The Hudson River Derby is upon us for the first time in the 2021 MLS Season as NYCFC takes the trip across the river as the road team tonight against that team from Jersey.
This matchup hasn’t always been kind to New York City, as the New York Red Bulls have won 10 matches against them, as opposed to NYCFC’s 6 all-time wins. However, the last time these two met, it was an emphatic win for the Boys in Blue, and they will be looking to carry over the momentum from last year’s 5-2 victory at Yankee Stadium. There were no fans in the stadium that day, so no matter what we may think about Red Bull Arena and the team that inhabits it, having a derby atmosphere will no doubt be a welcome sight after last year.
While NYCFC hasn’t had the best of the head-to-head battles, this isn’t your father’s Red Bull team. Gone are the days of Bradley Wright-Phillips, Jesse Marsch, Dax McCarty, and Tyler Adams, and gone are the days of the Red Bulls being perennial title contenders (although they have never won one). They enter tonight’s match outside of the playoff picture in 10th place in the Eastern Conference, and have won just 1 of their last 8 matches.
Still, as the old cliché goes, you can throw the record book out when these two teams meet. NYCFC undeniably has a stronger squad than their bitter rival, but the Red Bulls are coming off of an impressive win against reigning MLS Cup Champion Columbus Crew. They will surely go into the derby with some confidence stemming from that, while NYCFC suffered from a disappointing loss on Wednesday against the Philadelphia Union.
Keys to Victory
Energy: NYCFC has a week off after this match, which will be very much needed. They have played midweek in each of the last 3 weeks, and end a grueling run of matches against their biggest rival. There will be no time for tired legs as the Red Bulls are certain to come out of the gate in front of their home fans with fire. As mentioned previously, the better players will be wearing Blue in tonight’s match. However, matching the intensity of their opposition will be key to coming away with all three points.
Lineup: I disagreed with many of Ronny Deila’s personnel and tactical decisions in Wednesday’s defeat. However, he may have had one eye on tonight’s match in picking that team. Keaton Parks, Alfredo Morales, Maxi Moralez, and Thiago were all rested from the start of that match, and it showed in the team’s play. I would expect all four to start tonight, along with Gudi Thorarinsson, who should replace Malte Amundsen after a difficult night last time out. Those players get NYCFC closer to a stronger starting lineup, which will hopefully make up for some of the deficiencies spotted on Wednesday.
Substitutions: NYCFC have played a lot of beautiful soccer under Ronny Deila, and despite my criticisms of him for Wednesday’s defeat, he has put this team in a position to win on many occasions. One thing I feel he could do better, however, is making in-game adjustments. I still think that if Thiago and Thorarinsson came on 5-10 minutes earlier on Wednesday, NYCFC wins that game. Given the fixture congestion, and that this promises to be a tight game, showcasing the team’s strong depth through timely substitutions could make all the difference tonight.
Finishing: This speaks for itself. NYCFC is the third highest scoring team in MLS this season. Still, to anyone who has watched every match, it should be so much more. This team creates so many chances, and a lack of ruthlessness in front of goal is what is setting them apart from Supporters Shield leaders New England Revolution. If this team starts to make the most of their opportunities in front of goal, the rest of the league will be put on notice. Tonight is a difficult match on the road, where NYCFC have struggled to win matches. In order to do so tonight, they must be clinical.
Lineup: Johnson; Tinnerholm, Sands, Callens, Thorarinsson; Parks, Morales; Medina, Moralez, Thiago; Castellanos
Score: 3-1 NYCFC
NYCFC Goal Scorers: Castellanos, Parks, Thiago
Ultimately, this is a massive match to see what this team is made of. Any NYCFC fan will tell you that the team hasn’t been at its best in big matches historically. I believe that after Leagues Cup elimination against PUMAS, this team will be desperate to change that perception. I predict that we will see a hungry NYCFC tonight that ultimately has too much quality for their cross-town rival.