Red Bulls Eye First Place in Clash Against Sporting Kansas City (Saturday, 6:30 PM, NBC Sports)

A win over SKC Saturday would catapult the Red Bulls into first place in the Eastern Conference

After defeating the No. 1 team in the west in dramatic fashion at Red Bull Arena last weekend, the New York Red Bulls hit the road to take on the top club in the East, Sporting KC, for a 6:30 PM match this Saturday.

In the only other regular season match between the two sides, an Apr. 17 clash at Red Bull Arena, Sporting KC came out the victors with a 1-0 win after Aurelien Collin headed in a Graham Zusi corner kick in the 13th minute to help his side lock up three points on the road.

All-time head-to-head matchups have not favored the Red Bulls, as the club is 17-19-11 against the Kansas City franchise. In recent history, New York has come up winless in the last five matches against SKC, combining for a 0-3-2 record, and is 1-3-2 since Sporting KC took on the new name before the start of the 2011 season. The club’s last win against its conference opponent came on Apr. 30, 2011, when the Red Bulls defeated KC 1-0 at Red Bull Arena.

A lot has changed since this season's previous meeting, though. At the time of that loss, the Red Bulls dropped to 2-4-2 and found themselves at the bottom of the table. But as any fan of the league knows, there was still a lot of soccer left to play, as New York showed its resilient nature with a strong 8-3-3 run that now has them just one point behind KC and eying up first place.

“We know it’s going to be an extremely tough game,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke said while addressing the media Thursday afternoon. “Kansas City is a very, very good team. And couple that they’re at home in their own stadium, makes it that much more difficult. We’re looking to go in with the right mentality, the right approach, and treat this like a playoff game, which is kind of is.”

A tough game made all the tougher with the recent diagnosis of Tim Cahill’s injury, a torn PCL suffered in Saturday's win over RSL, that will likely keep him out of the lineup for three to four weeks. The Aussie midfielder has contributed six goals and three assists in 19 appearances this season, placing him just one tally behind Thierry Henry’s team-leading seven goals.

Although faced with the challenge of missing Cahill from the lineup, Petke remains confident in the team’s ability to get the job done.

“The fortunate part of it is it’s looking as a three to four week recovery time, that’s it if he sticks to the treatment, which of course he will and if treatment goes well we should be looking at three to four weeks,” Petke said during his weekly conference call with members of the media Tuesday afternoon. “So, you know, that’s soccer, that’s life, and we have to figure out ways to just get on without him.”

On the other side of the pitch, SKC’s Zusi suffered an apparent leg injury in Wednesday’s MLS All-Star Game and was forced to sub off early. The extent of the injury, and whether it will have a serious impact on his role Saturday, is yet to be seen.

Nevertheless, SKC remains a threatening side, one that embraces every opportunity to take an early lead before locking down defensively and holding it for the remainder of the match.

“We also have the idea that when we go there we don’t want to allow them to dictate the play,” said goalkeeper Luis Robles. “We still want to be able to play our game. And if we can accomplish that, I think our chances are good.”

The Red Bulls and Sporting KC kick off Saturday at 6:30 PM on NBC Sports. Don’t forget to join us at the outdoor viewing party the following week, Aug. 10, when the Red Bulls face Columbus on the road at 7:30 PM. More info available on our Pub Partners page, or RSVP to our Facebook invite.