New York Red Bulls, New York City FC search for context in first meeting
For most of the past week, the two New York clubs tried to place their coexistence in context. It is not an easy task. These two clubs share proximity and little else at the moment. There are no familiar anecdotes to link these expected rivals, no skirmishes to stoke the rancor between New York Red Bulls and New York City FC. Everything is projection right now.
Looking forward has its merits, though. The first meeting between the Red Bulls and NYCFC at Red Bull Arena on Sunday (live, 7:00p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1, FOX Sports Go) carries the weight of novelty. It is the initial chance to fill in the blanks and inch toward the enmity expected somewhere down the line.
“It’s not a history of a 100 years rivalry,” NYCFC midfielder Mix Diskerud explained after his side completed a training session earlier this week. “Everything has to start somewhere. It’s a derby, a rivalry, whatever you want to call it. It means a lot to the fans and, of course, it means a lot to us.”
NYCFC needs to impress after a pair of promising results at the outset petered away in a maelstrom of frailties, injuries and missed opportunities. This maiden trip to Harrison arrives in the wake of seven consecutive matches without a victory. This expansion team continues to cherish the ball as anticipated, but it betrays its nascent steps with its wastefulness in front of goal and its weakness at the back.
“It’s really unfair to point to one thing,” NYCFC coach Jason Kreis said. “I would say and reiterate that this is a very difficult proposition, probably more difficult than I ever thought it would have been. Our guys are dealing well with it. The coaching staff, the players, we’re all dealing, I think, very well with some troubling times. To not get results, it can be very trying on you and it can be very difficult to look for the positives.”
Those frustrations inevitably take a toll, but NYCFC continues to plough through nevertheless. There are promising signs with the deft work on the ball (NYCFC ranks in the top six in both passing accuracy and possession share, per Opta statistics) and the willingness to buckle down despite the struggles, while the recovery of David Villa supplies hope for immediate improvement in the final third.
Those advances offer encouragement for the assignment ahead without providing any guarantees of success. NYCFC grasps the need to blend their expectations with patience, but the fraught nature of this trip to Harrison and the recent skid tip the balance toward instant gratification for the moment.
“We want the results as badly as anybody else,” Diskerud said. “We want to win games. It’s as simple as that. I feel like the first game (against the Red Bulls) is a good place to start. I don’t want to wait anymore.”
It might not prove much of an option if the Red Bulls embrace the opportunity afforded and replicate their performances from the opening quarter of the season. New England ended their season-opening seven-match unbeaten run with a 2-1 victory at Gillette Stadium last Saturday, but the Revs’ win did not temper the strides made in the early stages of Jesse Marsch’s reign.
Marsch installed an expansive, high-pressure, possession-oriented style with his revamped squad and watched his players respond accordingly. The acquisitions of Sacha Kljestan and Felipe Martins provided the components to compile a dominant midfield three with captain Dax McCarty, while the faith in several players cast off by others or shunted aside by the previous regime yielded considerable benefits.
In rather stark contrast to the past, these Red Bulls rely on their collective strength instead of the individual brilliance of Thierry Henry. Those measures lead to dominance in possession (no team boasts a higher possession share, per Opta statistics) and precision at the right times to take the best possible advantage of it.
“There’s an appreciation for what this group is putting into it and how we’re playing,” Marsch told reporters this week. “I’m glad. I thought there would be. The credit goes to the players and their ability to now take what we want to do and put it into place. Now it’s another big test for us. We want to make sure this is our best performance yet. So we’ll be ready.”
Even with the strides made at the start of the season, the Red Bulls understand the importance of preparing carefully for NYCFC’s visit. There are perceptions to manage and reputations to protect. Their status as the first team in New York is unassailable, but their perch as the top team in the region falls under scrutiny every day from quarters old (the reconstituted New York Cosmos in NASL) and new (NYCFC). The burden increases in this particular match given the opposition and the spotlight directed squarely upon it.
“It’s the first matchup of what we hope will become a fantastic rivalry,” McCarty told reporters this week. “You always want to have the upper hand on them, no matter what it is. The first game is always important to set the tone and make sure that you establish that this is your turf, so to speak.”
There are no lines drawn yet. There are only possibilities in mind as these two New York teams figure out their places in this novel world. The enduring dynamic between the two clubs remains unresolved at this early stage. The focus simply falls on this initial step and the context it might provide as this derby takes shape in the years ahead.