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US OPEN CUP 2017: Three Red Bulls questions w/ SB Nation’s Once a Metro

Austin Fido is your huckleberry for tonight’s Derby clash.

Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Here we goooooooooooooo! Thanks to Austin and the crew at OaM for trading queries with us today. CLICK HERE for the “reverese fixture” over on their site.

Q. Will Jesse Marsch's absence have an effect on the proceedings, if only that we're missing out on more sniping with Vieira?

A. It'll almost certainly take the edge off Vieira's media game, but I don't expect it to make much difference to what the Red Bulls do on the field. The team plays the way the team plays, and Jesse wasn't banned from training this week, so the tactical plan and selection will surely be attributable directly to him. Maybe Jesse will take a seat next to the Moss brothers in the stands, just so his old friend Patrick can at least give him a wave.

I rarely imagine I can speak for any RBNY fan other than myself, but I think a large number will share my curiosity about Chris Armas' sideline demeanor. Maybe he'll prove as irksome to Vieira as Marsch; maybe they'll fall into mutual admiration and Armas will get whisked away by CFG to coach Melbourne's U-23s. All that to say, it's less what will be missing with Marsch stalking some distant corner of the stadium, more a question of what Armas will add. When Denis Hamlett was Jesse's deputy, there wasn't any detectable change to the way the team played, and results were - if I recall correctly - generally favorable. It is not unreasonable to suspect that Armas is being groomed as Jesse's successor. If and when that happens, it is unlikely to bring any dramatic change to the overall playing style - unless RB Global Soccer itself changes dramatically - so it will be the details that distinguish the Armas era from that of Marsch. This is our first real chance to get a sense of what RBNY's future might hold, if Armas is that future.

Oh, Jesse. What could have been...
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Q. On form, RB is in a funk. Do the local fans view NYCFC as the utterly perfect opponent to help get things back on track?

A. I'm sure some might have that view, and the evidence to support that view is also in the team's form this season. RBNY is reliably terrible on the road at the moment, but it has suffered a disappointing result at home only twice so far this season: the 0-0 draw with RSL and the 3-1 loss to LA; you could arguably throw Vancouver's 1-1 draw in CCL into the mix as well. What those results have in common is they were against teams that seemed manifestly inferior to RBNY on form, a perception only enhanced by the expectation that they'd be further diminished by playing some distance away from their own homes. But those teams walked out of Red Bull Arena feeling better about their performance than RBNY. At home, against opponents expected to bring a little fight with them, the Red Bulls have tended to get the result they want every time they play in Harrison. So, yes, there is reason to believe NYCFC - in-form and generally regarded as doing a lot more right than wrong tactically and roster-wise - is the sort of side that will see the Red Bulls find something closer to their best than has been on show recently.

The concern for me is illustrated by the other home game RBNY didn't win so far this year: the 1-1 tie with Toronto. The Red Bulls were lucky to get a point out of that game - in the sense that Luis Robles doesn't guess right on every (or even most) penalties he faces - and my sense was TFC was simply a better team, a winning team, an opponent that raised its game when under pressure rather than sinking into its shell. So while I very much hope NYCFC brings the best out of RBNY, I fret a little about the possibility that that the best of RBNY in 2017 isn't as good as we've come to expect in recent seasons.

Q. Is this really a rivalry yet? What do you really think of us, and where does New York City rank in the rivalry pecking order on your other side of the river?

A. I think Jesse Marsch has said the teams "hate each other". Both stadiums seem to fill up for these games - though don't hold your breath for huge numbers flocking to an over-priced, mid-week match in an under-promoted tournament. I think it's churlish to deny it's a rivalry at this point. Indeed, part of the reason NYCFC was invented was to provide RBNY with a closer rival; conversely, one gets the impression Yankee Stadium draws a lot of fans who were simply keen to watch a team that wasn't the Red Bulls. The league killed two birds with one light-blue stone, and it would be rude to deny the rivalry after the effort MLS has made to create it.

And though it's hard to shake the memory of quite how hard the league tried to get the two fan bases to clash (competitive tweeting for the right to light the Empire State Building - this was a thing that happened; adults participated), I think it's equally hard to argue the work has not been validated. Ultimately, an out-of-thin-air second team in New York (park your geographic chauvinism for just a moment) has played RBNY in front of a more-or-less full house pretty much from day one. It's not a rivalry because people respond to weird, gimmicky urban illumination contests; it's not a rivalry because people get mad online; it is a rivalry if people care enough to show up in numbers to watch the teams play, regardless of rosters or relative league positions. The latter condition seems to have been met, and that's really what counts most.

I think where NYCFC ranks in RBNY's rival pecking order probably depends on which RBNY fan you're talking to and on what day. Don't expect a lot of hype from those who have been tussling with DC United since the mid-90s. And we're talking about two teams that have played each other competitively six times - ever. So while the fan turn-out for these games suggests this is very much a rivalry, it surely will only get bigger than it is now; which is why I hesitate to say NYCFC is RBNY's number one rival. Some concession must be made to history, and RBNY has played more make-or-break games against San Jose Earthquakes than NYCFC. That will change soon enough, maybe even this season (one Cup match and a playoff series is the extent of RBNY's big-game history against the Quakes). But right now, I think perhaps many of us are watching this match-up for what it could be more than what it is - and that potential needs games more than Tweet-storms to be fulfilled.

Predicted line-up:

Ryan Meara; Justin Bilyeu, Aurelien Collin, Aaron Long, Sal Zizzo; Felipe, Tyler Adams; Mike Grella, Sacha Kljestan, Daniel Royer; Bradley Wright-Phillips

Predicted score:

I fear the Red Bulls have a little more falling to do before they figure themselves out. I think we'll make the playoffs this season, less sure about the next round of the Cup: 1-0 to NYCFC, with RBNY eager to exact revenge when the league schedule provides the opportunity.