It's not unreasonable to think that Saturday's clash in New York might be the most important match of the Crew's season thus far. After all, the two teams have identical records and identical goal differentials, placing them in a tie for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
The Crew currently sits three points out of a tie for third place in the East and just four points ahead of ninth. Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter stressed that he wants his side to get up for every match regardless of opponent, but after playing two consecutive Western Conference foes since returning from the 2014 FIFA World Cup break, Berhalter does admit that the impact of a Conference match on the standings is magnified.
"These Eastern Conference games – we are putting a little bit of emphasis that now, it's a mover game. These are six-point games, basically. That is something we're aware of, and as we move into the latter point of the season, most of our fixtures are against Eastern Conference teams. It's a lot of movement. You can jump really quickly."
Of additional concern for the Crew this weekend is New York's trio of Tim Cahill, Bradley Wright-Phillips and Thierry Henry, who all figure to be on the field. The Black & Gold did not see Cahill in the clubs' first meeting this season, and after his strong showing for Australia in the FIFA World Cup, he is at the forefront of their minds now.
"Tim Cahill is one of the best players in the League," said Eric Gehrig. "He showed that at the World Cup and he shows that in MLS every game. You just have to be aware of where he is on the field, especially in the box. He's unreal, probably the best header of the ball that I've ever seen, maybe next to Chad Marshall. His timing, his runs and the power he has on his headers is something that we have to keep an eye on and make sure we're well aware of where he's at."
"He's a phenomenal goal-scorer and he has a phenomenal attitude to win and push his team," added Berhalter. "First and foremost, I'd say in the box, we're going to have to be aware of him. He's proven to have that quality that in the box he can score goals. It's something to keep an eye on."
Golden Boot leader Wright-Phillips and Henry also form an intimidating strike tandem for New York, but Gehrig thinks that the club's recent defensive performances give it confidence to continue playing well in the back against the duo.
"Bradley Wright-Phillips is having a great season, and Thierry Henry is world-class," said Gehrig. "It's about looking at them collectively, looking at them both as a pair, and looking at them on film individually: what they like to do on the field, their natural tendencies and then just trying to take those things away. With the way we've handled Fabian Espindola and Deshorn Brown, it's the same thing. Bradley Wright-Phillips is the best in the League, but you have to go about it the same way."
The Crew is unbeaten in its last three matches against the Red Bulls, and drew with New York in its last visit to Red Bull Arena. The Black & Gold, overall, has drawn its last four matches and is eager to turn those draws into wins, particuarly when they know how important a win on Saturday might be in the playoff chase.
"[Red Bull Arena is a] tough place to play and they're a really good team," said Ethan Finlay. "There are so many good things you can talk about with them, but I think you still come back to [the fact that] I still think we can go there and play our game. We can go there, outpossess them and get a result. This team is fearless in that way and that's how we have to believe, and I think we do. We're excited. It's going to be a challenge playing one of the best teams in the League."