Under normal circumstances, a Hudson River Derby week is among the most anticipated fixtures on the calendar.
But few things have been normal in the last 20 months, so with a helping hand from Mother Nature postponing this season's first attempted meeting between the New York Red Bulls and NYCFC, why not play twice in one week?
The Red Bulls host NYCFC on Wednesday (8 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), then make the short trek to face NYCFC at Yankee Stadium on Saturday (7:30 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).
Both teams are up for it.
“This is New York City in our stadium. In our stadium, we make the rules and we keep the rhythm,” RBNY head coach Gerhard Struber told media on a virtual press conference. “The boys are so hungry to win this game. That’s it, not more.”
The stakes are high for both the blue and red sides of the rivalry.
NYCFC are yet to separate themselves from the pack in the Eastern Conference, sitting in third place on 38 points, surprisingly only four points above the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs line. Tenth-placed Columbus Crew are only seven points adrift of the Cityzens, who eye Nashville SC three points ahead of them in the East. It’s a jumbled field, both for hosting a Round One playoff match as well as just qualifying.
“We’re not thinking about [RBNY] at all,” Deila said. “All we’re thinking about is that we need six points. That’s what we want. There are a lot of teams behind us coming and winning a lot of games, we want to finish as high as possible. Our goal is to be No. 2 to give us the best position for the playoffs.”
The Red Bulls are hanging on at the fringes of the playoff race. If NYCFC were to take all six points, or even four, it would virtually eliminate RBNY from playoff contention and snap their 11-year playoff streak.
“This is a very special, unique week,” Struber said. “It’s very interesting what we can create this week, we need wins. We need points to realize the playoffs. It’s a must-have to pick up the necessary points, every player understands what this week means for us. We’re ready for a big fight on Wednesday, to leave everything on the field to win this game.”
RBNY lost to NYCFC in their last meeting, back in 2020. Struber wasn’t yet in the country leading the team, but his hire had been announced and he was in constant communication with the coaching staff. NYCFC beat RBNY 5-2, sparked by a Taty Castellanos hat trick.
Castellanos has taken his game to another level this year, with 12 goals and nine assists. His 19 direct goal contributions are tied for most in the league and the young Argentine has been getting some buzz in the Landon Donovan MLS MVP conversation.
“It’s our local derby. These games have to be planned in a different way than a normal game,” Deila said. “It’s so much more intense, there’s more attention and energy. These two teams really want to win, I’m sure.”
The Red Bulls head into the derby in high spirits, having gone to South Florida and dismantled the previously red-hot Inter Miami 4-0. They sit on 26 points in 11th place, nine points below the playoff line, though have games in hand on the teams in front of them. It’s an uphill battle, but they’re not quite out of the race yet.
“It’s finally here, I’m super excited,” RBNY defender John Tolkin said. “The atmosphere should be great.”
What better place to kickstart the stretch run than against your rivals?
“To have two derbies matches back-to-back just brings so much excitement to our locker room,” RBNY midfielder Omir Fernandez said. “These are the two biggest games for us. We all know the rivalry. For me, it’s so special to play these games."