HANOVER, N.J. – It may not be their full starting XI, but the New York Red Bulls don’t sound like a team that will be coasting into their regular season finale this Sunday at the Philadelphia Union (4 pm ET, MLS LIVE).
In fact, most of their regulars will likely be getting a nod in a match where very little is on the line.
For all intents and purposes the Red Bulls have locked up the Eastern Conference since they head into Decision Day with a plus-13 goal differential. And given their recent heavy slate of games – including advancing in the Scotiabank CONCACAF Champions League – it seemed like Sunday’s match might be a good chance to rest their starters.
That will not be the case, however, as head coach Jesse Marsch is comfortable with giving most of his first-choice players yet another start in league play.
Marsch noted on Thursday that seeding to host MLS Cup is in the mix for his team and so is New York's unbeaten streak, which stretches back to July 3. There is also their yeoman-like love for hard work, and desire not to take a weekend off.
There may be something to this line of thinking, as the Red Bulls looked sluggish in this past Sunday’s 3-2 win over the Columbus Crew after a weekend off for the international break.
“There is potential to be a couple of changes. We’re not going to vary things too much,” Marsch said on Thursday. “I think we’ve been on a really good roll, there is a lot of good momentum within our team. It doesn’t mean that we can’t get that same momentum from other guys, but even with this past break I think you find that guys get a little bit of rust and they are not quite as sharp as they need to be when they have a little bit more time off.
"We want to avoid that. We don’t want to stress anyone and put the load too high and risk injury. I think we want to keep the momentum going, keep the routine going and make sure that when we get to the playoffs we have all the momentum.”
There are also some other reasons for Marsch to want to go with a strong lineup, including the fact that some of his players have a chance to reach individual goals or even set records.
Sitting on 23 goals, Bradley Wright-Phillips has just a one-goal lead over David Villa of New York City FC in the race to be the league’s top scorer. Also, another assist for Sacha Kljestan, who has 19 this season, would set a franchise mark for helpers in a season across all competitions, as well as give him the second-most assists in a season in MLS history.