New York City fans know the numbers way too well.
One solitary win. Five losses — six, if you count last Wednesday’s Open Cup defeat. 19 goals surrendered, to only five scored. The futility extends to the talismanic David Villa; in those six games, he has only scored once. New York City might contend that the city is blue. But the rivalry is deep, deep red.
There’s only one way to change that — and that is by actually winning.
That’s what New York City aims to do tomorrow. Will they?
Despite the historical record, there’s reason for optimism going into the game. For one, Patrick Vieira will be able to call on two players — Yangel Herrera and Maxime Chanot - who didn’t play in the Open Cup match. Herrera leads the Blues for duels won per 90 minutes (11.4, to be exact), so his presence in midfield will help New York City maintain possession against the Red Bulls.
On the defensive side, Chanot has been singularly terrific as a central defender. In contrast to last year, New York City is only surrendering 1.3 goals per game this season — and they’ve only surrendered one goal after the 75th minute this season. That kind of lockdown defense is critical for New York City’s prospects of winning tomorrow.
The Red Bull’s high press — in all six victories in the Hudson River Derby — takes advantage of turnovers in New York City’s defensive third, which in turn lead to goals. In an interview earlier this week, Tommy McNamara noted as much.
“They press very hard and they press very well,” the NYCFC midfielder said. “They spend a lot of time working on it, I’m sure over the past couple of years with [New York head coach] Jesse Marsch They’ve done a good job of turning us over in very dangerous spots in our end, which is where a lot of their goals have come from in the past.”
Having Chanot back will help. Having Herrera back will help. But will it be enough?
On the flip side, New York City have to figure out a way to stop Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips. Wright-Phillips, who tied the MLS single-season scoring record with 27 goals three years ago, and is the reigning Golden Boot holder, is particularly lethal in this rivalry. In six games, he’s scored eight times. The contrast with New York City’s David Villa is vivid.
For manager Patrick Vieira, that comes down to depriving Wright-Phillips of the ball.
“I think we just have to stop players giving him the ball, from supplying it to him,” Vieira said. “I think we have to try to get him outside of the box. When you look at the two goals he scored against Philly, always at the right time he’s smelling the goals.”
Having Herrera in midfield — with his skill at winning and keeping the ball - is crucial
in this regard. If you can disrupt Wright-Phillips’ supply, that complicates matters greatly for the Red Bulls, whose offense has sputtered this season in comparison to the past few years.
It’s not enough to keep Wright-Phillips off the board, though; the Blues need to score, too. One of the biggest reasons for New York City’s continued futility in the Derby is Villa’s utter absence from the scoreboard. It’s no coincidence that the only goal Villa’s scored came in the only victory of the series. So how do the Blues change that up?
It may start with the lineup. Vieira’s preferred tactical alignment is some variation of the 4-3-3. But for tomorrow’s game, we may see some changes. The linchpin of the Blues’ offense this year, Maxi Moralez, left the Open Cup clash with a calf injury. That injury kept him out of the following game, against Seattle, and it’s caused him to miss training this week. It’s unclear whether he and Ronald Matarrita, who was also absent with an unspecified injury, will be available for tomorrow’s game. But let’s assume they are.
Why not switch from a 4-3-3…to a 3-3-4? Here’s how that would look:
It starts with three at the back: Matarrita, Chanot, and RJ Allen, who had his best game of the season in the Open Cup loss.
Herrera serves as the number 6, at times like another central defender, helping the defense — and also helping launch the offense. One of the disruptive elements of the Red Bulls’ press is that it forces attackers like Villa to drop ever deeper in search of the ball. Herrera’s ball-winning abilities in midfield help allay that. Alexander Ring plays his customary box-to-box role, while Moralez serves as the enganche, orchestrating the offense, as he has all season long.
Finally, the front four. Wingers Rodney Wallace and Jack Harrison continue holding down their roles, but Ugo Okoli joins Villa as a second forward. This gives New York City a target forward, and an additional offensive weapon that they normally don’t deploy. It also gives Villa additional support that he hasn’t had in many of these games.
Will New York City line up like this? Hard to say, but Vieira’s acknowledged that they need to change things up in the run-up to the game. This is one way to do it.