By Marco D' Onofrio
The second leg of the Eastern Conference final should be an epic battle between two teams desperate to finally get over the hump and back into the MLS Cup final. Despite coming close on several occasions, neither team has been able to reach Major League Soccer's championship game since 2008, when the Columbus Crew defeated the New York Red Bulls 3-1.
The visitors come into Sunday night's clash full of confidence after their impressive 2-0 win in the first leg. Not only were the Crew able to find the back of the net quicker than any other team in MLS playoff history, they were able to put the cherry on the top by adding a second and not conceding a crucial away goal.
The only game that Columbus played at Red Bull Arena this season was a 2-1 loss, but it is a result that the Crew will be looking to replicate on Sunday night, as it will be enough for them to earn a spot in the MLS Cup final on December 6th. However, Columbus did end up picking the ball out of their own net a disappointing 53 times this season, so the team will need to be solid at the back if they plan on stopping the league's best offense in 2015, for the second week in a row.
Even after a tumultuous offseason that saw fans nearly riot after former head coach, Mike Petke, was fired, the Red Bulls find themselves back in the Eastern Conference final for the second consecutive season.
Current head coach, Jesse Marsch, was able to do what many thought was once impossible. Not only was he able to gain the support of Red Bulls' fans, he was able to make them believe in the club again, even without a big star like Thierry Henry.
“I’m honored to be selected among my peers as the Coach of the Year, but it’s a team award,” Marsch said after the team's training session on Tuesday. “It’s an acknowledgment of everything we’ve been able to accomplish in this organization. I think we really should credit the players for what they’ve put into this, how much they’ve believed in what’s being built here and how much they’ve contributed. It truly is a group honor.”
Winning the second Supporters' Shield in three seasons is a fantastic accomplishment, but for an organization that has never lifted the league's most prestigious trophy, fans want an MLS Cup. However, the team have given themselves quite the daunting task after losing the first leg 2-0.
New York has been nearly unstoppable at Red Bull Arena this year though, losing just three times all season.
While the club confirmed there will be extra security measures in place for Sunday's match after the terrorist attacks in Paris a couple of weeks ago, expect quite the raucous atmosphere in New Jersey as fans will be hoping to intimidate the visitors.
Indeed, Sunday's tilt should be quite the entertaining affair for fans and neutrals alike, with both clubs looking to gift their fans with one final game in 2015.