What an ugly, deflating loss. Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Gareth Bale, and more were on hand to watch New York City take on the New York Red Bulls. Based on how the game wrapped up, you wouldn't blame Pirlo for having second thoughts about signing with New York City. The second half display from New York City was among the most supine I've ever seen from a team.
It's hard to imagine that the Gotham Blues started out this game brightly. Both teams were tentative in the opening minutes, as they probed for weaknesses. In the eighth minute, Tommy McNamara opened the scoring for New York City.
Mix Diskerud chased down an errant ball, then gently chipped it into the box. Mehdi Ballouchy headed down the ball, and McNamara half-volleyed the ball to give the Blues a 1-0 lead. As Yankee Stadium erupted, it was easy to imagine that New York City was on its way to a fourth straight win. Two minutes after that, Ballouchy nearly made it 2-0.
As the half progressed, though, the Red Bulls grew into the game. Time and again, they drove down the left side of the field, only for their attack to get discombobulated. At times, it looked as though Red Bulls forwards Anatole Abang and Bradley Wright-Phillips were getting in each other's way. Still, the danger was present, and it was only down to smart clearances by Shay Facey and saves by Josh Saunders that the Red Bulls didn't take the lead.
The half came, and the score was still 1-0, New York City. Even with the Red Bulls trailing, this game was wide open, and the winner would be the team which was best able to dictate the tone in the opening minutes of the second half.
It turned out that team was the Red Bulls.
Two minutes after the second half started, they caught the Blues absolutely napping on defense. Bradley Wright-Phillips — the reigning MLS Golden Boot winner — found himself wide open. He didn't miss. Just like that, the game was tied at 1 goal apiece.
It didn't stop there. Just five minutes later, Chris Duvall slotted home from close range. In eight minutes, the Red Bulls had utterly silenced Yankee Stadium. Both the fans and the team were shellshocked. There was no semblance of cohesive play from New York City. Repeatedly, the Blues were reduced to simply pounding the ball forward, rather than trying to build any kind of coherent play. In desperation, Kreis inserted Kwadwo Poku in for Mehdi Ballouchy in the 56th minute.
Poku's presence has sparked New York City to life before. Not this time. The team — playing in a cool, but humid, cloudy day — looked spent from about the 60th minute forward. The game was still within reach; you wouldn't have recognized it from the team's languid play, though. Jason Kreis explicitly called it out in his post-game remarks, saying that this was "the first time I felt we didn't get an honest effort from some of our guys".
In the 73rd minute, the Red Bulls slammed the door shut on New York City's hopes. Matt Miazga found himself with the ball at his feet. He floated past midfielder Andrew Jacobson, froze Saunders in place, then scored. The Red Bulls faithful, having made an epic odyssey from New Jersey and points elsewhere, were in ecstasy. It was the first time the Red Bulls had scored three goals in a game all season.
At that point, New York City seemed jolted into some pale semblance of life. Immediately after the Red Bulls scored, Diskerud streaked down the right side, crossed into the box — only to have goalkeeper Luis Robles eventually handle the danger with ease. There were other efforts from the Blues, but it all looked quite like the university student who's skipped class all term, only to frantically cram for a final. They were as successful, too.
Truthfully, the Red Bulls were far more likely to score. Twice, the ball rocketed off the post. On at least two other occasions, Saunders made hard saves to keep the score respectable. All in all, the New York City we saw playing in the second half was the same old City from that horrendous eleven-game winless streak.
That leaves open the question: what do either Frank Lampard or Andrea Pirlo bring that fixes what we saw tonight? It's not clear to me. They'll massively upgrade the midfield, to be sure. But they don't fix the defensive issues that we've seen all season long from this team. And if New York City's players really had this much trouble dealing with humidity on what was, at most, a 75-degree, cloudy, breezy, drizzly day, then how do we expect two players who are unfamiliar with the speed, travel, physicality, and disparate weather conditions of MLS to deal with it?
The answers will have to wait for another day. Tonight, New York City is looking at having lost every derby match they've played so far. MLS wasted no chance, no moment, to hype up this rivalry game tonight, just as they did last May 10, when they first played. But for this rivalry to mean something, beyond simple marketing, New York City has to be a worthy opponent. New York City has to win.
After all, it isn't a rivalry if you're always losing. And while New York City might try to lay claim to all five boroughs, the New York Red Bulls can lay rightful claim to all six points this season.