NEW YORK – Leading up to their first encounter with the New York Red Bulls, New York City FC players were hesitant to call it a rivalry.
But a little bit of history in the form of 90 minutes of passionate, intense soccer played in front of both teams' loud fans at Red Bull Arena on May 10.
“The first matchup certainly wasn’t ideal for us in terms of the scoreline, but it was a fantastic night – the fans, the atmosphere, Red Bull Arena is a great place to play, and people came out in big numbers,” NYCFC defender Chris Wingert said at a Thursday press conference held at Heineken House in Manhattan. “It seemed like everyone was really excited about the night.”
That excitement has carried over to Sunday’s second showdown (4:30 pm ET, ESPN, ESPN Deportes in US, TSN5 in Canada), when the scene shifts to Yankee Stadium and where more than 40,000 tickets have already been sold for the game.
“The first game there was a terrific night and a terrific event. I thought the crowds for both teams were particularly supportive and loud, and it created a tremendous atmosphere for a game,” NYCFC coach Jason Kreis said. “We’re all looking very much forward to this game coming up.”
With the third and final regular-season game between the teams set for Harrison, New Jersey, on Aug. 9, this will be the only chance for NYCFC and their fans to host this burgeoning rivalry in the Bronx during the 2015 MLS regular season.
“Even though we started off struggling a bit, they still came out in big numbers and supporting us, and that hasn’t wavered,” Wingert said. “It’s really special for us to see. It sounds like that’s not about to change. We’re looking forward to Sunday, and we know they’re going to be loud and behind us. Hopefully we can reward them for their presence and effort with a good effort on the field.”
Spanish superstar David Villa said there’s really no difference between the first meeting with the Red Bulls and many of the other derbies he’s competed in throughout his storied career, including one of the biggest rivalries in the world when he was with Barcelona facing Real Madrid.
“I’ve been very lucky to play in a few rivalry games, all very important,” Villa said. “Ultimately, it's very important for the fans to be able to know they got the win. We’ll play our best for them because, ultimately, a win is for us, the club and the fans.”
As such, Villa knows Round 2 against the Red Bulls isn’t about revenge, it’s about three points.
“No, it's not personal,” Villa said. “But we do want to win.”