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NYCFC vs. New York Red Bulls: What to watch for in the Hudson River Derby

A triptych of narratives we’re following in the run up to a massive Sunday in the Bronx

MLS: New York City FC at New York Red Bulls Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The Red Bull hex isn’t a thing anymore. Not only have New York’s Blues proven that they can overcome their cross-river rivals; they’ve managed to shut them out in two of their last three league meetings. But Patrick Vieira’s boys are anything but out of the woods entering this weekend’s Yankee Stadium clash, the only time this year that they’ll host the New York Red Bulls.

You’ve presumably read various versions of “NYCFC LIMPS INTO HUDSON RIVER DERBY” this week, perhaps a lazyish response to the optics of the 4-0 loss to Toronto coming one day after the Red Bulls bested Montreal with the exact same scoreline. We won’t lay it on so thick today, so don’t worry. Instead, let’s tee up the three big narratives we’re following in the run up to Derby Sunday.

Power Trio

MLS: Chicago Fire at New York City FC
Just put a Ring on it.
Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

The soccer gods have done everything in their power to keep Maxi Moralez, Alex Ring, and Yangel Herrera from playing together. It’s hard to believe that New York City’s best midfield grouping has only started four games together— and considering that the most recent one saw Herrera get himself sent off after twelve minutes, it’s more like three. Even so, the Boys in Blue are undefeated when these three operators man the midfield, having taken ten points from a possible dozen. While Herrera’s presence likely wouldn’t have been enough to cool down red-hot Toronto last weekend, opponents have struggled to crack the code when he’s there to provide that critical link between defense and attack that Andrea Pirlo, Mikey Lopez, or Tommy McNamara just can’t replace. Of course, NYCFC fans should never get too comfy watching these three do their thing, as the gods are indeed unkind: both Moralez and Ring are one yellow card away from a one-match ban. Why the fuck can’t we have nice things?

Rock ‘n Royer

MLS: Columbus Crew SC at New York Red Bulls Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

Who’s hotter than Daniel Royer right now? The Austrian attacking man has been burning opponents alive like he was Aerys Targaryen, sporting six goals and an assist over his last four games— all wins. He only lasted an hour the last time these two teams met, but is sure to figure heavily for Jesse Marsch’s side Sunday. He’s got to be looking at this injury-depleted version of NYCFC and seeing red. Alexander Callens will have his hands full chasing around Bradley Wright-Phillips in the danger zone, and rightfully so, but the Blues are playing with fire if they forget about Royer for even a hot second. Fingers crossed that Andrea Pirlo doesn’t see the field, yeah?

Brand New Set

Thanks to Mark Booth of NYCFC.com for this gem of a stat: the Red Bulls have conceded 38% of their goals in set piece situations this year, the worst mark in MLS. Given how badly the red team used to expose New York City in that regard, this is the most crystalline form of poetic justice imaginable. How many corner kick headers do you remember breezing by Josh Saunders in Year One and Year Two? Scientists haven’t discovered a number high enough to express the exact figure. But in 2017, the worm has turned, no more clearly than when Ben Sweat nodded his way to glory off a gorgeous Alex Ring free kick in Harrison on June 24th. It will take a while still for NYCFC to repay their rivals for the pain of going winless in the first four games of this series, but the door is wide open given the Red Bulls’ newfound vulnerability. Especially given that the aerially-inclined Frederic Brillant is still picking up the center back slack for the injured Maxime Chanot, the visitors’ defense will need to stay frosty in a big way when Maxi Moralez lines up to take New York City’s first corner kick.