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Sunday’s derby match is absolutely a must-win for NYCFC

Why City cannot afford to lose (again) to their cross-state rival

MLS: U.S. Open Cup-New York City FC vs New York Red Bulls Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

“New York is Blue!”

“New York is Red!”

We hear it all week whenever the newest installment of the Hudson River Derby is upon us. Banter about playing in a baseball stadium or playing in an entirely different state is hurled without prejudice (irony alert!) in all directions, with each team on the opposing side wanting to lay claim to the temporary rights to paint the city of New York with their team’s colors.

But for New York City FC, bragging rights must come secondary to the real storyline going into Sunday’s matchup against the New York Red Bulls: these two teams are currently both third and second in the Eastern Conference respectively, and are only separated by one point. And though the Red Bulls currently have one game in hand, the onus is on NYCFC to take back second place and continue to march towards catching the red-hot Atlanta United.

Despite a crazy awesome start to their season that saw them go unbeaten through their first seven games of the season, NYCFC have fallen upon hard times. Not only has manager Patrick Vieira quite literally taken his ball and gone home, but City have only won 4 of their last 11 matches. The Blues have been particularly poor on the road, having a total record 2-4-3 (W-L-T) away from the comfort of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx.

Considering all of this, it’s imperative that NYCFC assert themselves this Sunday against the historically troublesome Red Bulls — the New Jersey based team has won 8 of the 12 total competitive contests against each other. Bragging rights isn’t the only thing at stake right now. The good guys have many long-term challenges that would make losing this game disastrous.

One of the most important of those challenges is the 2019 CONCACAF Champions League.

Due to the latest requirements laid down by CONCACAF, the final MLS position in the 2019 CCL will be decided based upon who collects the most points throughout the 2017 and 2018 seasons. NYCFC finished 2017 with 57 points, the most of any US-based MLS club (Toronto FC, being a Canadian team, must qualify through competition with other Candian teams). However, both Atlanta and the Chicago Fire finished with 55 points in 2017, giving NYCFC little room for error in the future.

As it currently stands in the race for a 2019 CCL berth, NYCFC have amassed 88 total points through both 2017 and 2018. Atlanta on the other hand have collected 92 points, giving them the official lead of the race. It should be noted, however, that City currently have two games in hand on the Five Stripes, and could potentially leap frog them should their next two results be wins.

All of this makes Sunday’s derby match all the more important. And if NYCFC wishes to see their ambitions of greatness realized in the not-so-distant future, they will have to completely turn the script on the perennially dominant NYRB.