MLS's new gold standard

Heading into the final two months of the MLS regular season, D.C. United leads the Eastern Conference by two points over the New York Red Bulls. But after a 3-0 loss at Red Bull Arena on Sunday, D.C. coach Ben Olsen said the Red Bulls were the Eastern Conference's "gold standard." Indeed, the Red Bulls lead all MLS clubs in points-per-game, making them the favorite for the 2015 Supporters' Shield.

MLS Top 10, Points Per Game:
RANK TEAM PTS PPG
1. (E) NY Red Bulls (42) 1.68
2. (W) Vancouver (45) 1.67
3. (W) LA Galaxy (46) 1.64
4. (W) FC Dallas (41) 1.64
5. (W) Sporting KC (40) 1.60
6. (E) D.C. United (44) 1.57
7. (E) Columbus (41) 1.52
8. (E) Toronto FC (37) 1.48
9. (W) Portland (40) 1.48
10. (W) San Jose (38) 1.46
E=Eastern Conference; W=Western Conference.

In terms of total points, the Red Bulls have 42 points, fourth in the race for the Supporters' Shield, but they have three games in hand on the LA Galaxy, first in the Western Conference with 46 points, and D.C. United, first in the Eastern Conference with 44 points, and two games in hand on the Vancouver Whitecaps, second in the Western Conference with 45 points.

The Red Bulls' record in MLS their last 10 games (7-2-1) is the best in MLS, ahead of the LA Galaxy (7-3-0) and Columbus (6-2-2), but head coach Jesse Marsch said after Sunday's game that there was no talk in his locker room of a second Supporter's Shield in three years.

"Right now, it's just about taking a little bit of a break and getting ready for Chicago here," he said of the schedule that has the Red Bulls off for the FIFA fixture window and back in action against the Fire on Sept. 11. "There's nine games to go. That's a lot of games. The minute you stop and start to think that you're better than you are, that's when you slip."

The Red Bulls reached the Eastern Conference final in 2014, but few gave them a chance of doing anything in 2015 after the exits of star Thierry Henry, who retired, and Tim Cahill, who moved to China, and the decision to replace popular coach Mike Petke with Marsch. The departures of Henry and Cahill, two of the highest-paid players in MLS, transformed New York from having one of the highest payrolls in MLS to one of the lowest.

The Red Bulls began the season with only one Designated Player, Bradley Wright-Phillips, who was given a raise after tying the league's record for most goals in a single campaign with 27 in 2014.

BWP scored two goals and added an assist in the win over D.C. United to give him 13 goals and seven assists in 25 games.

"When Bradley drew the yellow card early in the game on [Steve] Birnbaum," said Marsch, "he was injured. His toe was bothering for the rest of the game. To get two goals and an assist while you're limping around on the field is a big accomplishment. He's dynamic. I think he's shown what a complete player he is. I would argue that he's been much better this year than he was last year."

The Red Bulls also allowed veteran defender Jamison Olave to return to Real Salt Lake, leaving them with an inexperienced backline, but it has been one of the best in MLS.

"I think Damien [Perrinelle] and Matt [Miazga] have been a very good pairing," he said after the shutout win over D.C. United. "We obviously think very highly of [left back] Kemar [Lawrence] and his ability physically."

The win over D.C. United -- its longtime rival -- was perhaps the biggest of the season by New York, but Marsch did not want to put too much int it.
 
"It was another step forward," he said. "There's a lot to play for at this moment and if we stop for a second then we could slip so we're going to keep our pedal on the floor."

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