HANOVER, N.J. — In case the New York Red Bulls needed a reminder about dangerous an opponent Orlando City SC could be — they didn’t by the way — the No. 1 example came in the Lions’ penultimate game of a lost season.
In their final home game of the season, Orlando stunned Columbus, 2-1, damaging Crew SC’s hopes of clinching the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“We know they’re going to come real tough and they’re going to expect to win like they did last week so we know it’s going to be a big game for us,” Red Bulls midfielder Kaku said through a translator. “We just have to continue our philosophy and continue to do what we do and just try and win that game.”
Example No. 2 comes from March 31 when Orlando (8-21-4) defeated the Red Bulls, 4-3. Yes, it was a heavily rotated Red Bulls roster ahead of a Concacaf Champions League semifinal against Chivas de Guadalajara, but it’s a game, and a result, the Red Bulls remember well.
Derrick Etienne will never forget that game because he scored his long-awaited first MLS goal in the defeat, but also because it showcased Orlando’s firepower.
“We know they’re a good team, we know they have good players. Sacha [Kljestan] was here, Dom Dwyer, a whole bunch of guys we know who can really hurt you,” Etienne said. “We’re making sure we’re able to do the things we need to do defensively to take care of them and then we know we’re confident in Kaku and Brad [Wright-Phillips] and whoever is going to be out there that we’re going to create chances because we always do. It’s just a matter of finishing those chances.”
The Red Bulls (21-7-5) matched a season-high four-game winning streak by defeating the Philadelphia Union, 1-0, last Sunday at Talen Energy Stadium. That victory allowed them to keep pace with Atlanta United in a Supporters’ Shield race that will come down to the wire on Decision Day.
Atlanta head to BMO Field to meet last year’s Shield winners in Toronto FC. All three of the all-time meetings between Atlanta and Toronto have ended in 2-2 draws.
“Their record isn’t great, but they’ve got dangerous players and Sacha’s not going to want to come here and lose. We have to treat them like we treat Atlanta and hopefully get the three points,” Wright-Phillips said of Orlando. “I’ll be lying if I said we’re not scoreboard watching. It helps that the games are the same time so we’re not going to know anything, but at the end of the day we can only win the game. When we get back in [the locker room] hopefully the result is in our favor.”
While Red Bulls coach Chris Armas gives his team “a small chance” of winning the Shield, FiveThirtyEight.com disagrees. The website projects the Red Bulls as the slight favorite to win the Shield on Sunday.
Regardless, the Red Bulls have plenty of reasons to treat Sunday’s regular season finale against Orlando as a must-win.
“Every game is tough right now — in the playoffs, not in the playoffs — it really doesn’t matter and I don’t think we’ll have to talk too much about that,” Armas said. “The guys know the result Orlando just had. … They’ll be tough. We’ll be prepared to play against them and hopefully from the start we understand what that game required and what the whole game and the points mean.”