Saturday sees the playoffs meet the Major League Soccer regular season as the New York Red Bulls visit Columbus Crew SC at MAPFRE Stadium. Both sides come into the showdown jockeying for Eastern Conference seeding — Columbus entering in the No. 5 spot and New York clinging to the final playoff qualifying position. With No. 4 Atlanta United FC hosting the on-the-bubble Montreal Impact on Saturday night, maximum points are a must for all four sides.
All in all, Saturday's showdown stands as a playoff match with everything on the line in all but name.
The match kicks off at 7:30 p.m. at MAPFRE Stadium with Half-Price select concessions and Kahiki Yum Yum Sticks through the 15th minute of game play.
Here's what to watch for:
With home games against Eastern Conference foes such as the New York Red Bulls on September 23 and D.C. United on September 30 leaving vital points up for grabs, Crew SC is charging closer to chasing the 2017 MLS Cup.
Just hours before Crew SC and NYRB kick off, MLS-expansion side Atlanta United hosts Montreal. The Eastern Conference standings currently have seven points separating No. 4 Atlanta, No. 5 Crew SC, No. 6 New York and No. 7 Montreal with only three playoff spots available.
Just two points separate the sixth-place New York Red Bulls and fifth-place Crew SC in the Eastern Conference standings.
Columbus closes the regular season on the road at Orlando City SC on October 15 and at New York City FC on October 22.
Fresh vs. Fatigue
The visitors enter MAPFRE Stadium on Saturday to play their third game in six days. This week has seen the Red Bulls tie the Philadelphia Union at home on Sunday before falling in Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup Final at Sporting KC.
Crew SC crossed the continent last week to visit Vancouver Whitecaps FC in a 2-2 tie. Before that, Crew SC hosted U.S. Open Cup champions Sporting Kansas City in a 1-1 tie at MAPFRE Stadium.
Needing as many points as possible for stronger playoff positioning — especially as the two MLS Charter Members enter with a streak split-point draws. The Red Bulls tied four consecutive matches before falling on the road in the U.S. Open Cup Final on Wednesday night.
Goals from all angles
Crew SC's strike force of stalwarts Ola Kamara (16 goals, 3 assists), Justin Meram (11 goals, 7 assists) and Federico Higuain (9 goals, 7 assists) have been bolstered by 2017 newcomers Kekuta Manneh (4 goals, 3 assists) and record-transfer Designated Player Pedro Santos (2 assists). Kamara is streaking with a goal in his last four matches and seven in his last eight.
With things clicking at the right time, Crew SC has set its sights on snapping NYRB's current run of 3-0-1 in the two sides' last four head-to-head matches. The all-time record In a mostly evenly matched 66 games sees the New Jersey-based side lead, 30-26-10, with a plus-15 goal differential., but Crew SC lead at home, 16-12-5, with a plus-1 differential.