July 1, 2016
Hudson River Derby needs a NYC FC win to raise the rivalry to another level
By Michael Lewis
MLS goal-scoring leader David Villa has yet to score against the Red Bulls in four derby matches. Will the fifth time be the charm for the NYC FC striker?
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
Before the United States rose up and started to hand Mexico defeat after defeat on American soil, the border clash between the two North American rivals really didn't mean that much.
It seemed whenever these two rivals met in the 1940's through the early nineties, El Tri would have its way with their neighbors to the north, home and and away. There usually would be a rout in Mexico City and a closer-contested match back in the states with the Mexicans usually prevailing or even tying once in a blue moon.
Then the Americans bloodied the noses of Mexico with the first of dos a cero matches in the 1991 CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals. The series, slowly, but surely tipped toward the USA, making it one of the great national team rivalries in the world.
Which brings us to the Red Bulls and New York City FC.
The Red Bulls, owned by Red Bull energy drink company from Austria, are the established side with 21 years of history, some of it frustrating (1999 and 2009 as EXhibits A and B), some of it glorious (the 2013 and 2015 Supporters Shield winners as prime examples). They have lived through the trials and tribulations of watch works and doesn't work. The club has decided not to spend its money on high-priced Designated Players, but rather on solid foreign players with an emphasis on good American players.
Then there's upstart NYC FC, owned by Manchester City in England. City is the new kid on the block, trying to make some waves and steal local and national glory from the Red Bulls by signing three over-thirtysomething Designated Players -- striker David Villa, member of Spain's 2010 World Cup winning side, midfielder Andrea Pirlo, member of Italy's 2006 World Cup winning team, and midfielder Frank Lampard, who never won a World Cup with England, but produced plenty of heroics with Chelsea.
The Red Bulls play in one of the finest soccer stadiums in the country, arguably the best, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. They're called New York, but play in New Jersey.
NYC FC calls Yankee Stadium home, a ball park much more suited to baseball than soccer (imagine what the atmosphere could be like if there were fans surrounding the field). They're called New York, but can't find a permanent place to play. It could be years before City can move into a stadium it can call home within the limits of the five boroughs.
Two teams, two disparate paths.
What a perfect scenario. Could not have written myself as a set-up to this nascent rivalry.
In only its second year, the Hudson River Derby has generated much enthusiasm and fervor, although after the final referee's whistle at all matches, the Red Bulls supporters have celebrated three points and area bragging rights while City fans have wallowed in defeat.
The same team winning derby or rivalry matches doesn't always make for good drama (except for perhaps the winning team because its supporters would never tire of beating its rivals).
But even Mexico's dominance over the USA did not last forever, even though at times it seemed to for the Americans, and that became a fabulous rivalry with the USA's ascendance.
Now, don't get me wrong. There is a strong and growing rivalry between the red and blue teams. But it could get even better if a team that has lost all four encounters entering Sunday's noon confrontation at Yankee Stadium actually pulls off a win and earns three points.
Of course, tell that to Red Bulls supporters, who have been quite happy with the way the series has unfolded:
* A 4-0-0 record
* A plus 12 goal differential on the strength of outscoring their foes, 14-2 in those four matches
* That 7-0 result at Yankee Stadium May 21, which will still live in the memory of both clubs until there is a similar result or another astounding match
* And incredible as it may sound, Villa, who leads Major League Soccer with 11 goals, hasn't found the net in those four matches against the Red Bulls
Of course, history only can take you so far.
Entering this weekend's schedule, the teams are hovering near the top of the Eastern Conference, with City (6-5-6, 24 points) in second place, followed by the Red Bulls (7-8-2, 23) in third. The Philadelphia Union (7-5-5, 26) tops the conference.
Both clubs need the points and outside of the two sides situated atop the table or battling for the lead, it really doesn't get much better than this.
NYC FC is the team in form at the moment.
City is coming off two wins, one home encounter that that the side barely avoided tying the Philadelphia Union in the waning minutes and in stoppage, the other an impressive road victory that the team showed that it could close out games. Well, at least this one time.
The Red Bulls, you might say, have NYC FC-itits of late in that they have given up leads their last three matches.
It cost them points in road matches, surrendering late goals in a 2-1 loss at Real Salt Lake and in a 1-1 draw at the Columbus Crew. That cost them three points in the standings, the reason why they are in third place and not tied for first.
And on Wednesday night in Chester, Pa., they allowed a 1-0 edge slip away early in the second half as long-time nemesis Chris Pontius struck twice within a five-minute span to boost the Philadelphia Union to a 2-1 win to reach the quarterfinals of the Lamar Hunt/U.S.Open Cup.
NYC FC, in contrast, hasn't played since its impressive 2-0 triumph against the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field last Saturday. The team is well rested for this derby, as opposed to the May 21 debacle. City was returning home from a two-game road trip, having played in Toronto the previous Wednesday (the Red Bulls also performed that day, but they were at home).
City head coach Patrick Vieira has said the game will be different this time and he should be right. Whether City can use the extra rest to its advantage is another question.
There are several X-factors, one being that 7-0 romp. The likelihood of that happening again in this derby, let alone in MLS, is a ridiculous longshot (I have learned never to say never after watching soccer and other sports for so long).
But you have to wonder how that result will play with the heads of the players on both teams.
In some respects, both sides need a little bit of amnesia from that game.
The Red Bulls have to get it out of their heads, if they haven't already, that they are not seven goals better than the second-year team.
NYC FC, on the other hand, must get over what could become a serious inferiority complex. The team has yet to win a match in the four-game series. And to add insult to insult, it has never won a New York derby match if you count in a pair of Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup eliminations by the Cosmos the past two years. Just in case if you did not know it, last year's shootout loss to the North American Soccer League club went into the books as a draw because under soccer rules, tied games decided by penalties are considered deadlocks.
Yet, tell that to the City players, who were pretty dejected after that result.
(If you are planning ahead, Round Three of the Hudson River Derby is set for Red Bull Arena on July 24).
If New York soccer is fortunate, both teams will continue to accrue points, book a playoff spot and perhaps even meet in the postseason.
Then the derby will reach even greater heights with so much more on the line.
But back to the matters at hand, or in this case, at the feet or off the head.
On Sunday, NYC FC would love to have a win, no matter how it happens.
Ditto for the Red Bulls.
When you're playing your archrivals, style points don't mean a thing, only points in the MLS standings do.