Bradley Wright-Phillips and Alex Ring battle for the ball
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Wright-Phillips: Derby will keep Red Bulls focused after Marsch departure

HANOVER, N.J. – The timing of a coaching change in the middle of a season is never ideal for any team. Doing so just two days prior to a derby match would seem to be a major stumbling block for the New York Red Bulls, who instead say this match couldn’t be any better.

Without Jesse Marsch, who left the team on Friday to reportedly pursue a coaching opportunity in Europe, the Red Bulls will go into Sunday’s derby match at New York City FC (7 pm ET | FS1 - full TV & streaming info) with newly announced head coach Chris Armas on the sidelines. In what could be an emotional rollercoaster, given Marsch’s far-reaching impact on the organization both on and off the field, leading goalscorer Bradley Wright-Phillips said that given the intensity behind a rivalry match, having NYCFC pop up on the schedule is ideal for this team right now.

Noting that the departure of Marsch is in fact “emotional,” Wright-Phillips sees an innate advantage in the fact the Red Bulls’ trip to Yankee Stadium falls on this weekend.

“I think it’s perfect. I think perfect,” Wright-Phillips said when asked by MLSSoccer.com about the timing of Marsch’s departure ahead of such an important match.

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“I think these things in some places, you can dwell on things like this. That’s the last thing we need to do. We have a great head coach right now, a great head coach. He knows what is happening here and has his own ideas. To play someone who we can’t afford to take any losses is perfect for us. I think we’ll go there with the same mentality we normally do and then, you know, try and put this us behind us.”

Under Armas, a former MLS All-Star midfielder with 66 appearances for the national team, the Red Bulls intend to continue their trademark style of pressing and counter-pressing, the scheme that sees them run hard at opposing backlines to create turnovers and condense the field as much as possible. It is a style that, historically, has worked against an NYCFC side that values possession and building out of the back.

A style that Armas has been on the ground floor of implementing. He was part of the coaching staff under Marsch that brought this pressing style to the Red Bulls and the thoughtful, pragmatic Armas knows the system intricately.

Even Armas heralded that with the squad built by Denis Hamlett, the Red Bulls sporting director now in his second year with the team, the pressure is on the new head coach. He acknowledged that this team has yet to win MLS Cup since its inception in 1996 but the players he inherited are currently among the best sides in the league.

The Red Bulls sit second place in the Eastern Conference and are second in the Supporters’ Shield on points per game.

The Red Bulls have beaten NYCFC this year in both meetings, with one win in the regular season and one in the U.S. Open Cup. Now with a trip to Yankee Stadium on the docket, the first true match for Armas as an MLS head coach will be no small order.

And it is a moment that is meaningful for Armas, who was born in the Bronx and identifies as “a New Yorker through and through.”

“For me there is no bitterness to it. It’s only sweet. It’s a great team we’re playing against,” Armas said. “It’s a derby match, it’s New York, it’s the Bronx, it’s two teams that are fighting for the standings right there. And there’s no better way.

“We are ready as a team. You can see it in the standings what the team is all about and again, Denis, the roster he has put together here, on all levels. The team is ready, I’m ready and I’ll tell you sometimes when things come quickly like this, perfect. Perfect that these games come quickly and you get thrown right into it, so I’m excited and yeah perfect way to start.”