Though the Red Bulls were clearly exhausted after playing so many matches in such a short stretch of time, I couldn't be happier with Sunday's win. I screamed my head off, nearly losing control when NYCFC scored, and have gone completely hoarse. It felt like vindication for the team Patrick Vieira has been carefully building this season, for the franchise as a whole, and for the fans -- especially the folks in the Supporters Section, who deserve tons of credit for being loud and proud for the full ninety-plus.
At the same time, I'm not sure how important the rivalry with the Red Bulls actually is to me, and I might have been almost as pleased with a victory like this one against any other team. Perhaps, at this point, Red Bulls fans care about the Derby more than I do. As many have pointed out, a number of those fans appear to have chips on their shoulders when it comes to NYCFC, to feel like they have something to prove. In addition, the attention that has come with the rivalry seems to be more important to the Red Bulls than it is to NYCFC. Honestly, our friends in New Jersey weren't exactly spending a ton of time in the national and international spotlight before NYCFC arrived on the scene. Though they have a soccer-specific stadium and were around for nearly two decades before NYCFC joined the league, their average attendance is still lagging behind NYCFC's.
In thinking about the importance of this rivalry so far, it's also worth noting that NYCFC has never faced off against the Red Bulls in any match that really matters. There have been no playoff series between the two teams. Even if last year's results had been totally reversed, with NYCFC taking all nine points from the three regular season Derby matches, that wouldn't have put NYCFC in the playoffs or knocked the Red Bulls out of them.
For me, what mattered most on Sunday -- regardless of our opponent -- was that NYCFC played so energetically and cohesively, collected three points, won its third straight, and returned to first place. Jack Harrison has been brilliant, and he's clearly on his way to becoming a major star (the Chicago Fire must be kicking themselves for failing to sign him). The defense held for a second straight game, and Saunders turned in another clean sheet. Villa remains the leader in the race to win the Golden Boot, and he added another goal to his tally. Lampard, surprisingly, continues to make a contribution, and the fans are no longer booing him.
Yes, let's enjoy (finally) beating the Red Bulls. But more than that, let's appreciate how far this team has come. Last year at this time, after enduring what felt like an interminable winless streak, NYCFC was 5-8-5. This year, the Blues have two more wins and three less losses. As a result, they're in a position to make a real run at a playoff berth. And that's something truly worth celebrating.