Red Bull New York and D.C. United are set to complete their annual Atlantic Cup competition at Red Bull Arena on Saturday as the two sides meet for the third and final time of the season.
New York holds the edge in the regional rivalry with a point from a 0-0 draw at RBA on March 16 as well as a 2-0 victory at RFK Stadium on April 13.
Dax McCarty knows a great deal about the Atlantic Cup having played for both D.C. and New York, and the Red Bulls midfielder believes that the players take as much pride in the competition as the fans.
"It's more than a supporters thing," McCarty told the club's official website on Thursday. "The players know exactly what's at stake here. It might not be as big of a trophy as the Supporters' Shield or MLS Cup, but it's a trophy nonetheless and it's something that the supporters can take pride in, so the players take a lot of pride in it as well."
And if pride did not offer enough incentive, New York will be hoping for maximum points to snap the three-game winless run that dropped the Red Bulls out of first place in the Eastern Conference.
It looks as if the pressure is mounting on the Red Bulls as a reported bust-up between head coach Mike Petke and Designated Player Thierry Henry occurred in training earlier this week, though Petke insisted that the two are already beyond the exchange.
"Thierry Henry is one of the most passionate and fiery people I've ever been associated with and, unless you've been under a rock for the last 13 years, (you'd know) I'm pretty passionate and lose my head a lot, too," Petke told MLSsoccer.com after Thursday's training session. "Very normal stuff. There's really nothing to report, nothing to report. It happens all over the world.
"Thierry and I were talking fine today and we had a great conversation after practice, both on the same page, both ready to roll."
D.C. can salvage its season by stealing the Atlantic Cup from New York's grasp, and with United entering the weekend in last place in the East on 14 points, the players certainly want to impress head coach Ben Olsen ahead of the club's U.S. Open Cup final against Real Salt Lake.
"We're still a young team. It's not like guys are settled in or have a (guaranteed) spot," D.C. defender Chris Korb told MLSsoccer.com. "Everyone's sort of fighting for a spot in that Open Cup game and even for next year, to be here. We just to have some pride. No one here likes tying or losing. We're here to win and we work all week to win."