October 16, 2016
The leap-frogging should end in a memorable Eastern Conference finish; Red Bulls or NYC FC can clinch 1st
By Michael Lewis
Bradley Wright-Phillips and his Red Bulls teammates are in the driver's seat in the East. If they win out, they will win the conference.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Thanks to FIFA (now how many people will thank that organization that these days?), the MLS Eastern Conference standings have been frozen the past two weeks.
There has been no change in the race for the first place because of the international playing date.
That has been in great contrast in what had been transpiring in September when one team and then would leap frog past another into the lead.
During a 13-day span, the three teams vying for the position took turns atop the conference:
* On Sept. 18, Toronto FC retained the lead behind a wild 3-3 deadlock with the Red Bulls at BMO Field.
* On Sept. 23, New York City FC recorded a 4-1 home triumph over the Chicago Fire, took over the lead.
* On Sept. 24, the Red Bulls climbed atop the 10-team conference behind a 1-0 home win over the Montreal Impact.
* On Sept. 28, Toronto FC (13-9-10, 49) vaulted into first place with a scoreless draw at home with Orlando City SC.
* On Sept. 30, NYC FC (14-9-9, 51) retained the lead with a 2-0 away win at the Houston Dynamo.
* And Oct. 1, the Red Bulls (14-9-9, 51) moved back into the top spot with a 3-2 home victory over the Philadelphia Union. The Red Bulls lead City via goal differential (plus 14 to plus four).
Since then there has been no movement because there have been no games.
But all that changes today.
Regardless which team you root for, you have to admit, it will be the best and most memorable finish for New York soccer in the 21-year history of MLS.
In fact, either metropolitan side can clinch the Eastern Conference crown today by a series of results.
For the Red Bulls, a win over the Columbus Crew and a loss by NYC FC and a tie or a defeat by Toronto will give then the crown with only one game remaining in the regular season.
For City, a victory over D.C. and a draw or loss by Toronto will give the Blues the title.
And one other thing, if both New York sides win and Toronto draws or loses, they will secure the top two positions in the East.
Then it will go down to the final week of the season.
One thing is certain: one New York team will get a reprieve from playing that dreaded mid-week game because only Toronto can pass either side.
The best-case scenario would be both teams finishing one-two. That would set up a potential Eastern Conference final series clash of epic proportions.
Of course, each team would have to do the job in the semifinals.
It certainly won't be easy, but then again who would have thought in March, let alone over the summer, that we would be in a position to see and enjoy one fantastic finish.