David Villa - Bradley Wright-Phillips - Hudson River Derby

There’s certainly animosity brewing in the developing rivalry between New York Red Bulls and NYCFC, with the latest chapter set for Sunday when the teams face off at Red Bull Arena (6:30 pm ET, FS1, TSN1).

While NYCFC fans rib their rivals with “Smells Like Jersey” and other pointed chants about the Garden State, Red Bull supporters counter with “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” to comment on NYCFC’s unique baseball/soccer set up in Yankee Stadium.

Three supporters’ groups (NYCFC’s Third Rail and RBNY’s Empire Supporters Club and Viking Army) have even come together to launch a new Hudson River Derby Foundation, tasked with creating a Supporters’ Shield-like trophy in 2020 for the team who prevails in the annual home-and-away series.

On the field, the Derby’s now writ more interesting with the emergence of “villains” as the feud enters its fifth year — in particular, players who rise to the occasion in a matchup that now has playoff implications as well as pride attached.

Biggest NYCFC villain for RBNY fans? David Villa

For Red Bulls fans, you can’t spell villain without Villa, and even though the Spanish legend has now moved on to Japanese side Vissel Kobe, he’s still in the memories of the RBNY faithful.

“When you've gone 8-4-2 against an opponent, including 2-0 in Open Cup, it's hard to note who the ‘villain’ is,” snarks longtime Empire Supporters Club member Mark Fishkin, who goes back with the team more than 20 years to its MetroStars days. “That said, I think you have to look at David Villa as the focus of RBNY fans' ire. His hat trick (on August 6, 2017) marked the first and only time that City dropped three goals on New York.”

“Every time we played him, he always seemed to step up and do what was needed,” states Ralph “Chupi” Garcia, the self-described Founding Father of Viking Army Supporters Club. He notes that Villa seemed to save a little something extra for the Red Bulls in particular; his role in the matchup's lore has helped evolve it to a place where, as Garcia observes, "Everyone looks forward to making sure they win. No one wants to lose." 

It is, however, a point of pride for RBNY fans that Villa fared better in Yankee Stadium than Red Bull Arena. “NYCFC barely qualifies as a rival, and he really only had one big game against us,” says Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, a Bronx-born Jersey-based fan. “I have way more fond memories of him being a non-factor, especially at Red Bull Arena where he never even scored a goal.”

One honorable mention for villain from the current cast of NYCFC players goes to Maxi Moralez. “His goal in [Red Bulls head coach Chris] Armas’ first match at the helm in The Bronx last summer won't be forgotten,” Fishkin promises.

Biggest RBNY villain for NYCFC fans? Bradley Wright-Phillips

NYCFC fans, who still bristle at the mention of the 7-0 loss that the Red Bulls dealt the Cityzens in 2016, point to Bradley Wright-Phillips, who had a brace within a five-minute period in that milestone match, and other memorable Derby performances throughout his career.

“I think it just stems from how many goals he’s scored against us,” began Andy Drelick, Third Rail’s president, on BWP’s villainy for NYCFC fans. “Especially going back to 2015, 2016, 2017, when he was a top striker in the league. He showed up and he punished our mistakes.”

While Drelick feels good about where the teams are now, he notes that BWP’s very late tying goal against Atlanta last Sunday reinforces what he can do, even at this stage in his career, to put his stamp on a match’s outcome.

“That’s classic Bradley Wright-Phillips,” Drelick laughs. “You can’t fall asleep on him. He’s going to get the ball in the goal.”

Chicken Bucket FC founder Tim O’Toole is less delicate than Drelick, suggesting that Wright-Phillips “sacrifices pigeons in the locker room before games in order to assure junk goals in front of net against NYC." He then admits his dislike for BWP stems from "the fact that he inspired the Red Bull's 'Who's Your Daddy' chant and his insane 11 goals in 11 games run against NYCFC. He’s smug and it shows on and off the field. The one time that was fun to watch was him and David Villa squaring off goal for goal" — referring to the August 2017 matchup he undoubtedly enjoyed more than Fishkin. 

Jenny Lando, a former Third Rail board member and former manager of the SG’s family-friendly Light Rail group, is more complementary but also more NYCFC-centric, noting her focus is primarily on how her Cityzens are performing, with two exceptions. “When we play them, I become aware of BWP's energy and Luis Robles' abilities. But I see no villains — aside from the PATH train wait time on the way home.”