Normally, this preview is a feature of three games. This time, with the the Supporter's Shield on the line, it's a bit different.
Here is how the standings look as of this morning:
That's a cluttered looking table. Who has the toughest time of nabbing the shield then? They are all close enough that a simple win might be enough for a team to do the job. That team would be the New York Red Bulls, but before we get to them, it would be best to break down the other team involved as a favorite, Sporting.
Sporting are sitting at 55 points through 33 games, one point behind RSL and .03 PPG behind the Red Bulls. Their opponent, the Philadelphia Union, are clinging to their playoff lives and currently do not control their own destiny. They need the Houston Dynamo and the New England Revolution to both lose, and even then it would require them beating Sporting. It's a tall order for the Union, but you better believe Philly will come out with verve onto the pitch. Whether or not it will help them remains to be seen, as Philly can show a lot of enthusiasm but not a great deal of discipline.
As for the potential SS winners, Sporting have somehow managed to stay in the thick of things despite a few slumps. While their October hasn't been all that impressive, having only beaten the Columbus Crew and DC United, it's not their responsibility to set their own schedule. They could have faced and beaten better opponents for all anyone knows. What matters most though is that the Shield is still a possibility. Newly minted Mexican soccer saint, San Graham Zusi de las Madrigales Divinas, will lead Sporting in a game that will require the loss of the Red Bulls to make it count.
Can Sporting do their part? It's not entirely within their power to win the Shield. All they can do if they win is hope for the best on Sunday, when New York takes the field.
New York Red Bulls vs. Chicago Fire // Sunday, 4:00 p.m. CDT, Red Bull Arena, UniMas
The Red Bulls stand at 56 points with one game remaining. Standing in the way of eternal glory is the Chicago Fire. A win would give them the trophy, wealth and riches beyond their wildest dreams, and a chapter in the annals of US Soccer history. They could lose, see Sporting also lose, and they would then lose the shield to Real Salt Lake. So winning is pretty much required.
The shield is there for the taking, but it won't (or shouldn't, at any rate) be very easy. There are competing MVP candidates on the field in the shape of Tim Cahill and Mike Magee. This game could do a lot to sway opinions when awarding the MVP trophy. What happens if Magee scores two to propel the Fire to victory while Cahill is invisible? What if Magee struggles to deal with the NY defense and Cahill destroys the Undeserving-ROY Austin Berry and his cohorts?
If I had to bet money, I'd bet on New York winning. It would be a choketacular mess if the Red Bulls failed to put away the Fire while at home and with the shield on the line. There is simply no scenario in which a Red Bulls loss is excusable. They are within grabbing distance of one of MLS' top prizes (if not the top prize to some people) and if they intend to truly fight against the monetary might of the incoming NYCFC, they will need this trophy to validate their expenditures and status.
Portland Timbers and Real Salt Lake:
The Timbers pretty much need everyone to lose, and to beat their opponents Chivas USA (which really isn't that difficult). I find it pretty unlikely that both SKC and NY will lose. It would be a minor miracle if Portland won the shield.
Real Salt Lake need New York to lose and not score more than three goals. They would also need Sporting to lose, and the Timbers to lose. It's a pretty long shot as well.
It's mostly a race between Sporting and New York, though the sport has seen collapses before.