HARRISON, N.J. – For the fans, Sunday night won’t just be another match day in New York City as the yet unnamed rivalry takes life on the field at Red Bull Arena.
For the players, it’s more of a mixed bag despite the hype that’s preceded New York City FC’s first trip across the Hudson for a first-ever derby clash against the Red Bulls (7 pm ET; Fox Sports 1 and Fox Deportes in the US, TSN2 in Canada).
For all of the marketing efforts put forth by both sides in support of red or blue, the animosity between the two clubs seems limited to two rabid fan bases rather than two teams who, as yet, have neither history nor beef with one another.
“I think the excitement might a little more on the fans’ side, if I’m being honest,” Red Bulls midfielder Sacha Kljestan admitted.
That may be for some, but for all the efforts to avoid bulletin board material on either side, there’s no denying that this match will provide a bit more bite than the usual MLS fixture.
Rivalry or derby, history or not, the Red Bulls undoubtedly hope to set the tone with their crosstown foes right off the bat.
“Of course it matters,” captain Dax McCarty said. “It’s the first matchup of what we hope becomes a fantastic rivalry. You always want to have the upper hand on them no matter what it is. The first game is always important to set the tone and make sure you establish that this is your turf, so to speak.”
“I think there will be a lot of passion on the field and a commitment to make sure that from the first second of this future rivalry that we as a club, and we as a team, are ready to set the standard,” head coach Jesse Marsch said. “Especially for the guys who have been at this club for a while like Dax and Luis [Robles], they want to make sure we put our imprint on this series right from the start.”
It’s just that the start, at least on Sunday, might not be easy on the eyes.
Opponents looking to disrupt the Red Bulls’ midfield triumvirate have often turned to a rough-and-tumble approach to counteract the possession-happy trio of Kljestan, McCarty and Brazilian Felipe. Come Sunday, the Red Bulls expect more of the same, and then some, from an NYCFC side that hasn’t won in seven games.
“In a derby day game like Sunday, I think it just comes out naturally,” Bradley Wright-Phillips said. “Both teams, for the first 15 minutes, ignore the soccer side of the game and it’s just a fight. I think whoever wins that battle will probably win the game.”
McCarty echoed a similar sentiment, but still hopes to treat the crowd at Red Bull Arena to a performance they can be proud of aesthetically as well.
“I think the first 15, 20 minutes will be ugly,” McCarty added. "I think it’s going to be a battle for ground in a physical confrontation, which you want to try to set the tone early. But after the first initial wave of pressure from both teams, you hope the game settle down and turns into a more pretty affair to watch.”