What to Watch for When the Red Bulls Face the Chicago Fire (Sunday, 5:00 PM, MSG, UniMas)

Red Bulls look to win first Supporters' Shield with victory over Chicago Fire Sunday

Heading into the final match of the 2013 regular season, the New York Red Bulls will have arguably their biggest match in club history when they host the Chicago Fire at Red Bull Arena at 5:00 PM. The game will be televised live on MSG and UniMas, with MSG’s pre-game show starting at 4:30 PM. Let’s look ahead to the storylines.

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One more win to the Supporters’ Shield.

Entering this match, the Red Bulls have destiny in their own hands. No matter what happens in the final week of League play, a victory against the Fire would secure New York’s first-ever MLS Supporters’ Shield – given to the team with the most points in the regular season. The Red Bulls would also lock in a place in next season’s CONCACAF Champions League and home field advantage throughout the 2013 playoffs, including the possibility of hosting MLS Cup Final on December 7. There’s no way around it – this is a huge game for the club.

“You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out it would mean a lot to this organization,” midfielder Dax McCarty said about potentially winning the shield. “It’s something that’s kind of unspoken with the players. We don’t have to talk about it. We don’t talk about it, but I think we can taste it and I think we know what it would mean not only to this whole organization and these fans, but to us as players.”

But a dangerous and hungry Chicago team awaits…

By no means will New York’s task be easy, as it will host a Fire squad that is looking to secure their spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs. Heading into this week in a tie with the Montreal Impact for third place in the Eastern Conference, Chicago (14-12-7, 49 pts.) know that a victory against New York will punch its ticket to the postseason. The Fire is led by 20-goal scorer and MLS Most Valuable Player candidate Mike Magee, while U.S. National Team goalkeeper Sean Johnson will be making his 100th MLS appearance in between the posts. Any result other than three points for the Fire could potentially put their playoff hopes in peril, so they will be desperate to get a win at Red Bull Arena.

Team is getting healthier but who will play?

In last Sunday’s 3-0 win against the Houston Dynamo, head coach Mike Petke made several changes to his Starting XI, putting Brandon Barklage at left back, slotting Ibrahim Sekagya to center back and pushing Swede Markus Holgersson to right back. Peguy Luyindula made his first start as a central midfielder, tucking in with McCarty while Tim Cahill played up top with Thierry Henry. The game plan clearly worked in Houston, but with the possibility of having a recovering Fabian Espindola (ankle) and David Carney (calf), to go along with a fit Bradley Wright-Phillips (who returned as a substitute following a hamstring injury and scored New York’s third goal) back in the mix, who does Petke decide to play?

Will the Red Bulls maintain their strong home field advantage?

With a 10-2-4 record at Red Bull Arena and an eight-game home unbeaten run entering Sunday’s match, the Red Bulls will look to finish the regular season on a high note before entering the MLS Cup Playoffs. New York is unbeaten (6-0-1) in its last seven regular season home finales. A capacity crowd is expected in Harrison and the Red Bulls will hope to feed off the fans’ energy on Fan Appreciation Day in what should be one of the most highly anticipated matches ever to be held at Red Bull Arena. The ability for New York to stay focused considering the match’s implications is key.

“Sunday is 90 minutes, the final 90 minutes of the season,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke told reporters in a conference call on Tuesday. “Obviously, it’s a special occasion and there’s a lot on the line. However, it would be foolish at this stage to think anything other than this game and three points.”