The New York Red Bulls consider the Philadelphia Union a local rival. But it will be hard not to keep one eye on Atlanta Untied when the Red Bulls make the trip south to Talen Energy Stadium on Sunday.
The Red Bulls (20-7-5, 65 points) enter the penultimate week of the season trailing Atlanta by a point in the race for the Supporters Shield, awarded to the MLS team that finishes with the best regular season record.
With that hardware comes the top overall seed in the playoffs as well as an automatic berth into next year's Concacaf Champions League. Earlier this year, the Red Bulls were eliminated from the Champions League in the semifinals by eventual champions CD Chivas Guadalajara.
So, while there's always pride on the line in any meeting between Philadelphia and New York, Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams says the focus remains on bigger goals.
"I think that the most important thing is gaining three points and continuing to move as far up the table as possible," Adams said. "Obviously Atlanta has two games left as well, and we know that they want to win both those games to win the Supporters Shield. But that's kind of what's on our mind at the end of the season.
While the New York Red Bulls are seeking their third Supporters? Shield trophy, the Union (15-12-5, 50 points) are in the playoffs for just the third time in club history and second in three seasons.
Philadelphia locked up its berth with a 5-1 victory over Minnesota United back on Oct. 6 that marked its biggest offensive output since a 6-1 win over Orlando City on the final day of the 2017 campaign.
Like the Red Bulls, the Union are 3-0-1 in their last four matches, and still have something to play for in their last two games. In Philadelphia's case, it's sealing a third or fourth-place finish and home field for a knockout round match.
But after losing just once in their last 10 games coach Jim Curtin says Sunday's game should provide a benchmark for what it will takes to succeed in the playoffs. Philadelphia has never been beyond the conference semifinals.
"You want to test yourself against the best," Curtin said. "And Red Bull and Atlanta are the top of our conference right now, and it's points-wise by a pretty significant margin. So, it's not going to be easy."
For the Red Bulls, Bradley Wright-Phillips will make his first return home since hitting his 20th goal of the season, in the process becoming the first player ever to score 20 MLS goals in three different years. For Philadelphia, Borek Dockal is back from international duty as captain of the Czech Republic. He leads MLS with 17 assists.