Gonzalo Veron might get some playing time against Sporting Kansas City. (Hassoun Camara/USA TODAY Sports)
HANOVER, N.J. — A pair of second-place teams will clash in a mid-week confrontation with hopes of taking their respective conference lead at Children’s Mercy Park Wednesday night.
Representing the Eastern Conference will be the Red Bulls (16 points), who enter the Major League Soccer match with a 5-3-1 mark, thanks to a three-game home winning streak.
Sporting Kansas City will play for the Western Conference as it boasts 4-1-3 record and 15 points.
Both teams have an opportunity to move atop their conference. If the Red Bulls prevail, they will need some help from Toronto FC (3-1-4, 13) , which welcomes first-place Orlando City SC (6-1-0, 18) Wednesday night.
If SKC triumphs, it will leap over the Portland Timbers (5-2-2, 19) atop the West.
A draw will no neither team good in moving up a spot.
Like the Red Bulls, KC is tough to beat or accumulate points against at home with a 3-0-1 mark. In contrast, New York has struggled away from the friendly confines of Red Bull Arena with a 1-3 log.
So, the Red Bulls realize they will be in for a difficult 90-plus minutes.
“It’s going to be a great test on Wednesday,” midfielder Felipe told reporters after training at the Red Bulls training facility Monday.
Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said his team must play up to the top of its game to extract a point or three points.
“We have to go there, we have to be organized, we have to press together, we have to make sure that we’re sharp in terms of our defensive connections and movement, and then take advantage of chances,” he said. “Try to find ways to press, to put the game on our terms, and when we create those chances, to be aggressive to go to goal and find ways to put things on target.”
As the middle game of a three-game in eight-day span, Marsch has the opportunity to rotate players before the side tussles in Philadelphia Saturday.
Two potential moves could be utilizing the often-injured Gonzalo Veron at midfield and give Panamanian international defender Michael Murillo at right back. Sal Zizzo and Connor Lade have manned the position this season, but as we all know, you can never have enough depth at any position.
Marsch, however, would not tip his hand this early.
“We think we’re deep,” he said. “It’s a good opportunity to learn more about ourselves and put guys to the test. We’ll try to figure out which guys are the ones that we think are ready to recover and repeat and go again.”
One thing is certain: the Red Bulls need to perform better on the road. In two of their away defeats they have allowed three and four goals. If they can play as well as they have at Red Bull Arena, where they own a 4-0-1 record while allowing only one goal, they will have a chance to earn at least one point.
“We just need to play with the same intensity and same dynamic we played with at home, especially against a team that plays high pressure like us,” Felipe said. “It’s going to be a great challenge for each one of us because they’re a team that likes to play high pressure.”