Each week we do a Q&A with our friends around the SB Nation Soccer world to get some insight on their team from those who know them best. Know your enemy.
Here we are again, New York City, ahead of a showdown against our bitter rivals on the national stage. All we ask is for is one thing: Let’s play some compelling soccer.
The Boys in Blue are back in Harrison, NJ for an MLS regular season showdown and another edition of the Hudson River Derby. New York City is winless at Red Bull Arena, but has everything it needs to get a result and inject some fire into this one-sided rivalry.
Jonathan Tzvi Machlin from Once a Metro has agreed to a temporary ceasefire ahead of the match to answer our Red Bulls questions. We discuss RBNY success against NYC, scoring woes in NJ, and defensive strategy and tactics.
Q. The US Open Cup match was another painful chapter in the novel: RBNY Owns NYC FC. There are a lot of directions you can go with your answer, but why do you think Red Bulls have such a strong edge over New York and what did you see last time we played to confirm your previous thoughts?
OaM. To be honest I can sum up the edge the Red Bulls have had in one word: Defense. I'm not trying suggesting our defense has been good - but it has clearly been better than yours in our first seven meetings.
In 2015 you were tied for most goals allowed while the Red Bulls had most goals scored with 62. In 2016 you only improved your GA by one goal, and the Red Bulls once again scored over 60 goals.
But now that your defense has improved, I suspect that the results will be a lot closer in the matches to come. The fact that it took a lucky bounce to Daniel Royer to prevent extra time is proof-enough for me. Every match in this rivalry has resulted in a win or a loss - but sooner or later the two teams will draw even and New York will be Purple.
Q. Red Bulls may not have issues scoring and beating NYC, but against the rest of MLS they're scoring just a sliver over a goal a game. Why has the goal-scoring dropped so precipitously from last season and how much does it have to do with BWP's form? Do you see this trend reversing itself as the season progresses?
OaM. Bradley Wright-Phillips is doing the same thing he's done the last three years: Get into position, find the ball, take a shot, cross the fingers and hope for the best. He's a 9 through and through, and expecting him to do anything other than shoot the ball is just a waste of time.
No, I believe that our scoring woes have far less to do with Bradley's form and everything to do with the midfield failing to contribute. We're halfway through the season and only four players have scored for the team, and our third leading scorer is "Own Goals" with two.
So until Sacha Kljestan, Felipe, Gonzalo Veron and AmeriKante figure out how to get the ball in the net, the goal-scoring won't improve.
Q. Follow-up to the previous question - The defense has had to be spectacular to win so many tight games and the numbers tell that story: 21 goals allowed and your two highest rated players according to whoscored are Aurelien Collin and Kemar Lawrence. What makes the defense so strong, and is it a matter of players, tactics, or both?
OaM. A big part of the high press is having the left- and right-backs go way up the field and contribute to the attack. And when you have players with the speed and endurance of Kemar Lawrence and Michael Murillo, mistakes made on the counter-attack become less hurtful than they would have been last year.
Speaking of Lawrence though, he is quietly having a remarkable campaign that has been earning him looks from European teams. He has undoubtedly been the Team MVP so far, with a game-winning goal, two game-winning assists, and consistently shutting down anyone who tries to get the ball past him.
As for the centre-backs, the fact that we had Aurelien Collin from the getgo this season has been a major factor - it was his arrival part-way through last season that turned the 2016 campaign completely around. It should come as no surprise that five of our seven losses came when he was injured.
Aaron Long, our new centre-back, was the USL Defender of the Year last year for NYRBII and has provided some much-needed stability at the position which we didn't have last year, even when Collin has been missing. Not bad for a former midfielder who first learned the position last year!
Don't sleep on AmeriKante though. Just because he's listed as a defensive midfielder doesn't mean he can't do everything a defender can do - and more.
Q. Injuries/Suspensions/Starting XI?
OaM. Injuries: OUT - D Gideon Baah (IR, out for year); QUESTIONABLE - M Mike Grella, D Aaron Long; PROBABLE - D Connor Lade
Accumulation Warnings: M Felipe (needs 3 games w/o yellow to avoid suspension)
Predicted XI: (4-2-3-1)
GK Luis Robles
DF Kemar Lawrence, Aurelien Collin, Damien Perrinelle, Michael Murillo
DM AmeriKante, Sacha Kljestan;
MF Alex Muyl, Felipe, Gonzalo Veron;
FW Bradley Wright-Phillips
New York 1-5 New York City. Last year the first Hudson River Derby match saw the Red Bulls go to Yankee Stadium and win 7-0, so by the laws of karma, NYC FC are going to come into our building and come away with an iconic win of their own.
Gonzalo Veron scores first, but then David Villa gets a hat-trick, Jack Harrison gets a goal in the last 15, and Andrea Pirlo gets one in garbage time.
We like that prediction! Thanks Jonathan for answering HRB's questions this week! Join us in the comments section to discuss the Sunday's match and give your own prediction, and be sure to check out the "reverse fixture" on Once a Metro, where we answer three queries on NYC FC.