The scenarios are many, with Columbus and Houston in the mix to sit among the top three. Meanwhile, Sporting Kansas City, which is tied with the Union in points, will wrap up conference championship honors with a win Saturday. Essentially, it's a guessing game, but the Union could find itself seeded as high as first in the East (provided, among other things, SKC loses to D.C. United by more than three goals) or as low as fourth, and could land in the wild-card round next Wednesday or Thursday. Wins by Columbus (47 points) and Houston (46) this weekend could put the Union into a road match at Colorado as early as Wednesday.
Should it win there, the Union would be forced to come back on short rest to play in the conference semifinal round, which convenes Saturday, Oct. 29, or Sunday, Oct. 30.
"There were a lot of moments where we were behind the ball instead of in front of the ball," Union manager Peter Nowak said. "We couldn't find the openings like we normally do. Unfortunately, [New York's] goal came too early, and we spent the rest of the game chasing it and trying to compete against speedy guys, but I think we did a pretty good job to contain them."
Unable to find a rhythm on offense, the Union relied on matching the brute force that New York (10-8-16, 46 points) conveyed on attack. The Red Bulls were unable to finish key chances, but clearly were the aggressor on attack, pace of play and possession.
This was especially true in the first half. After 8 minutes, Red Bull was ahead, after a cross in the box found speedy forward Dane Richards, who skipped the ball to the far post of Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon. However, Richards' attempt banged off the post and caromed off Mondragon's back, resulting in an own goal.
"I think we were a little bit naïve in the fact that you can't just sit there, get kicked, and look to the referee to bail you out in a lot of those situations," Union defender Danny Califf said, regarding how his team attempted to cope with a New York's physical game plan.
"It was a good lesson on how to have a bit more bite, and, when you are the better team, how you don't allow [the opposition] to dictate the pace of the game and the rhythm of the game."
Looking for an offensive spark, Nowak brought on forward Danny Mwanga, midfielder Freddy Adu and customary second-half firecracker Roger Torres.
In the 67th minute, the Union looked to have leveled the match on an indirect free kick from Sebastien Le Toux. His shot appeared to graze the head of defender Carlos Valdes and the ball found the back of the net, but the linesman whistled the play dead on an offsides call.
"I need to see the replay. I didn't touch it, but I want to see the play and why [the refs made the call]," Valdes said. "But in my eyes, we scored - it was a goal."
A feisty offensive attack, coupled with a physical defensive battle from the Red Bulls' back line, led by center back Rafael Marquez, secured the clean sheet.
The loss dropped the Union to 0-3 in all competitions at Red Bull Arena and snapped what had been an eight-match unbeaten streak dating back to Sept. 7.