Seattle Sounders v New York Red Bulls

Red Bulls, Sounders to battle for Supporters’ Shield

Eastern and Western Conference leading New York Red Bulls and Seattle Sounders FC are set to square off Sunday night in a Major League Soccer matchup full of star power and intrigue.

The contest at Seattle’s raucous home CenturyLink Field airs on ESPN at 9 p.m. ET.

New York comes into the match on 51 points, just one ahead of Seattle in the race for the Supporters’ Shield, awarded to the club posting the best regular-season record. The Red Bulls have four more regular season matches, while the Sounders have six more games to play.

Each team also could clinch a playoff birth with the right results this weekend. New York gets in with a win and a Philadelphia Union tie or loss to Sporting KC on Friday or a Chicago Fire tie or loss to the Montreal Impact on Saturday. They also can seal a spot with a tie against the Sounders and a loss by the Union or Fire.

Seattle can qualify with a win coupled with FC Dallas and San Jose Earthquake defeats in Sunday contests with the Columbus Crew and Chivas USA, respectively.

The regular season ends on Oct. 27 with the MLS Cup final set for Dec. 7 or 8. Ten of MLS’s 19 teams, five per conference, will make the playoffs.

Despite the stakes, New York Red Bulls captain Thierry Henry is not expected to travel to the Northwest as he has been rested in matches on turf often this year to avoid the strain it puts on his Achilles.

“It is a big game, but the health of him as one of our key players is extremely important,” Red Bulls head coach Mike Petke told mlssoccer.com. “I wouldn’t 100 percent rule him out, but going by history I wouldn’t hold out a ton of hope that he will be playing on turf this weekend.”

Veteran defender Jamison Olave is also likely to be rested as he seeks to save his knees, which do not take kindly to turf either.

On the Seattle side of things, Clint Dempsey is hoping to recover from a hamstring injury in time to make the game. The USMNT captain who injected life into the MLS when he moved from Tottenham Hotspur in August missed last week’s draw with the LA Galaxy while dealing with the injury.

Dempsey’s Stars and Stripes and Sounders teammate Eddie Johnson, the goalscorer in the Galaxy road match, is also facing a fitness race to recover from a knock on his shoulder received in training, head coach Sigi Schmid said.

Even if the best-paid players on either side end up being sidelined for the contest, the game still features plenty of quality. English Premier League fans will recognize Seattle striker Obafemi Martins, a former Newcastle United and Birminham City player, and New York Red Bulls midfielder Tim Cahill, who starred for Everton.

Other players will attempt to grab the headlines as they get their chance to shine in this matchups of elites.