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HRB Round Table: Derby Postmortem

After the latest installment of the Hudson River Derby, New York is red... and Hudson River Blue has a lot to say about it.

MLS: New York City FC at New York Red Bulls
Not quite really pleased at all...
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

After enduring yet another “Red Wedding” on derby day, me and the other HRB staffers decided to do a round table discussion and answer some of the most pressing questions after seeing New York City FC undone once again by the New York Red Bulls.

Q. What are your thoughts on the team after losing (yet again) to the Red Bulls in the Hudson River Derby?

Noah: I am frustrated that Patrick Vieira continues to make the same mistakes over and over again. He always tries to play out of the back against a solid high press. The counter to playing out of the back is a high press. As the Red Bulls run a solid high press, NYCFC get overrun almost every time. There are ways to beat the Red Bulls, like getting the ball to central midfielders who can pass the ball (Alex Ring) who then releases a pacy winger (Jesus Medina), but the coach has to be willing to make those changes to the tactics. Instead, because Vieira refused to change, the center backs and Sean Johnson were put under pressure. Callens is a good passer, Chanot is a solid passer, while Johnson’s passing skills were exploited a little. His distribution has improved, but he still can make progress. Overall, I think NYCFC just need to be more tactically flexible. Passing out of the back is great philosophy to build off, but if you have to stray away from your strategy it is not the end of the world

Mike: I’m almost afraid whenever Patrick Vieira tries something different and it works, because it means you’re going to see it 25 games in a row even if it doesn’t make any sense. Red Bulls came in knowing what City were going to do and NYCFC didn’t even make an attempt to try something different. It was also a little disheartening to see how quickly NYCFC just gave up. I get 2 goals in three minutes is pretty demoralizing but this is damn derby game! Maxi Moralez is a quality player, but he has these games where he just gets overwhelmed by bigger defensive midfielders. It’s Ismael Tajouri-Shradi on the left wing or bust at this point. Berget is a false 9, not a left winger. The one good thing I can say is that NYCFC bounce back pretty well from ass-kickings.

J: This again? I thought we were done with this?

Calvin: I feel like my confidence has been shaken somewhat in Patrick Vieira. After a stellar showing against NYRB last season, I thought we were past these type of “Red Wedding” losses. In general, I think the overall approach Vieira and the team take to these Derby matches (the “it’s just another game approach”) is a big misfire. Not only is this not going to win over the fanbase, but the numbers also bear out that it is not working. Red Bulls have outscored NYCFC 24-11 since the Inaugural season, with the two most demoralizing losses having a combined score of 11-0. If that doesn’t tell you “it’s not working” I don’t know what will.

Christian: I’m annoyed that after three seasons — including a season series win last year — we still can’t seem to match the Red Bulls’ intensity in each derby. NYRB came out of the gate looking to punch us in the mouth, and City seemed content on letting them do it.

Raf: It’s enormously frustrating.

We know that MLS and the media are invested in hyping up this rivalry into something like “El Clàsico”. They’d love it if it turned into the biggest rivalry in the league. Nothing against Seattle-Portland, or even LA-LAFC, but New York City is the media capital of the world, and arguably the world’s most significant city. The Red Bulls certainly treat it that way; while fans might say that DC United are historically their biggest rivals, DCU hasn’t been competitive in years, and the amount of relish they take in beating NYCFC really says it all. And of course, NYCFC fans treat the Red Bulls as their biggest rivals.

Absent from that equation, though, are the biggest element -- NYCFC. It’s patently clear that they don’t take this rivalry seriously. What I mean is that they approach playing New York the same way they would Real Salt Lake; nothing particularly special about that game, it’s just one game out of 34 in the schedule. And I suspect that what really angered Patrick Vieira wasn’t losing to New York, per se, but losing a game 4-0, and not playing the game with energy and dispatch. And it should anger him! It should anger everyone. But would he be equally angry after losing 2-1? Or 1-0?

That’s the doubt. I don’t think he would. I don’t think this team would.

Losing to the New York Red Bulls should be unthinkable. It should be unacceptable. Beating the Red Bulls, making the playoffs, and winning silverware should be the non-negotiable minimums for any NYCFC manager to retain their job. Those three games should be *the* three games on the schedule that are circled and pointed towards.

Put it another way: the way I know that NYCFC doesn’t take this rivalry seriously is that any Portland or Seattle coach that had a 3-7-1 record against the other, and had gotten outscored 25-11 in those eleven games wouldn’t be managing Portland or Seattle; or at the very least, would be on the hottest of seats, regardless of if they made the playoffs. That’s how you know it’s a real rivalry.

Until NYCFC show up to this one on a regular basis, the Hudson River Derby will be essentially a marketing exercise. And that sucks.

Q. What are some things you’d like to see the team change in terms of this rivalry?

Noah: I love how Red Bulls utilize their academy and USL teams. I would love to see some homegrowns who really care about their city and this rivalry score. Kind of like how Liverpool born and raised Everton player Tom Davies did when he scored against Southampton. Except imagine when he does that against Liverpool. Absolute scenes. (Which will happen.. I am confident of it)

Mike: Intensity. Red Bulls treat this game like MLS Cup and go 150% for 90 minutes while City treat it like another game. Going to Red Bull Arena playing at half speed is never going to work.

J: Competition. These are two quality squads helmed by two quality managers, so when even one half of those pairings isn’t on the level it’s exposed immediately by the opposition.

Christian: City needs to start treating it like the MLS Cup final. Up to this point, we know that NYRB either circles these games on their calendar or plays like they do. We need to match that.

Calvin: I’d like for Marsch to not be able to use the same tricks year in, year out against us. I’d like to have a game plan to pick them apart for a change. Coaches like Marsch and Gio Savarese (former NY Cosmos and now Portland Timbers coach) seem to have Vieira’s number and make gameplans specifically to stop his tactics. While that is a testament to how good Vieira’s system is, it is still frustrating that we never get to see Vieira pull a turn of play on them and undo their game plan from time to time.

Raf: Winning games. Everything else is immaterial, and meaningless. We’re past the point where words matter. Only winning does.

And not just winning, but winning by humiliating margins. I want to see NYCFC hang seven, eight, nine goals on the Red Bulls. I want to see them win games by three- or four-goal margins. Here’s the thing -- the Red Bulls own NYCFC psychologically. David Villa -- a 400-goal scorer -- has never scored at Red Bull Arena. In the eleven games of this rivalry, he’s scored four times -- and three of those goals came in one game, which means he’s scored just once in the other 10. That’s incredible. The psychological lock that the Red Bulls have on the Pigeons is unbelievable.

The only way that changes -- and I don’t think it will under Vieira -- is if the manager makes it clear that losing to New York is unacceptable. And that you need to not just win, but win by a lot. And that it’s not enough to score one or two early goals, but three or four or five.

I’m not privy to locker room discussions, but I feel safe guaranteeing that Red Bulls vets (such as they are) make it beyond clear to their young players that losing to NYCFC is unacceptable. I’d reckon that the Red Bulls stewed all off-season about going winless last season in the rivalry, and wanted to make a statement right off the bat. I would be shocked if that was reciprocated in the Bronx. And until it is, you’re going to see the same stuff happening.

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

Q. Would you say these losses are on Patrick Vieira? The Players? Both?

Noah: I think the loss is on everyone. It starts with Patrick Vieira not being flexible, but the players also have to challenge him to adapt to the situation.

Mike: 50/50. Some of Vieira’s tactical decisions continue to dumbfound, but the performance from all 11 on the field were shocking. They looked totally lost.

J: The failings were total. I believe that this falls on the manager, though, whose chief responsibility is to prepare the team for victory.

Calvin: While the players could have performed better, I’m putting this loss at the feet of Patrick Vieira. As the manager it is his job to see what the opposition is doing and instruct the team on what they need to do to counter that. But that would indicate that Vieira is working up countermeasures in training to stop teams like the Red Bulls, and the evidence is just not there that he does. So, because of that, I put this on Vieira. This is his third season coaching NYCFC so there are no surprises about how amped the Red Bulls get to play us, and how much effort Marsch puts into thwarting Vieira’s style of play. Vieira needs to accept the professional challenge and realize he has a coaching rival in Jesse Marsch and show he actually wants to beat him, the way it is so clearly evident Marsch wants to beat him.

Raf: It starts from the top. The three worst losses in the Hudson River Derby (7-0, 4-0, and 4-1) have all come under Vieira. In fairness, so have all three wins. But the scale of those losses -- the abject humiliation and capitulation in those defeats -- outweighs those wins. I genuinely don’t think he really cares about the rivalry all that much, if at all, and I think those losses betray that. You can maybe understand “The Red Wedding” because the team he inherited from Jason Kreis was bad and disjointed (and the idea that CFG thought that was a playoff team was crazypants). But this 2018 version of NYCFC is way too talented to be getting waxed 4-0 by an archrival. That’s on Vieira.

Look, not caring about the rivalry doesn’t make Vieira a bad manager, let alone a bad person. But it is discrediting, and a major mark against his tenure. And I’ve basically given up on it changing.

Christian: It’s on everyone. I’d like to point out that up until this past weekend, Vieira had only lost twice to the Red Bulls in season competition out of six games games. If you include the Open Cup, it evens up. So obviously, we’ve had success against them recently. But in each of those wins, we adjusted our tactics to neutralize RB’s high press. In this latest game, it felt like we were treating it like a Sunday kickaround. I say the blame goes 50/50.

Q. What are our general thoughts on Patrick Vieira as a manager?

Noah: I think it is very clear he is a stubborn manager. But, this is his first time coaching a professional team. I am willing to be patient because it takes time to develop as a coach. Once he acknowledges that he needs to be more flexible tactically and rotate the squad more, the latter which is happening more this year, he will become a top-tier coach. If he fails to do that, he will struggle.

Mike: We may nitpick Vieira a lot because he has a propensity to get blown out when it matters, but there are only a couple other guys in MLS I would take over him. It’s almost like he goes five or six weeks in a row of perfect management that could make you think he’s ready for Europe, and then he loses 4-0. Having suffered through Jason Kreis, i’m satisfied with Vieira.

J: He is easily one of the better coaches in the league but he needs to sort out his teams’ issues with ‘big time’ games, soon.

Calvin: Up until this last derby defeat, I was very much pro Vieira. I find him to be a very smart coach, a good teacher, and someone who can actually develop players in his system (i.e. Ben Sweat, Tommy McNamara, etc.). But he continues to show the same faults in year 3, with some troubling new ones emerging for me.

For instance, if you have to play a “must win” game (derby matches, cup ties, and playoffs specifically) it is increasingly hard to put your trust in Vieira to come away wtih victories in those types of matches. This will sound negative, but I think Vieira is very much a “regular season” coach - he will bring you great results over the longer run of games played, but you will be frustrated in crucial games along the way.

Not only that, we are no longer seeing his approach where the best players will play, regardless of their stature or name value. He has continued to run out Yangel Herrera despite continuous miscues and giveaways. Jo Inge Berget and Rodney Wallace remain fixtures in the Starting XI and/or the 18 despite neither one really bringing anything offensively to the table (mind you they are both forwards/wingers). It almost feels like we stumbled on how good Ismael Tajouri-Shradi is due to the fact that there just wasn’t anyone else who could play early on due to injuries.

We originally thought of Vieira as a “play your kids” manager, but the results on that have been mixed. While he has been willing to play the likes of Jack Harrison, Jesus Medina, and even much maligned Khiry Shelton in the past, we are still waiting for players like Jonathan Lewis and James Sands to get any sort of playing time this season, despite the team looking like they could use a fresh perspective in the front three and in midfield at times.

Overall, I still think he is a good manager, but I think it is fair to say that some of the shine is starting to wear off here.

Christian: Patrick Vieira is one of the best managers in this league. He has turned NYCFC into consistent winners and has implemented one of the more technical systems we’ve seen in MLS. On top of that, many quality players have signed for us because of how legendary Vieira is in this sport. We wouldn’t have players like Alex Ring or Maxi Moralez if Vieira wasn’t here. I definitely have my criticisms, but I feel he is still our best option when it comes to this team winning a championship.

Raf: I think Patrick Vieira is an excellent young manager. He’s probably one of the top four managers in the league right now; I’d rank Toronto’s Greg Vanney ahead of him, and both Bob Bradley and Tata Martino have him beat on experience points. What he’s done with NYCFC is really outstanding, and I fully expect him to leave for Europe soon; I’ll be slightly surprised if he’s still managing NYCFC next season, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him leave in the summer. CFG need to be planning for that reality.

But at the same time, his managerial tenure has had certain frustrating elements to it. Put aside his abysmal record in the Hudson River Derby for now. After freely experimenting with tactical formations his first year (he legit played a W-M, which I think was the first time that happened in a professional game since the ‘50s?), he’s locked on playing a 4-3-3 which prizes building from the back. He is committed to that in downright theological terms, to the point now where it’s shocking to see NYCFC do something different.

There are exceptions, of course. The two wins against New York last season featured the team playing far more directly than normal. But the exceptions are shocking for how rare they are. Vieira isn’t a pragmatist, he’s an ideologue.

The other frustrating element of his tenure here in Gotham has been his lack of squad rotation. Vieira tends to have a blind eye to certain players (Rodney Wallace, come on down!), and once a player lands in his doghouse, it’s virtually certain that they will not exit (Jonathan Lewis waves hello forlornly).

Which is why I think his departure will come at an optimal time for both man and club.

Q. After this loss, can this team rebound and be a contender for MLS Cup?

Noah: I think they have to acknowledge that playing out of the back doesn’t always work. That coupled with even more squad rotation, and adding a direct, north-south no. 10 in the summer could make this team a contender for the Supporters Shield. While I recognize this question is about MLS Cup, I don’t think Vieira is going to win an MLS Cup because his teams are set up to win a Supporters Shield. In order to win the cup, he would have to be more tactically flexible.

Mike: Contender? Yes. Winner? No. The biggest problem with NYCFC right now is there holes are glaring and obvious. They lack depth on the wings, their no. 10 is a wild-card in terms his game to game performance, and they are obsessed with playing out of the back. Toronto and Atlanta are clearly better right now. I wouldn’t be surprised if NYCFC got incredibly lucky and won the East, but MLS Cup would floor me, as this team still looks a couple pieces away.

J: Without a doubt. This is a talented roster that still has a goal scoring machine in David Villa. But, there is still a ways to go for them if they are to win any hardware this campaign.

Christian: Yes. But that starts with learning from your mistakes and not dropping points to a team that couldn’t even beat the Chicago Fire a week prior. City can’t afford to be giving points away to teams that are obviously not as talented as them. Luckily, it’s still early. And if my instincts are correct, we have only scratched the surface on everything this team can be. I say they rebound strong.

Calvin: I’m going to say no. Not because I don’t believe this team has the talent. I really do think it does. But the reason I say no is because until Vieira shows me he knows how to manage in “do or die” situations (derby matches, playoffs, etc.) I will not feel confident in this team making a deep playoff run for MLS Cup.

However, I think Vieira is the perfect coach to help this team add a few Supporters Shield trophies for however long he is still coaching this club. I know some people have a diminished view of the Supporters Shield, but I for one would be happy to have any piece of silverware hanging on the NYCFC mantle soon.

Raf: Yes.

But the key word is “can”. The question I have now is whether this team is too “soft” to do that. FC Dallas were MLS Cup contenders last year, and wound up missing the playoffs altogether after the team fell apart in the mid-season. I think the same thing could happen here, and I wouldn’t be shocked at all if it did.