"We need to win": NYCFC, Red Bulls recognize playoff stakes 

HRD 9.16.23

Can the latest Hudson River Derby spark a late-season surge into the Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoffs?

Bitter rivals New York City FC and New York Red Bulls both hope that’s the case Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium (3:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass), when Matchday 32 begins with a consequential clash between Eastern Conference foes.

The standings tell most of the story, even if Red Bulls head coach Troy Lesesne is sticking clear of declarative statements. His side is 13th in the East, five points off the postseason pace with seven games to go.

“You're not going to hear the language breaking point, or do-or-die or must-win,” said Lesesne, whose team has lost three of four post-Leagues Cup.

“This is an important match for us. We had three matches in the previous week prior to the [international] break, and we didn't get the results that we wanted. And that's put a little bit more pressure on us obviously to reach our ultimate goal of making the playoffs and giving ourselves a chance to compete in the playoffs to win a championship.”

RBNY attacker Omir Fernandez, who’s developed a habit of scoring timely goals against NYCFC, went one step further when discussing what’s at stake.

“We need goals, we need to win, we need points,” said Fernandez. “We know that this is a point in the season where it's not ‘okay, let's just move on to the next game.’ Every single game is really important.

“And I think we said it in training this week. We need players who want to take on that responsibility. … Now, we need to see it out on the field. And we have to have people that are going to take that responsibility and not shy away from those moments.”

NYCFC are slightly improved at 12th in the East, but their outlook isn’t too different than their cross-city rival. The Cityzens have six games to make up a four-point gap and reach the ninth-and-final playoff spot, affording little room for error.

“We’ve been in this moment now of needing to win football games – it’s been pretty regular over the last few games knowing we need to get points,” said head coach Nick Cushing. “We were pleased with the three points at home [against Montréal], disappointed to get the draw against Vancouver.

“But it’s three more home games, three more opportunities and, every day I see the players train, I see they’re really hungry and have a huge desire to win. We’ll continue to fight. It starts this weekend against Red Bull.”

Red Bulls are in danger of seeing their joint-league-record 13-year playoff streak end (last missed in 2009). Meanwhile, NYCFC haven’t sat out the postseason since 2015 (their expansion year) and lifted MLS Cup in 2021.

Factor in how a win could potentially be the fatal blow to your rival’s playoff hopes, and the stakes only increase for two clubs that have been marked by No. 9 struggles and final-third inconsistencies all year.

“We are in a spot where we need these wins, we need to get above the line,” said NYCFC midfielder Keaton Parks. “… Nobody's hanging their head, nobody's down. We know what we have to do and what's needed to make that run now."

Noted Lesesne: “This does mean more to our guys than any other regular-season match, any other MLS opponent.”