The Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake played a preview of a potential MLS championship game Saturday in a 0-0 tie at Red Bull Arena.
It had all the elements of a postseason game - defense, intensity, chippiness. Just not any scoring.
"Both teams were out for it, just like a playoff game," Real Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman said. "It's as close a race as it's been in a long time with this many teams in it, so it's kind of like the playoffs have started already."
Real Salt Lake (14-4-10) extended its unbeaten streak to 12 games, but the defending MLS champ missed an opportunity to put some distance between its second-place standing and third-place FC Dallas, two points behind, by hitting posts three times during the match.
So, too, did the Red Bulls miss a chance to all but clinch the Eastern Conference title, as second-place Columbus now sits just two points behind them.
Still, having clinched a playoff spot with last week's win over Kansas City, the Red Bulls (14-8-6) considered the tie against a team that offered a stern, physical test a plus as they try to peak for the playoffs.
"We're right there," Red Bulls rookie defender Tim Ream said. "If we just put our chances away and keep clean sheets, there's no reason we can't make a statement in the playoffs and get to that championship game."
Red Bulls had the better of the action much of the time. Unlike their last game against the Kansas City Wizards, when star forward Thierry Henry barely saw the ball, he received it consistently in the first half when coach Hans Backe moved him out to the left wing. But his passes fell wide of their mark, and Real defenders Robbie Russell and Jamison Olave kept him from getting off a single shot the entire game.