Decision Day

Decision Day pressure? Nashville SC, New York Red Bulls chase playoff goals

Nashville RBNY

One of Sunday's most compelling Decision Day matchups will arrive when the New York Red Bulls travel to Nissan Stadium to take on Nashville SC (3:30 pm ET | ESPN, ESPN Deportes).

Nashville can still secure the Eastern Conference's No. 2 seed should they get a result and the Philadelphia Union lose to New York City FC. Meanwhile, RBNY are in precarious possession of the East's seventh and final Audi MLS Cup Playoffs bid, and could officially punch their ticket with a road victory or draw.

RBNY are one of the league's hottest teams, vaulting above the playoff line with a 7W-1L-3D record across their last 11 games. And head coach Nashville coach Gary Smith has taken notice.

"I don't think they know any other way to play than flat-out," Smith said of RBNY. "They're an incredibly high-energy team. All of the stats you want to look at will tell you the immense pressure they want to put the opponent under. We could see that in full flow Wednesday night against one of the more talented MLS teams in possession [Atlanta United]. They restricted them to very, very little.

"What I know is we're going to run into a very, very outwardly mobile group. We're going to try and earn points, but they all know full well we're trying secure a top two or three spot, so it should be a very, very good game."

Nashville should get back a key contributor in former RBNY captain Dax McCarty, who has been sidelined with a hamstring injury. Smith said that McCarty is in "great shape" and that there's "no reason why he shouldn't be part of the equation for selection at the weekend".

McCarty's inclusion should only boost the second-year club, which has made the playoffs two years running. They're also guaranteed a home playoff game and will be battling for a Round One matchup. It helps, of course, that Nashville have an undefeated record (8W-0L-8D) at home this year.

"I think the experience of having been in a playoff situation last year will help our group," Smith said. "We've got multiple players that have been in this position at this stage of the season, and that experience will serve them well. I've also felt that if you can just keep your focus on the job that you've got to do, there's no concerns – we don't have to worry about what's going on elsewhere, we're at home, our homefield's been terrific. Focus on what we can do, what we can control and if we can get our job done then I have no doubt things around us will fall into place. If we start trying to be clever about what the situation is, it can trip you up."

The game presents an interesting tactical matchup, with RBNY's high-pressing, all-out intensity contrasting with a Nashville team that typically employs a more methodical approach.

It should be fascinating to watch, with RBNY head coach Gerhard Struber noting that his group's ascendant form in recent weeks gives him confidence they'll be up to the task. They've won four of their last five road matches, with goalkeeper Carlos Coronel posting a league-high 13 shutouts alongside Nashville's Joe Willis and Colorado's William Yarbrough.

"For us, it's very, very important that we have high discipline on this day," Struber said. "This means on one side, clear in possession and also a clear staggering in our rest-defense and also in our structure when we go in action against the ball. I have big trust, it's also against us at the moment very, very difficult to score. I think we stay stable, we have I think big power at this time with our defense structure, our behavior. I think this can be a big key for the necessary points in Nashville.

"We know that they stay in a deeper block and they will come more in transition moments and play from the build-up style, more long-balls. We have a clear idea against that and we also have in the end some keys in our hand that we can use on Sunday."

If it all comes together, RBNY could soon be competing in their 12th straight postseason. A slew of qualification scenarios are in play for Struber's team.

"Just really proud of the staff and players for how we have come together, how in the toughest moments when we had our backs up against the wall that we were able to stick together and get the results," RBNY captain Sean Davis said. "So, it has given us a great opportunity on Sunday to get into the playoffs and ultimately, go for MLS Cup, and that is the goal."