It took more than five years for New York City FC to atone for a host of bad memories at Red Bull Arena against archrival New York Red Bulls.
Fast forward to Sunday, and a Heineken Rivalry Week match that remained scoreless for nearly 70 minutes. That was until Taty Castellanos latched onto a pretty assist from Santiago Rodriguez and cashed in on his seventh shot of the day, the eventual 1-0 winner that ended a half-decade of frustration for the Cityzens in New Jersey.
But, could it be Castellanos' farewell in MLS? If so, it would figure the 23-year-old's final act was leading his club to NYCFC's first win at Red Bull Arena since June 24, 2017, a 2-0 victory that saw Jack Harrison (now with Leeds United) and Ben Sweat (now with Sporting Kansas City) score in either half. It came less than a month after the two sides tangled in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup, a 3-0 win for RBNY.
"We were motivated, we were hungry today, to get the win," NYCFC interim head coach Nick Cushing said. "I think in previous games, their style has been more effective, and today we wanted to make sure that we had a good squad, we had a good team, and [that] we all had a really clear vision of how we wanted to play the game. I thought we applied that today."
Sunday's goal was a milestone for Castellanos: it was his 50th in regular-season play, joining club legend David Villa — who scored 77 times in regular season contests from 2015-2018 — as the only players to reach the 50-goal plateau for NYCFC. It's also Castellanos' fifth in the derby, tying him with Villa for the club lead.
With the Golden Boot presented by Audi front-runner, and last year's winner, having publicly stated his desire to leave the club for Europe, his actions following his substitution and after the final whistle may fuel speculation that it could be his final match with the club. He was saluting NYCFC supporters and engaging in an extended embrace with Cushing and sporting director David Lee.
Cushing, for his part, spoke as if it were business as usual, saying Castellanos requested to be lifted from the match in the 88th minute due to "a little bit of pain", while adding it was "nothing serious" and that the Argentinian striker would be available against Inter Miami CF Saturday (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+) at Yankee Stadium.
"Last season, the Golden Boot speaks for itself, and then this year, he's still scoring goals, he's still up there, he's still leading on the goal-scoring chart," Cushing said. "I think for him, it's the type of guy that he is. He's a really good guy, he's really committed. For myself, being interim head coach, he's shown me full support and full dedication to the way I want to adjust the team."
With or without Castellanos, NYCFC next host Miami looking to extend their unbeaten streak to six and their winning streak to four. Currently on 38 points (11W-4L-5D), one behind the Philadelphia Union for the Eastern Conference lead with a match in hand, Sunday's win wraps up a nine-point week that began with a 4-2 win over the New England Revolution on July 9 before a 1-0 victory at FC Dallas on Wednesday.
"The nature of the league is there's lots of different styles," Cushing said. "Our belief is that we want to play an attacking style of football with the ball, but we also have to be adaptable to playing against the challenging teams [like] New England, Dallas, Red Bull. We have to adapt and make sure that we do our homework, we prepare the team to play against the opposition that we want.
"The pleasing thing for me as a coach is the players apply themselves with a hundred percent focus and a hundred percent of commitment, and when we do that, we get results."
HIGHLIGHTS: New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC | July 17, 2022