Once again, the Hudson River Derby had a scarlet ending. Bradley Wright-Phillips scored twice to pace a comprehensive New York Red Bulls victory at Red Bull Arena. The Blues came into the game with the best road record in MLS, and with a rested squad, had reason to hope for a second straight win in the series — but it was for naught.
The Red Bulls, who’ve utterly dominated this series, controlled the game from the start. They took advantage of the hot, humid conditions on the pitch, with temperatures exceeding 100º F. It felt even hotter than that.
Seconds after the game began, Sacha Kljestan blew by Andrea Pirlo and Andoni Iraola, and fed the ball to Wright-Phillips. Wright-Phillips then brushed by defender Jefferson Mena before shooting straight at Josh Saunders.
The pattern kept repeating throughout the first 15 minutes. However, New York City had a golden scoring chance then. RJ Allen took advantage of the Red Bulls’ high press to loft a long pass to David Villa, who got behind the backline. However, Villa’s first touch failed him, and he dragged his shot wide right.
In the 20th minute, New York finally struck. Inevitably, it was Wright-Phillips.
Kljestan pounced on a sloppy turnover by Iraola. He then slipped the pass to Wright-Phillips, who crosses up Mena and Frederic Brillant, passes them by, shoots and scores. It was the seventh goal in this rivalry’s six games for Wright-Phillips. He is simply lethal against New York City; he takes a particular delight in scoring against this team.
Two minutes later, another goal. The Blues surrendered a corner. New York are the best team in MLS at scoring on set pieces; New York City are the worst. A goal off a set-piece was therefore inevitable. So it was.
Watch the setup here. There’s no one from New York City on the goal posts; only Saunders. So you then think: Everyone is covered. Right? Except that Ronald Zubar gets free on a header to score because no one is covering him. This is basic defense. Paid professionals shouldn’t be this everloving bad at set pieces.
I know that we just signed Maxime Chanot, but to be brutally honest, this isn’t the kind of thing you fix with one guy. This is systemic. And I’m not convinced that a 26-year-old Luxembourgish defender is the cure.
22 minutes in, and it’s 2-0. The feeling is familiar. New York is in control of the game. It would get worse. In the 30th minute, manager Patrick Vieira was ejected for yelling at the fourth official. He was unhappy with the way the game was being called, and he made his displeasure clear after the match.
"Today the referee made more decisions in favor of Red Bulls because their manager was crying all week,” Vieira said. “We understand decisions are difficult to make from the referee. We understand and respect it. Some people don’t, and they prefer to cry openly.”
In the 40th minute, Frederic Brillant desperately tried to clear the ball in the penalty area after a miscue by Ethan White. He handled the ball in the process, drawing a penalty. Kljestan scored easily, making the score 3-0.
Shoulders slumped. The game was rapidly getting out of hand. It looked for all the world like a reprise of the Red Bull Wedding from earlier this season. At that point, New York’s pressure on the ball relaxed, and New York City’s players found themselves with time on the ball and space to operate.
That is one thing that you don’t want to give Tommy McNamara, because he will make you pay.
His shot from 30 yards out briefly drew New York City into the game.
The second half was more even. McNamara attempted another shot from distance that rattled two posts; had that gone in, it might’ve changed the game. In the 69th minute, the Blues went for broke, subbing in little-used forward Tony Taylor for Andoni Iraola. It was a huge gamble. Iraola provided defensive cover for the backline, which Pirlo either cannot or will not.
Wright-Phillips scored his second of the game, putting it out of reach. He received the long pass from McCarty, then shrugged off an attempted tackle from White. Forced wide, he evaded Saunders, who went to ground. That allowed Wright-Phillips to round him and shoot, and score.
From there, the game descended into indiscipline, as the Red Bulls showboated for their home crowd, justifiably celebrating a fifth derby win in six games, and Blues players took umbrage at that. The result will be a raft of suspensions. Lampard got a yellow card, but he’ll be safe. Federico Bravo came on as a sub for Pirlo, and got a yellow card within seconds, which meant he’ll miss the game against the Colorado Rapids for yellow card accumulation. Ethan White drew a second yellow card - and a red card as a result - a minute later. A minute after that, David Villa drew a yellow, which meant that he’ll miss the Rapids game.
That’s how the game ended.
There’s a mental element to this rivalry that bedevils New York City. Against the Red Bulls, New York City lose all sense of composure. They get timid; they physically shrink within themselves, and fail to seize the game.
They make basic mistakes that you don’t see them make against other teams. It is significant that David Villa has only scored a single, solitary goal to Wright-Phillips’ eight. It is significant that the Blues routinely get bullied off the ball in these games against the Red Bulls.
What’s more, the New York Red Bulls know it. They know they have New York City’s number, and they want New York City to know that they know. That’s why Sacha Kljestan was showboating in front of Frank Lampard. That’s why Dax McCarty was running his mouth at various players.
This isn’t about talent. On paper, New York City is more talented than New York. There is no question about that. I write this not to slight any player on the Red Bulls.
But on the field, going up against each other, there is no question that the Red Bulls, man for man, believe that they are better than the Blues. Five wins in six games and an 18-5 scoring margin remove all doubt from that proposition. That’s not a talent thing, that’s a mental thing.
Here’s the thing, though: that’s the hardest thing to overcome. And right now, New York City are far, far away from overcoming it.