New York City FC, New York Red Bulls rivalry heats up with playoff positioning, bragging rights at stake

It can be argued there’s not been a more important match in the history of the Hudson River Derby than Sunday’s encounter (7 pm ET | TV & streaming info) at Yankee Stadium between New York City FC and the New York Red Bulls.

The 18th chapter of the intense rivalry, and 16th regular season showdown, is the latest the teams have met in a season. So this edition, played on the penultimate day of the regular season, will be for more than just the usual bragging rights. Playoff positioning for both teams is also at stake.

“We have put ourselves in a good position to fight against the top four. If we get two victories now, we have a good chance of doing that,” NYCFC coach Ronny Deila said in a video conference call with reporters Saturday. “At the same time, it’s one victory away from the top six so we have a lot to fight for. Of course, we also want to show who’s the best in town.”

The rivals are separated by mere fractions in the Eastern Conference table. NYCFC are fifth at 1.57 points per game, while the Red Bulls are sixth at 1.38 PPG. A strong ending to the season for either side could put them into a top-four spot in the East and at least one home game in the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs. A poor finish, however, could leave them out of the top six and needing a play-in game to make it to Round One of the playoffs.

Seems like a perfect moment for Caden Clark to get his first taste of one of Major League Soccer’s fiercest rivalries.

The 17-year-old, described as “fearless” by Red Bulls interim coach Bradley Carnell, has embraced the big moment in the early stages of his MLS career. His first goal came on his Red Bulls debut, the lone goal in a win over Atlanta United that sparked the club on their current five-match unbeaten streak.

A banger against Toronto FC in his next appearance was a late equalizer and put him in the record books as the youngest player in league history to score in his first two matches. It also put him into the crosshairs of teammates, who were all but willing to give the young kid some shtick.

Watch: Caden Clark's historic equalizer against Toronto FC

“He’s pretty boring. I think he’s got a big head,” defender Tim Parker deadpanned sarcastically Saturday. “He walks around the locker room and tells all the older guys to just stop talking to him. It’s a little hard to deal with. But we’re told just to let him do his thing because he’s a growing teenager so we’re going to continue to let him go through his pubescent years.”

For his part, Clark said he’s excited for the big stage that a derby match brings.

“It’s like Minnesota vs. Wisconsin because that’s what I can compare it to,” the native of Medina, Minn. said. “I think it’s a very, very important match for us, not just from a playoffs standpoint, but also with bragging rights, reputation of this team and what we can do against a very good NYCFC side. I think it’s a very important match overall and of course i want to start off my Red Bulls career winning one of these in my first season.”

For NYCFC, there’s a sense of revenge after the sting of a 1-0 loss at Red Bull Arena in the lone meeting this season back in August. Kyle Duncan scored the lone goal, awarded after Video Review, when his swerving shot was mishandled by Sean Johnson, with the ball caroming off the NYCFC goalkeeper’s hands and toward the goal.

Kyle Duncan scores lone goal in Hudson River Derby after Video Review

Johnson tracked back and looked to have saved it before the entire ball went over the line. But referee Allen Chapman ruled it was a goal after Video Review.

“We should not have lost the game. We didn’t deserve to lose,” Deila said. "We didn’t play really well, but we were as good as they were. The way we lost it was not good. We didn’t like that. Of course we want to take those points, not back, but make it up again at home. This is a game we want to win wherever we play and whenever we play.”