HANOVER, N.J. — The differences are as stark as the coasts they play on, with the New York Red Bulls chasing the Supporters’ shield title and the San Jose Earthquakes just playing out the season, thankful that promotion/relegation hasn’t made its way to Major League Soccer yet.
There are 42 points and 21 teams that separate the two in the overall table. But the Red Bulls aspirations Saturday night at Avaya Stadium are the same as they were in their Shield clash against Atlanta United last Sunday: Three points.
And because of that, there is no overlooking the Quakes.
“The most important thing is to not get caught up in last week’s game and, if anything, just try to ride the momentum because we want to win the Supporters’ Shield for sure and we have work to do to do that,” winger Alex Muyl said. “We also want to finish the season on a high note.”
That emotional and decisive 2-0 win over Atlanta cut the Shield lead to just one point with three games remaining. The Red Bulls will take the field in San Jose knowing what Atlanta did in a match against the New England Revolution earlier in the day.
And they know there’s no margin for error.
“The ball is in their court where they have to slip up,” Muyl said of Atlanta. “But we have to make sure we do our part and win out.”
The Red Bulls know that the Quakes, despite a league-worst 4-19-8 record, won’t make that easy on them Saturday night.
Having already been eliminated from playoff contention and under the direction of interim coach Steve Ralston after Mikael Stahre was fired, the Quakes are that proverbial team “with nothing to lose.”
Meanwhile, the Red Bulls need to avoid an emotional letdown after last week’s win in a 3,000-mile trip for three points.
“Even though they’re out of the playoffs, it seems like they’re playing a little more free and they’ve actually had some strong performances despite the results,” midfielder Sean Davis said. “It’s a tricky game for us, for sure and we have to be up for it from the first minute or else it could turn into a really challenging game.”
Whether its playing with no pressure or its playing for their jobs, the Quakes are playing better than their record indicates. Look inside their current season-high five-match losing streak and there is evidence of their danger. They put a scare in Atlanta in Ralston’s first game in charge on Sept. 19, holding a pair of two-goal leads before eventually falling 4-3. And they led the Houston Dynamo 2-0 at the half last Saturday before losing 3-2.
“Everyone is there to prove themselves at this time of year, to show [they] belong here,” Red Bulls coach Chris Armas said. “People are going to pay money to watch the team and they’re going to give everything. Look what they did against Atlanta. … We’ll expect another tough road game. There’s no easy ones out there and we’ll be ready to get their best for sure.”