NEW YORK – Round 1 may have gone to the New York Red Bulls, but they know that taking Round 2 will require another strong performance filled with even more energy and intensity.
After all, this iteration of New York City FC has something to prove and is widely considered the best in the club’s short existence.
The Red Bulls will welcome NYCFC to Red Bull Arena on Saturday afternoon for the latest installment of the New York Derby (1:30 pm ET | FOX, FOX Deportes, MLS LIVE in Canada). While this highly-anticipated meeting represents the bitter rivals’ first league match against one another in 2017, it comes just a-week-and-a-half after they met in a U.S. Open Cup game that the Red Bulls took by a 1-0 scoreline.
Some clubs might thump their chests after picking up a shutout victory over their arch-nemesis so recently, but the Red Bulls are not. They know they have quite the challenge on their hands this weekend, as this NYCFC side is both motivated and as dangerous as any that they have played during the past two years.
“I would say it is [the best NYCFC team],” said Red Bulls assistant head coach Chris Armas earlier this week. “You can see what they’re trying to do, how they play. It’s impressive. They have quality all around the field, I think they’ve upgraded in a bunch of spots, I think they’re deeper than ever, and we respect them a great deal.”
The Red Bulls also dislike their foes across the Hudson River a great deal, and that was evident in the June 14 Open Cup showdown at Red Bull Arena. NYCFC were the better side during the opening 45 minutes, but an injury that forced playmaker Maximiliano Moralez off at halftime tipped the scales heavily in the Red Bulls’ favor before they found the decisive goal.
While Moralez’s availability for this weekend is still in question, the Red Bulls are expecting NYCFC to stick to their tactical game plan of trying to build out of the back. That may play right into the hands of the Red Bulls’ trademark high-press – and explain why they have dominated the all-time series with a 6-1-0 mark – but Saturday’s hosts expect David Villa and the rest of NYCFC to come out flying given the frustrating and eliminating result from the Open Cup.
“They’re going to have a great start to that game because they are still going to have that bitter taste in their mouth,” said Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips. “We have to be ready for that, because they are a team that can score on anyone and that’s the thing we can’t afford to let happen.”
Matching the energy and intensity will be important if the Red Bulls want to avoid suffering their first poor result at home against NYCFC, but so too will be winning individual battles. NYCFC made a number of key acquisitions in the offseason with the likes of Moralez, winger Rodney Wallace, midfielder Alexander Ring, and center back Alexander Callens, and they have all helped to strengthen and deepen NYCFC.
Not that the Red Bulls need to be reminded of that in order to get up for Saturday’s clash.
“If you watch our games, there’s a lot of anger on the field,” said Wright-Phillips. “I know a lot of their players don’t like our players and the same for our players not liking them. There’s some real hate there.”
How much of that hate will spill onto the field, where tension will surely be high, remains to be seen. Previous affairs indicate that things could get quite testy, but possibly even more so this weekend because of NYCFC’s improved quality.
“They did very well in the offseason to bring players that fit the way that they want to play and are able to compete,” said Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. “I’d say this has definitely been their strongest lineup, even if they don’t have the biggest names.”