A Rivalry Week victory couldn't have come at a better time for the New York Red Bulls.
Seeking a catalyst amid an adversity-filled start to their 2023 season, culminating with Monday's departure of head coach Gerhard Struber and the promotion of Troy Lesesne, RBNY might have found a spark via Saturday's 1-0 victory over New York City FC at Red Bull Arena.
It's the second straight victory over a regional foe across all competitions following Tuesday's 1-0 victory over D.C. United in US Open Cup play, back-to-back positive results homegrown midfielder Daniel Edelman said are evidence of a shift in energy within the group.
"I think there’s definitely been a sense of refresh within the team," said Edelman, who will soon join the United States at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. "Troy’s been sort of praising some just added creativity and freedom on the ball. That’s been helpful for our guys to realize that it’s okay to make a mistake, just having a positive reaction to try and win it back or fix it and to help each other out. Something he’s been saying is less talk, more action, and I think that’s been super helpful. Just doing our talking on the field and showing everyone what we’re all about instead of talking about it and just living up to it.
"I think both performances against D.C. and tonight showed that this team is headed in the right direction."
RBNY have plenty of ground to make up on the Eastern Conference table, still sitting in 14th place (2W-4L-6D, 12 points) even after Saturday's victory, with the hope Lesesne can act as a steadying hand. While not a household name, the 39-year-old drew praise for his work as a culture-setter during his run as the inaugural head coach of USL Championship club New Mexico United from 2018-21, earning USL Co-Coach of the Year honors in 2019 while leading the club through its earliest stages.
"It's been a lot," Lesesne, an assistant under Struber, said at his postgame press conference. "It's been a lot this week, and it will be a lot going forward. But that's what you hope for. Whenever you get an opportunity like this, you want to obviously make the most of it. I'm at a great club and I've been given an opportunity that I want to try and maximize. And you know, when you play in a derby like this, you get a real sense of what it means to this club even more."
Saturday's victory won't necessarily earn any style points, with the Hudson River Derby rivals in a tension-riddled scoreless stalemate until homegrown midfielder Omir Fernandez struck for a clinically-taken distance finish in the 76th minute that stood as the game-winner.
Rookie midfielder Peter Stroud, a northern New Jersey native and a RBNY homegrown product, didn't deny the victory was even sweeter coming at the expense of his team's biggest rival.
"It was obviously an awesome ending to a pretty, pretty memorable night, I'd say. I grew up around here so I kind of had a taste of this," Stroud said. "I was pretty young when NYCFC started coming around, so I've always kind of had a thing against them. They've always been competing with us, stealing players from us at young ages. Felt good to get there and help the team get a win.
"Three points in the right direction, obviously, trying to rebuild ourselves back into the table and this is just the start."
Homegrown defender John Tolkin stressed how much sweeter this rivalry win is, making New York red for the time being.
"It's beautiful, especially when I'm hearing those [NYCFC] fans shut up in the corner," Tolkin said on MLS 360 postgame. "I was hearing them all second half. So back in the stadium, any time you can get a derby win it's like the best feeling in the world."