Union, Red Bulls bring playoff intensity ahead of potential showdown

CHESTER, Pa. — Before thinking about the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs, the New York Red Bulls are laser-focused on next week’s Decision Day presented by AT&T matchup vs. Orlando City that comes with the opportunity to potentially bring home the Supporters’ Shield.

But once the dust settles on the regular season and the Red Bulls watch four Eastern Conference teams beneath them duke it out in the Knockout Round, they know they may very well face the Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

And if they do, they can consider Sunday’s 1-0 road win over Philly at Talen Energy Stadium something of a postseason showcase.

“Certainly this is what the playoffs feel like,” Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas said. “The cold weather, the tight scoreline, heated at times — perfect. This is what we love.”

Armas admitted the “best Philadelphia team they’ve ever put together” kept his own team off-balanced at times, particularly in the first half.

But finding a way to grind out road wins, as they did Sunday thanks to Video Review and a Kaku penalty kick, is something the Red Bulls pride themselves on — and something they know they’ll need in the playoffs no matter the opponent.

“I think it says a lot about the group,” midfielder Sean Davis said. “We just understand what it takes to win in this league at this point. These are important games for experience. We’ve had a lot of tough games, especially on the road, but you can look at our road record and it’s pretty strong. Coming to a place like Philly, it’s never easy to win and it’s not always pretty. But we stuck to the gameplan and that’s what got us the three points.”

Following Sunday’s win, the Red Bulls haven’t allowed a goal in league play vs. Philly over the last 365 minutes. Nevertheless, the Union were pleased with how they controlled play for much of the contest and would welcome another crack against the Red Bulls next month.

“I think we showed Red Bull that we are a good team,” Union midfielder Haris Medunjanin said. “They had almost nothing today until the penalty. If you win today, you secure your home [playoff game], but we didn’t score. In soccer, it’s important to score goals. It doesn’t matter if you control the game the whole time.”

Despite the result, the Union can still secure the No. 3 seed and a home playoff game if they can win at New York City FC in next week’s regular-season finale.

Then, it’s on the Knockout Round with the Red Bulls possibly looming just beyond that.

“It had a playoff feel to it,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said of Sunday’s game. “It kills us not to take three points or at least get a draw, but at the same time, I still think we learned a lot about our group today. … I hope to see them in the playoffs for sure.”