The Red Bulls have the chance to win their first Eastern Conference title since 2000 with a win on tonigt against New England. New York, which currently holds a one-point lead over Columbus for the conference, would also clinch homefield advantage through the MLS Cup playoffs until the cup final in Toronto.
The Red Bulls, who secured a playoff berth more than a month ago, will field several regulars but also will blend in a few reserves to get some players some much needed minutes. The goal, head coach Hans Backe says, is to win the match and not be overly concerned about resting players. If the Red Bulls clinched the conference title, the second-leg of the conference semi-final would be at Red Bull Arena as would the conference final.
The significance of homefield advantage is not lost on the players.
“This game should be as important as all the games we’ve already played,” forward Salou Ibrahim said. “We should expect three points.”
The conference championship would be an exclamation point on a dramatic turn-around season for the Red Bulls, who are a season removed from a league-worst record. Backe is seen as the frontrunner for MLS Coach of the Year honors but will have to win tonight at Red Bull Arena without star forward Thierry Henry, who has been ruled out of the match with a knee injury.