Entering tonight’s game, New York City was bullish on their chances against the New York Red Bulls in a bonus Hudson River Derby match. The Blues have, if anything, solidified their standing as a MLS contender this season. In contrast, the Red Bulls have delivered one faltering performance after another. They’ve looked disjointed and out of sorts.
Neither team has distinguished itself in the Open Cup — the oldest American soccer competition, and the second oldest soccer cup tournament in the world. The Red Bulls came closest to winning it in 2003, when they finished as runners-up as the MetroStars. Meanwhile, in two seasons of existence, the Blues have never progressed past the fourth round -- losing to the Cosmos both times.
Manager Patrick Vieira fielded a strong lineup tonight. In the starting XI were David Villa, Tommy McNamara, Maxi Moralez, Alex Ring, Ben Sweat, Sean Johnson, and Alexander Callens. All of these players were making their Open Cup debuts. That Vieira fielded essentially a regular-season lineup tonight was a statement of how seriously he took the game.
The first 15 minutes of the match resembled just about every encounter between the two teams — New York City tried to get into their flowing, possession-oriented game, and the Red Bulls did everything they could to disrupt that plan.
Right at the 15 minute mark, though, Tommy McNamara was gifted an outrageously gorgeous ball by David Villa. Finding himself with absolute oceans of space, McNamara proceeded to hoof a ball that he should’ve buried. McNamara’s shot bounced off the crossbar twice -- and somehow didn’t cross the goal line.
Thanking their luck, the Red Bulls proceeded to clear the ball. The half proceeded, with the Red Bulls using their standard high press against New York City, forcing the Blues out of rhythm.
Then, at the 37-minute mark, New York City was again cruelly denied by the woodwork. A cross was floated in the box from the left; Alexander Ring headed the ball towards David Villa, who found himself with time enough to draw up the shot. But his shot hit the corner of the right goal post, and caromed mercifully into goalkeeper Ryan Meara’s arms.
As the half drew to a close, Maxi Moralez suffered an injury. Not wanting to risk something worse, Vieira replaced Moralez with John Stertzer at the half.
As the second half wore on, it looked more and more as if the Red Bulls would be the more likely of the two teams to score. At the 67th minute, it became so. A defensive error by Frederic Brillant saw New York City tormentor Bradley Wright-Phillips pounce on the errant pass. Wright-Phillips forced an excellent save by Sean Johnson, but Johnson could do nothing about the rebound, which was volleyed home by Daniel Royer.
Looking to shake things up, Vieira subbed Jonathan Lewis on for Stertzer — a mystifying change, since it burned a precious substitution on a substitute. Nevertheless, Lewis came close to tying the game up at one goal apiece in the 83rd minute, forcing Meara into an excellent save.
The Red Bulls were content to kill the game off from there — and did so with aplomb. The result means that the Blues are still looking for their first Open Cup win ever, while the Red Bulls move on to the fifth round of the Cup.
Next up for the Blues: a 1 p.m. Saturday showdown with the defending league champions, the Seattle Sounders.