The New York Red Bulls might have won round one, but New York City FC evened it up in round two. With serious playoff implications at play this time around, the table was set for a hotly contested final scheduled Hudson River Derby of the 2018 calendar year.
To say this final installment was “hotly contested” would be a gross understatement of egregious proportions. NYCFC’s battle with the Red Bulls on Wednesday was scrappy, physical, unpredictable, and — to a certain degree — violent. Regardless of the not-so-pretty football that was played at Yankee Stadium, fans were treated to a sensational experience that saw New York City draw the Bulls 1-1, despite having two players sent off.
To take on their most hated adversaries, NYCFC lined up as follows:
GK: Sean Johnson
DEF: Anton Tinnerholm, Maxime Chanot, Sebastien Ibeagha, Ben Sweat
MID: Eloi Amagat, Alex Ring, Ebenezer Ofori
FWD: Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, David Villa, Maxi Moralez
The game started as a back-and-forth affair, with no team seeming head-and-shoulders better than the other. Though City per usual had the edge in possession, the game was pretty even in the first 25 minutes or so, featuring some close-but-no-cigar chances from David Villa, as well as some amazing defensive work from Maxime Chanot and Seabastien Ibeagha, the latter of which whom was replacing the injured Alex Callens.
It would be the Red Bulls who drew first blood, however, following a set piece that probably shouldn’t have happened to begin with.
After staving off another Red Bull attack, City’s Ben Sweat found himself with Marc Rzatkowski on the right wing in the 37th minute. Despite Sweat quite clearly deflecting the ball off of Rzatkowski to draw a goal kick, the Bulls were awarded a corner by the assistant referee, much to Sweat’s anger.
The ensuing corner kick was initially dealt with by goalkeeper Sean Johnson, only for it to be corralled by Daniel Royer. The Austrian winger would cross the ball into the box and find a relatively poor marked Bradley Wright-Phillips, who would delicately guide the ball into the net with his head, giving the Red Bulls a 1-0 lead.
After that, the chaos began.
In the 40th minute, City debutante Eloi Amagat was sent off. The former Girona veteran attempted to win the ball back in the midfield, but his sliding challenge saw his right foot go over the ball and go spikes-up directly into Rzatkowski’s shin. The red card put NYCFC down to 10 men while being down a goal. All things considered, the game seemed over in that moment.
But as the Blues came out in the second half, some changes were made. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi was replaced by the bigger, more physical Jo Inge Berget. Instead of bunkering down on defense and hoping for the best, City chose to remain diligent on the offensive side of the ball in search of at least a goal.
Right off the bat, these changes payed dividends for NYCFC.
Roughly seven minutes into the second half, NYCFC dispossessed their New Jersey-based rivals in the midfield. The ball found Maxi Moralez near the midfield line who then pinged a sublime long ball to the head of Berget in the box. The Norweigan brilliantly headed the ball to the top of the box to an unmarked David Villa. The Spaniard touched it down with his right foot before launching it with his left and past a helpless Luis Robles, evening up the game at 1-1.
Unfortunately, Berget wouldn’t have a chance to further his positive contributions as he pulled up with an injury in the 56th minute, prompting manager Domé Torrent to replace him with Rodney Wallace.
Following Villa’s equalizer, the physicality ramped up. Fouls and flared tempers came in bulk as the game was inching closer and closer to a fever pitch. Nevertheless, NYCFC maintained their focus on the end goal.
Despite being a man down and losing a substitute early to injury, City continued to stave off the Red Bulls attack and provide offensive pressure of their own in search of a win. In the 66th minute, NYCFC found an opening.
In transition, the Blues stormed up the pitch with some interplay between Villa and Wallace. The play ultimately found Villa out wide on the left wing where, after some deliberation, the Spaniard elected to cross the ball far post. The cross found an unmarked Wallace at the far side with a relatively open net. Despite having a golden opportunity to put his team ahead, Wallace’s right-footed volley was skied into the stands much to the chagrin of the home supporters.
To make matters worse, NYCFC would face another extreme predicament shortly after.
In the 70th minute, Ebenezer Ofori was tracking back to defend Wright-Phillips on the counterattack. As BWP mishandled — or misjudged — the pass to his feet, the ball was knocked behind him. The sudden change of trajectory caught both Ofori and Wright-Phillips off-guard as the two seemingly got tangled up. BWP writhed in pain on the ground until play finally came to a halt after Johnson denied the Red Bulls’ Andreas Ivan of a near-post opportunity. As trainers tended to the fallen Red Bulls striker, referee Ted Unkel consulted with the VAR Mark Geiger. After a stealthy review — or consultation — that was missed by both the broadcast and most of the fans live in attendance, Unkel issued a red card to Ofori, leaving NYCFC with 9 men to finish the remaining 20-odd minutes of the game.
In my opinion, this red card was absolutely unjustified and extreme. When you watch it back, especially in real-time, there is little to nothing Ofori can do. BWP’s hard touch viciously changes the ball’s trajectory and his ensuing change of speed gives Ofori little to no time to take evasive action — Ofori isn’t even looking at BWP as the contact is made. Even calling it DOGSO foul would be erroneous as center back Maxime Chanot was right in front of the play. I get that Ofori’s studs make contact with Wright-Phillips’ Achilles and that it could, in theory, be ruled as endangering the safety. But given the circumstances — New York City already being down a man and Ofori not making an actual challenge — I felt a sending off was way too harsh and that a yellow would have more than sufficed.
Here’s the play. I’ll let you be the judge.
#NYCFC are now down to 9 men! After advisement from Video Review, referee Ted Unkel gave a straight red card to Ebenezer Ofori.#NYCvRBNY #RBNY #HudsonRiverDerby #NYDerby #MLS pic.twitter.com/oZ867cLolv— Jason Foster (@JogaBonito_USA) August 23, 2018
When play finally resumed, the atmosphere at Yankee Stadium had become as intense as it ever has been. Every Sean Johnson save, every tackle, every counterattack was met with roaring applause from fans. But the play on the field was turning ugly.
Mere moments after Ofori was issued his marching orders, Villa and the Red Bulls’ Kemar Lawrence got tangled up and got into a verbal altercation. When Anton Tinnerholm came to intervene, Lawrence shoved Tinnerholm in his neck area. To the anger of almost everyone, Unkel elected to let Lawrence off easy an issued him a measly yellow card.
If Ofori’s offence warranted a red card, then Lawrence’s push definitely should’ve received the same scrutiny for violent conduct.
Despite all of this, NYCFC never wavered. Even down two men, the Bronx Blues continued to defend valiantly and even spurred a few dangerous attacks after Jonathan Lewis’ insertion into the game. Johnson continued to make saves, Ibeagha continued to bully around Wright-Phillips, and so on and so forth.
Even when the fourth official announced seven(!) minutes of stoppage time, NYCFC held strong until the final whistle was blown, signalling the end to one of the most exciting, bizarre draws I’ve ever personally witnessed. This undoubtedly felt like a win given the circumstances.
Next up: New York City will have to compartmentalize this epic derby scrap as they head to face the always strong Columbus Crew on September 9 at MAPFRE Stadium. With two red card suspensions and a growing list of injuries, it’s gonna take an outstanding effort from the Boys in Blue to pull it out and maintain the pace with the best in the Eastern Conference en route to the MLS Cup Playoffs.