Red Bulls looking to move up standings and play spoiler when Toronto FC visits Sunday

·4 min read

The New York Red Bulls have their own agenda Sunday on the final day of the MLS regular season. But they have no problem spoiling Toronto FC's bid for the Supporters' Shield in the process.

The Red Bulls (8-9-5) enter Decision Day in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, looking to overtake the New England Revolution and avoid the playoff play-in game that the seventh- through 10th-place teams in the East have to go through.

"We know we're going to be up for the challenge," Red Bulls interim head coach Bradley Carnell said Saturday. "We don't want any opposition playing on our turf thinking about any celebrations of any Supporters' Shield ... So there's definitely a lot for us to gain as a team and as well we can spoil a few hopes of some other teams."

Toronto (13-4-5) needs to pick up more points on the day than Philadelphia (13-4-5), which hosts New England, in order to hoist the trophy that goes to the team with the best regular-season record.

Because of pandemic-related game cancellations, MLS is ranking teams by points per game rather than total points this season. Should Toronto and Philadelphia both win Sunday, they would be tied on points and victories with the Union holding a large edge in the next tiebreaker — goal differential per match.

Going into Sunday play, Philadelphia's goal differential per match is 1.00 while Toronto's is 0.36. 

Red Bulls captain Sean Davis said his side has nothing but respect for Toronto, especially this season when the Canadian side has been forced to take up residence in Hartford due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.

"Toronto deserves a lot of credit, just because of what they've had to go through this season," he said. "They've been technically on the road the entire time. To see them just continue to chip away at it and grind out results and play well is impressive.

"In saying that, they do have an opportunity to win the Shield this weekend. For us, we see this as another game. We see this as a playoff game. That's been our mentality for the last few weeks."

The Red Bulls rallied to tie Toronto 1-1 when they met Oct. 14 in East Hartford with 17-year-old substitute Caden Clark scoring on a 77th-minute strike from distance.

"I thought we frustrated them and took away a lot of the spaces that they were trying to exploit," said Carnell, a former South African international. "And the game became progressively more frustrating for them."

Carnell knows Toronto can do damage once they hit their stride.

"They're a really dangerous team when they start connecting their passes," he said. "And if you're one step late then you're going to be exposed."

The teams have history.

In 2009, Toronto needed just a draw in its season finale to make the post-season for the first time, but lost 5-0 to the Red Bulls.

In 2017, the two teams scuffled in the tunnel at BMO Field during halftime of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinal. The two-legged series was prickly from the get-go, with Toronto complaining to the league about fan abuse of Jozy Altidore in Game 1 at Red Bull Arena.

The series ended tied 2-2 on aggregate with Toronto advancing on the away goals rule. TFC ended up capturing the MLS Cup, to add to the Supporters' Shield and Canadian Championship it had already won.

The Red Bulls are coming off a painful 5-2 loss to rival New York City FC in a game that saw them squander a 2-1 lead.

"Obviously the last result was not to standard and not to our expectations," said Carnell. "We can't wait to get on the field. The training's been excellent, the response has been good, the messages have been good. So yeah, I think the guys are itching to play again."

The NYCFC loss ended a five-game unbeaten run (2-0-3) for the Red Bulls.

The Red Bulls hold a 12-2-2 edge in games against Toronto at Red Bull Arena. The New York side is headed to its 11th straight post-season.

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This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 7, 2020.

Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press