Sean Davis (left) in an airborne battle with NYCFC’s Rodney Wallace: “We know that they’re going to come in hungry looking for a result and looking to lock up the Shield.” (Noah K. Murray/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
It’s this simple:
If the Red Bulls have any chance of winning the Supporters Shield, they must defeat Atlanta United at Red Bull Arena Sunday.
Even a draw would be considered a loss.
The Red Bulls need three points to move within a point of Atlanta. Sharing one point with the visitors will do them no good as the regular-season games dwindle down to a precious few.
“I mean if there is any chance of us winning a trophy, we are going for it,” said center back Aaron Long, who is expected to be tasked to cover the league’s dangerous scoring threat, striker Josef Martinez (30 goals). “First and foremost is beating Atlanta. We want the Supporters Shield for sure, there is no doubt about that. There is no resting players or rotation right now, its going full force for Atlanta, getting the three points making the race as tight as it can be.”
New York (18-7-5, 59 points) enters the game in second place in the Eastern Conference behind Atlanta (19-5-6, 63).
“If you are going for the cup you are going for the Shield,” Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas told reporters after practice at the Red Bulls Training Facility earlier this week. “You are trying to win games and you are trying to improve. Whether we are trying different formations or are trying different guys, we are trying to win every game from here on out. We are trying to go into the playoffs as sharp as we can, as fit as we can, health-wise. We don’t have any mid-week games, so there is enough time off in between games. We are just trying to get ourselves right, which means every game we are going after.”
Asked if he thought if this was the game of the regular season, midfielder Sean Davis replied: “Yeah, I think it’s a testament to both teams and how well they’ve done throughout the year. Atlanta has a really strong team, they’ve done really well, and so have we. We got the better of them at their place and so we know that they’re going to come in hungry looking for a result and looking to lock up the Shield. There’s a lot on the line and I think that’s what players play the game for, you know. We look forward to big match-ups like this, so I know everyone’s real excited and I’m sure they could say the same.”
In the only other encounter between the two teams this season, the Red Bulls prevailed, 3-1 in Atlanta as Ryan Meara backstopped the win after regular goalkeeper Luis Robles had his iron man streak snapped due to injury.
Actually, a tie could work in the Red Bulls favor in the race to secure second place in the conference and home-field advantage in the semifinals to avoid playing in a midweek knockout-round game. Combined with a New York City FC loss at Minnesota United, a Red Bulls’ draw would clinch second place.
It might not be what the team that plays at Cape May Street want, but it could be better than nothing.
“Our team has always risen to the occasion in big matches especially at home, so we had a great match with Atlanta earlier this year, it was back-forth at times,” Armas said. “We obviously edged them out. We have a lot of respect for Atlanta. They have a lot of weapons, they are coached well, but we are going to look to be the aggressors. We will make them earn everything that they get on the day.”