Red Bulls host NYCFC in Big Apple battle

Rivalry week in the MLS will be on full display just across the Hudson River on Saturday when the New York Red Bulls host the New York City FC at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.

It’s the first of three regular-season matches between the two sides, but not the first time they’ve played this year. The Red Bulls beat NYCFC 1-0 on June 14 in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, so the focus of both teams for this latest match has been easy to retain over the past 10 days.

“In some ways it’s easier to get ready for this match because we just played them but then you start thinking, ‘OK, what else might they try to do? What other nuances and tactics and little things might they try differently?'” Red Bulls assistant coach Chris Armas said on Thursday. “So you start thinking a little more, maybe too much.”

It’s a series the Red Bulls (7-7-2, 23 points) have dominated by winning six of seven matches across all competitions since NYCFC entered the league as an expansion club in 2015.

NYCFC (8-5-3, 27 points) has never won in New Jersey, but its coach, Patrick Vieira said he will approach the first MLS derby of the season as if it were any other match. But he’s also aware of the lack of success his side has had against its rivals from the other side of the Hudson and recognizes the need to change that course.

“It’s an important game for the team, for the football club and for the fans,” Vieira said. “It’s a derby and it’s always nice to win them. When you play seven and lose six, it’s painful — there’s no doubt about it. This is something I’m not happy about and not satisfied about and we have to start turning it around.

“We know what to expect, we know they are a tough team to play against, especially with the way we want to play but we’ll stick to our principles. We’ll try to find a way to stick to our philosophy and try to win the game.”

NYCFC is currently four points ahead of the Red Bulls in the standings, and midfielder Alex Muyl, who lives in Manhattan, knows how important three points are for his team.

“I think that the way the standings are right now it’s more important than ever,” Muyl said. “It doesn’t make this game any less ‘must-win’ because we need points. Every time we play NYCFC, there is some kind of heat in the game, something extra in it.”

NYCFC midfielder Tommy McNamara, a native New Yorker, understands the boost beating the Red Bulls would give his team and its supporters.

“We feel confident in ourselves and confident in what we’re doing to prepare for this match,” McNamara said. “We feel confident in our ability and that’s how we feel going into the game. I always want to win every game that I play in – with the Red Bulls, probably a little bit more because of everything.”

After having their 19-game home unbeaten streak snapped by Los Angeles on May 14, the Red Bulls have bounced back, going unbeaten in their last two home matches with a win and a draw.

NYCFC has lost two of their past three matches on the road. In all three of NYCFC’s wins away from Yankee Stadium this season it has scored at least two goals.

The Red Bulls have an advantage on the injury sheet for this match, with only defender Gideon Baah (broken leg) listed as out. NYCFC will be without forward Khiry Shelton (hamstring), midfielder Maxi Moralez (calf) and defender Ronald Matarrita (undisclosed injury) for the first leg of the New York Derby.