New York rivals square off in first of three meetings

The first three years of the Hudson River Derby were about how different the New York Red Bulls and New York City FC were, on and off the field.

The Red Bulls were the Major League Soccer original team, a frugal squad that built from within and played at Red Bull Arena, one of the crown jewels of soccer-specific stadiums in the United States.

NYCFC is the big-spending boys from the Bronx, which play at Yankee Stadium and scour the ends of the earth looking for its talent.

The Red Bulls dominated the early portion of this rivalry, winning six of the first seven matches — including a U.S. Open Cup encounter last June. NYCFC then won the first two showdowns a year ago with the teams tying 1-1 in the third and final regular-season encounter last August.

With the first of three regular-season games coming Saturday at Red Bull Arena, the Hudson River Derby rivals look more similar than they do different in 2018.

“From outside, I quite like the energy that they have when they are on the field. They lost some important players, I think, but the team is more dynamic than they used to,” NYCFC coach Patrick Vieira said. “I think on our side is the same as well. We lost some experienced players and we have some young players on our team. Both teams are more energetic than they used to be so it’s going to be an open game.

“If both teams stick to their philosophy, it can be a really good game of football.”

NYCFC (6-1-2) enters the match atop the MLS standings with 20 points, eight more than the Red Bulls (4-3-0), who are in sixth place in the Eastern Conference with two games in hand.

NYCFC bounced back from its lone loss of the season — a 3-0 defeat at Portland — to hand FC Dallas its first loss of the season on Sunday at Yankee Stadium. David Villa struck for a brace, including his 400th career goal for club and country, in the 3-1 victory.

The Red Bulls also rebounded well from defeat to hand the LA Galaxy their third consecutive loss at StubHub Center on Saturday night. Bradley Wright-Phillips had two assists, setting up Danny Royer and Florian Valot and Kaku added an 84th-minute penalty kick in the 3-2 win.

“It sets up to be one of the best ones yet because I think New York City is a very good team. They will challenge a lot of the things we do,” Red Bulls coach Jesse Marsch said. “It will be a scrappy game at times because they’re not just focused with the ball as much as they were, they work hard against the ball.

“It’s a great combination for them to have and they’ve been very effective so far this season.”

Marsch views the mach as a litmus test for his young team to test their mettle against one of the league’s best teams, a squad just across the river.

“It’s a chance for us to see exactly where we’re at this point of the season,” Marsch said. “I feel like our team is in a good way and we’ll be ready for a good game.”