Ever since New York City FC entered the league in 2015, the New York Derby has been among the most colorful MLS rivalries.
New York Red Bulls coach Gerhard Struber recognizes the importance of showing New Yorkers who's best, as he said leading up to the latest installment of the clubs' Heineken Rivalry Week battle Saturday at Red Bull Arena (8 pm ET | FS1, FOX Deportes).
"Of course it’s a very exciting time when we go into a derby, for me, for my coaching team, for every single player," Struber reflected. "We have to create the right atmosphere that we are ready and sharp in the brain and sharp actions. I think this is very, very important. We have to show our supporters that we are No. 1 in the city. We have right now the chance for that and we have many things in our hands."
Struber noted that RBNY's camp is aware of how the rivalry has unfolded over the years; it's gone from the Red Bulls' legendary 7-0 win in 2016 to NYCFC's decisive 5-2 win the last time they faced each other in league play last November.
"We speak very clear inside," Struber noted, "especially the history of the games, but not only from the results side, more from the content and what they create against us in the last few years. I think this is also very, very important. We know how they handle our style of play, how they find ways against us."
The rivals find themselves at quite different junctures at this point of the 2021 season. While NYCFC saw their six-match unbeaten streak get halted with a 1-0 loss at the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday, they're still third in the East and eyeing at least the second spot. The Red Bulls, meanwhile, won 1-0 while hosting Columbus to snap their seven-match winless string – an essential result if they're going to make a stretch-run playoff push.
RBNY's Tom Edwards also had thoughts about Saturday's pivotal matchup. Having grown up in England and developing in Stoke City's academy system, he's certainly no stranger to the intensity of derbies and promised that level of focus in this Harrison, NJ-based edition.
"Back home, I've played in quite a few derbies. The atmosphere is unbelievable and that's what you'd expect in any derby around the world," the on-loan defender/midfielder noted. "It's a massive game for the club, for the fans."
The New York Rivalry has ebbed and flowed over the years, a topic MLSsoccer.com's Tom Bogert explored around how it's tilting NYCFC's way. Naturally, the Red Bull side of this matchup wants to divert that narrative.
"We are going to make sure that they feel like they’re at our stadium, that it’s not another home game for them," Edwards said. "We’re going to make it as tough as possible for them. We’ll be confident, we’ll have a lot of fans there cheering us on, it should be a good atmosphere for it. It’s just to make sure they do feel like it’s an away game and they don’t feel like they have a step on us like it’s a home game."
Edwards also understands how Saturday fits into the fabric of their whole season, especially with RBNY striving to make their 12th straight playoff appearance. The last time they missed the playoffs was 2009, and Struber's team is deadset on keeping that streak going.
"I feel like we've just got to treat it like any game," Edwards remarked. "All the boys here understand what it's about, and I do too. I just feel like it's a huge game for us, especially as I said, a one-nil win at home, leading into another home game is always good to get."
He then confidently predicted, "I'm sure we can get a positive result on the weekend."