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Tactics Time: How To Win The Hudson River Derby

Can NYCFC knock off their biggest rivals on the road?

MLS: New York City FC at New York Red Bulls Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

A win in this game would count as three points. Likewise, losing wouldn’t net New York City FC anything. However, it’s impossible distilling the volcanic emotional eruption and the impact that this game has into a simple win, loss, or draw.

NYCFC are currently top of the league, and the geographically confused New York Red Bulls would like nothing more than to knock the Boys in Blue off of their perch. A loss in this game would give Red Bulls wins in 7 out of the 11 derbies to this point.

The Red Bulls have been an extremely tough out in the regular season in recent history. Patrick Vieira and everyone wearing NYCFC blue need to be on their A-game if they want to avoid the sting of watching NYRB streaking across the face of goal, elated with the type of satisfaction only a crippling goal in a derby can bring. Here is how to prevent that hellish scenario.

  1. Line Up Like This

4-3-3: Johnson; Sweat, Callens, Chanot, Tinnerholm; Herrera, Ring, Moralez; Berget, Medina, Villa

Bench: Stuver, Ibeagha, Matarrita, McNamara, Ofori, Tajouri-Shradi, Lewis

NYCFC should stick with the same front three that shredded the previously impervious Dallas defense. Jo Inge Berget made some nice runs and set up some big plays. Jesus Medina not only leads MLS in assists, but found some twine for the second time. David Villa, fresh off career goals 400 and 401, is scalding hot. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi should start if healthy, but his status is unclear. I’d take a 100% healthy Berget over a 60% healthy ITS in a derby game. Rodney Wallace again is left off the bench because if this website collectively wishes for something enough, maybe it will come true.

Yangel Herrera is down to his last chance. His brutally bad giveaway against FC Dallas on Sunday leaves Ebenezer Ofori nipping at his heels for minutes. If Herrera puts up another stinker, it’s time to give Ofori the keys to the car. Alex Ring and Maxi Moralez start once again. With the potent Red Bull midfield having overwhelmed many sides in the past, these two need to star for 90 minutes. Ofori and Tommy McNamara make the bench, though it’s becoming increasingly hard to see where McNamara gets playing time.

Despite missing the Dallas clash for personal reasons, Maxime Chanot returns. He and Alex Callens will be tasked with quelling the potent right foot of Bradley Wright-Phillips. Ben Sweat looks to be almost cemented as the starting left back, as is Anton Tinnerholm at right back. Ronald Mattarita’s offensive creativity is available on the bench. Sebastian Ibeagha earns a spot on the bench after a very impressive game last time out.

2. Red Bulls utilize the right side of the field more than anyone else. The left side of the defense needs to stop crosses from coming in.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Los Angeles Galaxy Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Under Jesse Marsch’s tutelage, the Red Bulls have become one of the most one-sided attacks in the league. With 45% of Red Bulls possession coming from the right side of the pitch, they lead the league in that category. Conversely, NYCFC are tied for last in that department, with just 30% of possession coming on the right hand side. The heat map below from their 3-2 win against the LA Galaxy shows a team that likes to get forward and cross the ball into the box.

Vs. LA Galaxy

Young designated player Alejandro Gamarra — who normally plays a No. 10 role — often roams to that side of the field. His playing style isn’t that dissimilar to that of Jesus Medina, as they both are comfortable using their pace and crossing ability to set up either David Villa or Bradley Wright-Phillips.

With the Englishman averaging 2.05 goals and assists per 90 minutes, the temptation to zero in on him could free up opportunities for a talented Red Bulls attack to pepper Sean Johnson. Ben Sweat and Alex Callens will need to play the game of their life in shutting down that left side. If they can constantly get service in to Wright-Phillips, this game is as good as over.

3. Red Bulls’ fullbacks are better going forward than defending. Attack them just like in the Dallas game.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Los Angeles Galaxy Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

While Marsch normally deploys a 4-2-3-1, he has eschewed that formation in favor of one that better suits his players. His took down LA Galaxy with a 3-5-1-1 formation that converted fullbacks Kemar Lawrence and Michael Murillo into wingbacks. While both are decent defenders in their own right, the duo’s best attribute is their pace and tenacity when on the attack. Their heat map form the Galaxy tilt serves as evidence.

Both of these players, and Murillo in particular, are almost playing as wide midfielders with how far they get up the pitch. Dallas tried a similar strategy to take down NYCFC, but Vieira and his men were able to thoroughly work the Toros for 90 minutes by beating up on their fullbacks. Poor play by Dallas on the flanks contributed to each of NYCFC ‘s three goals. With a solid center back partnership that hasn’t shown a ton of cracks yet this year, going after them instead of their defensively questionable wingbacks would be analogous to banging one’s head against a wall.

4. No team in MLS is better on set pieces. Be weary.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at Los Angeles Galaxy Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If there has to be one recurring issue for NYCFC on the pitch — even dating back to the Kreis Dark Age — it would have to be defense against set pieces. Vieira’s decision to use zonal marking with players that can’t fully internalize the concept has led to one set piece goal too many.

As fate would dictate, Red Bulls have scored five goals this season off of set pieces, the best mark in MLS. With several players that can take corners or free kicks, no team is better equipped to strike from a dead ball. In NYCFC’s midfield, they have the player with the most yellow cards in MLS in Alex Ring and the player with the most fouls committed in Yangel Herrera. Discipline will be what wins this game.

Red Bulls don’t play like the hyperspeed assault of Atlanta, nor do the turn the game into a slow, methodical drag like Sporting Kansas City before has in the past. Instead, they play a balanced, clean game wherein they make few mistakes. Vieira and NYCFC need to be opportunistic and disciplined if they want to snag three points from the first Hudson River Derby of the season.

What do you think NYCFC needs to do? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter @hudsonriverblue