What difference a month makes. When New York City played the New York Red Bulls in New Jersey last month, the Blues were mired in what eventually became an 11-game winless streak. Despite losing a man to a red card in the first half, the Bulls dominated the game, winning 2-1 as Bradley Wright-Phillips scored both goals.
Now, the tables have turned. New York City has won three straight games going into Sunday's tilt at Yankee Stadium; conversely, the Red Bulls are flailing, having lost four straight games, before defeating Real Salt Lake on Wednesday. The stakes are real; for the first time this season, New York City have looked far less like a disparate collection of spare players, and far more like an actual team. Their play hasn't been pretty; far from it.
But what New York City lacks in finesse, they more than make up in grit and determination. Against Toronto, New York City dug in and defended manfully, repeatedly frustrating their attacks despite conceding the majority of possession. They took great advantage of their opportunities, and came away with a well-deserved win.
If the Blues are going to get a win against a derby opponent, Sunday's the best opportunity they've had. The Red Bulls are carrying a five-game winless streak away from home. Their last win on the road came against Columbus on March 28. On top of that, after a bright start to the season, Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch has been searching for answers. On Wednesday, he started three Homegrown Players — Connor Lade, Matt Miazga, and 22-year-old Sean Davis, who made his first start. 18-year-old Anatole Abang and another 22-year-old, Kemar Lawrence, joined the youth party.
It worked — the Bulls won 1-0 — but will it get results at Yankee Stadium? A packed house — the game is expected to be a sellout — will be howling for New York City to put the Red Bulls to the sword. When in full voice, the stadium can be deafening, and thoroughly intimidating.
So what can we expect on Sunday?
Look for Jason Kreis to stick with what's worked for him lately. That's a diamond-ish 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1. Against Toronto, that looked at times like a 4-5-1. After a ton of upheaval, Kreis looks like he's finally found a starting unit that works. While reinforcements are on the way — notably, Andoni Iraola on defense, plus Frank Lampard and likely Andrea Pirlo — this is a cohesive unit that's lifted New York City into relevance.
New York City will look to strike first, and place the Red Bulls on the back foot. At the same time, they've got to watch out that they don't give up an easy counterattacking goal. Meanwhile, the New York Red Bulls will try to ride out the first 15-20 minutes of the game, and wait for the emotion of the crowd to subside. Don't be surprised if Marsch plays a young lineup again.
This looks to be a highly even, competitive game. Don't be surprised if it's a draw. It's a little early still to be talking about the playoffs, but New York City really needs to keep its forward momentum going if it's going to make the playoffs this season. A draw isn't disastrous, but a win would be far better.
PROJECTED NEW YORK CITY LINEUP
PROJECTED NEW YORK RED BULLS LINEUP