Union-Red Bulls 5 Things: A Chance to Play Spoiler

On the road for the final time in 2015, the refreshed Union (9-16-7) begin their season descent on Sunday (3 p.m./TCN), as they try and play spoiler against the Supporters' Shield-hungry New York Red Bulls (16-10-6) at Red Bull Arena.

Here are the five things you need to know:

1. Playing spoiler
Officially on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, the Union would typically have little to play for on Sunday. But as manager Jim Curtin explained, when the Union face the Red Bulls, they don't need much motivation.

"When you say Red Bull, the guys are going to be naturally motivated," he said. "It's a little unique in that we've been eliminated. It's tough environment to go to Red Bull Arena, they're a team that's playing as well as anybody."

Adding to the Union's motivation is their ability to spoil the Red Bulls' quest for the Supporters' Shield, which goes to the team with the highest point total. With 54 points, the Red Bulls are currently three points behind FC Dallas for the MLS lead but have one a game in hand.

"We have an opportunity to put a dent in their Supporters' Shield hopes," Curtin said. "We'll take the game very seriously. It's a great test for us against the top team in the East.

"They want to finish strong and would love to win that Supporters' Shield. We have the opportunity to play a role in possibly spoiling that. We'll put a lineup on the field to get three points."

2. Fighting for jobs
If keeping a trophy out of the hands of the Red Bulls isn't enough motivation, the Union are playing for jobs. And not just jobs as starters, but a position on this team next season.

"Every training session we're evaluating guys and every game we're evaluating guys," Curtin said. "We're learning a lot about 2016 and the guys that'll be back with the Philadelphia Union."

According to Curtin, the players that show up motivated and ready to work, even when the team is out of the playoff picture and has nothing to play for, are the ones he will gravitate toward.

"Who are the guys at the bottom of the roster who continue to push the starters?" Curtin asked. "Who are the guys that maybe we move on from? When we talk about putting together a roster, every spot is valuable. When it isn't as easy to get motivated, who are the guys who are still sticking with it and fight?"

One player that has roster ground to gain in the final two matches is goalkeeper Andre Blake. The Union starter for the U.S. Open Cup final match, Blake will most likely be the Union's starting goalkeeper for the club's final two matches. And though Curtin wouldn't finalize anything, he suggested the Union are looking to Blake as the future.

"We're very high on him right now," the manager said. "I don't want to announce anything, but the hope is that he's in the mix to be the guy going forward to solve our goalkeeping."

3. Red Bulls want the East
With D.C. United the only team still mathematically in pursuit, the Red Bulls can clinch the Eastern Conference title and CONCACAF Champions League berth on Sunday.

They just have to beat the Union first

"We clearly have a lot to play for," said Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch. "We're in a good position and from the beginning we've tried to build an identity that would be ready for this moment. To be ready to put everything out there and be successful. Here we are, everything to play for.

"I don't think one guy on our team needs a reminder of what we're playing for."

But they know it won't come easy. The Union have played the Red Bulls tough this season, going 1-1-0, beating them, 2-0, at Red Bull Arena and ejecting them from the Open Cup.

"They've been a difficult team for us this season," said Red Bulls midfielder Lloyd Sam. "It's a personal game between us and them and there's a lot at stake. We know it's going to be difficult but we're strong at home right now. We can get it done."

4. Injuries
The Union will be without center back Maurice Edu, who is out for the season after sports hernia surgery. Midfielder Jimmy McLaughlin, recovering from a concussion, had an emergency appendectomy and will miss the remainder of the season, while goalkeeper Brian Sylvestre had a left knee procedure done and he will also be shut down.

The Red Bulls will be without defenders Chris Duvall, Roy Miller and forward Anatole Abang.

5. This and that
• Officially out of the playoff picture, the Union can draft no lower than fourth in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft. With 34 points, if the Union win one of their final two games, they will be out of the running for the first-overall pick. The Chicago Fire have 30 points, also with two games remaining.

• With 16 wins, the Red Bulls are one victory away from tying their franchise record for MLS wins in a season. They've reached 17 wins twice in the club's history.

• The Union are 5-8-2 all-time against the Red Bulls in MLS and are 1-5-1 at Red Bull Arena. However, the Union's only win as visitors came this season.

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