The MLS playoffs are less than two weeks away, and the race for the top spot in the Eastern Conference remains tight.
New York City FC finds itself on the cusp of taking first place from the local rival Red Bulls. To do that, NYCFC can’t settle for a tie; the Red Bulls are shoo-ins to win the goal differential tie breaker that likely would come into play.
However, they cannot slip up and have Toronto FC overtake them for one of the two first-round byes up for grabs.
Here’s how the final two weeks are set up for the top three in the East.
NYCFC (14-9-9, 51 points)
Final two games: Sunday at D.C. United; Oct. 23 vs. Columbus Crew SC
City defeated United in their first two meetings this season. Captain David Villa scored in both matches versus D.C., but midfielder Frank Lampard was the deciding player each time. Lampard has four goals of his 12 goals this season against United but hasn’t played since Sept. 17 due to a calf injury.
D.C. is unbeaten over its last five games, while City has won three straight in MLS play.
NYCFC wraps up against eighth-place Columbus on Fan Appreciation Day at Yankee Stadium. Imagine how happy the Third Rail, the club’s passionate support group, will be if the club secures the top seed with a victory over a team that is unlikely to reach the postseason.
Red Bulls (14-9-9, 51 points)
Final two games: Sunday vs. Columbus; Oct. 23 at Philadelphia Union
Columbus does not pose much of a threat, as they are seven points behind sixth-place Philly. Despite being atop the leader boards, the Red Bulls are 2-7-7 away from home. Philadelphia could pose to be a threat to the Red Bulls and hold them to a tie in the regular season finale.
Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips, who is tied with Villa in the race for the Golden Boot, makes the other area team the favorite in both matchups.
Toronto (13-9-10, 49 points)
Final two games: Sunday at Montreal Impact; Oct. 23 vs. Chicago Fire
Toronto is only two points behind the leaders in the standings and holds a five-point lead over fifth-place Montreal. Their last matchup of the season comes at home against the last-place Fire and can serve as a momentum builder as Toronto prepares for the playoffs, with a chance to wind up with a playoff bye.