and feature opponents, New England Revolution and Chicago Fire, who may not even qualify for the postseason tournament. Seattle, on the other hand, have five October games looming ahead. Included in that stretch is a trip to Colorado to face the Rapids, a home match versus Vancouver Whitecaps, an away derby against Portland Timbers, and the season finale against the defending league champs LA Galaxy.
Sometimes, a coaching staff has to take a step back, examine all of the info, and then choose to live and fight another day. Sunday should be more about survival than about winning for the Red Bulls. Nothing can be won on the final Sunday of September.
Plenty, however, can be lost.
For more: MLS TV mistakes
Zac has been covering the USMNT, Holland, Tottenham Hotspur, New York Red Bulls, Major League Soccer and other soccer leagues for Yahoo Sports since 2010.
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