It might be difficult to look at a match between the New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders and not wonder if the teams will meet again for the league championship.
The hottest teams in the league square off Sunday in Seattle for their only regular-season matchup.
The Sounders (15-8-5) trail the Eastern Conference-leading Red Bulls (15-9-6) in the race for the Supporters' Shield by a point but have two games in hand. This game could be pivotal if the teams end up meeting for this year's MLS Cup because the one that has a better regular-season record would be the host.
"It's an important game for us," Seattle midfielder Osvaldo Alonso told the team's official website. "We're fighting for first place in MLS. Our focus is to keep winning. We want to win the Supporters' Shield and after that, MLS Cup. Our goal is to keep the rhythm and keep playing like we're playing."
The Sounders had a five-game winning streak snapped in their most recent match, settling for a 1-1 draw at Los Angeles last Saturday. They've allowed two goals during that six-game unbeaten run.
While that tie was just the second time in 10 matches Seattle hasn't won, New York enters on a four-game win streak which matches its best of the season and is currently the longest in MLS.
A great deal of the match's potential star power could be missing.
Sounders forward Eddie Johnson, who scored last weekend, could sit out with a shoulder injury. Fellow Seattle attacker Clint Dempsey's status is uncertain as he recovers from a hamstring injury. Defender Zach Scott will miss the match after picking up a red card against the Galaxy.
A potentially depleted Sounders attack could look to midfielder Lamar Neagle for a spark. He had a three-match scoring streak snapped against Los Angeles.
The Red Bulls will likely be without forward Thierry Henry (Achilles), defender Jamison Olave (knee) and forward Bradley Wright-Phillips (hamstring). Henry being held out of the lineup would be a precautionary move because of the artificial surface.
"No matter who we have on our roster and who is going to Seattle, we are the underdogs," coach Mike Petke told the team's official website. "That's a given. And I'm fine with that. It's a tough place to play, they're going to have a huge crowd, and they're playing some very good soccer right now, and it's going to be a tough game."
Seattle has won a franchise-record six consecutive home games by an 11-2 score and is 10-0-3 at CenturyLink Field since a season-opening loss to Montreal.
New York has road victories over two of the East's top teams in the past two months, winning at Kansas City and Houston, but is 0-3-1 away from home against the West this year.
The Red Bulls are coming off Sunday's 1-0 home victory over FC Dallas. They scored on an own goal, but that didn't do anything to diminish Luis Robles' second straight shutout and 10th of the year.
Robles has played every minute for the Red Bulls this year and hasn't allowed a goal in the last 252.
"In a goalkeeper, you expect him to come up with one huge save a game, a game-changing save. And Robles has done that if not more than that, so I'm very happy with where he's at," Petke said.
Seattle is 3-2-2 all-time against the Red Bulls, winning two of three at home. The teams last met in a 2-2 draw July 15, 2012, at New York.
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