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Match Preview: Hudson River Derby, Round 1

Everything You Need to Know Heading Into the Biggest Week of the Season

MLS: New York City FC at New York Red Bulls Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Happy Derby Week, NYCFC Fans!

Tonight marks the first of two vital matches against the Red Bulls this week, with a second match to come at Yankee Stadium on Saturday night.

It is the kind of week that can make or break a season, as NYCFC finds themselves in a crowded playoff picture in the Eastern Conference. Should they win these 2 matches, NYCFC will set themselves as one of the top teams in the East and prove to themselves that they can win the big games, which has been a problem in the past. Should they struggle, there will be serious questions asked about the squad.

To start, let’s focus on tonight’s match on it’s own. NYCFC escaped with 3 points in Cincinnati last match, despite a less than stellar performance. It was their first win on the road in 8 matches, but did little to calm the fears of fans about this team’s ability to perform away from home given the quality of the opposition. While tonight is a road match, NYCFC have unfortunately played many games at Red Bull Arena in recent times, which should at least give them some sort of competitive advantage on the field over other road matches.

When NYCFC entered the league, the Red Bulls were consistently one of the best squads in the league. That hasn’t been the case of late, and they currently find themselves on the outside looking in at the eastern conference playoff picture. Gone are the days of Bradley Wright-Phillips, Tyler Adams, and Dax McCarty from early iterations of the derby. With this in mind, there is no doubt that the more talented, higher valued squad will be wearing light blue on the pitch tonight.

However, matching the intensity of the Red Bulls has been an issue in previous battles between these two teams. NYCFC have only ever won once against the Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena, and will need to put in a strong, energetic performance tonight to be able to come away with all three points. This match is always a battle, and tonight will be no exception. Here are the keys to an NYCFC victory:

Defense

Over the last 4 matches, watching NYCFC defend is reminiscent of the first season or two of the club, a time in which these derby matches were simply unkind to the boys in blue. Heading into Cincinnati, NYCFC had conceded 8 goals in 3 matches, and could easily have leaked more than just the one goal in that last match. The back line has been disjointed, and individual mistakes have been rampant from a group of players that rarely made them for most of the season before this recent stretch.

I have faith that players like Maxime Chanot, Anton Tinnerholm, and James Sands; who have all not been at their best of late, can manage to turn their form around. These are three consistent, high quality defensive stalwarts that have turned in uncharacteristic performance of late. What better time to turn that around than in 2 matches against your bitter rivals?

Energy

I mentioned it earlier, but these matches are always high intensity. The old cliché is to throw out the record books when these 2 rivals meet, but in this case, it is undeniably true. NYCFC have looked somewhat fatigued and clumsy in recent matches, with red cards, mistakes, and results proving that out. The Red Bulls will undeniably play with fire in front of their home supporters, and this match is going to come down to winning tackles and 50-50 balls. If the Night Owls get outworked? They have no chance of coming away with a win.

Team Selection

I’m still not sure Ronny Deila knows what his best starting eleven is as we enter the 25th game of the season. That’s not to blame him, as the team has had players in and out of being injured and several mid-season acquisitions. This is also a deep team with more than eleven players that I consider to be “MLS starter” caliber players. However, we are getting into crunch time in the MLS season and this is something that needs to be figured out.

Recently, Deila has been playing Jesus Medina and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi together. This has been in part due to injuries and suspensions, but from my perspective it is clear that they both fall off considerably when not playing their preferred role on the right wing and should rarely share the pitch. Thiago burst onto the scene in his first few appearances from the club and looked destined to lock down the left wing role, but has cooled down of late. Talles Magno is slowly working himself into form, and has seen time both on the left and at striker. Also, Santi Rodriguez will return from injury tonight after a hamstring injury in New England.

While Santi and Heber may not be fit to play 90 minutes yet, this is the first game that Ronny has all of his players available. I am curious to see how they line up, but team selection is important tonight. My preferred eleven tonight? Johnson; Tinnerholm, Sands, Callens, Thorarinsson; Acevedo, Parks; Tajouri-Shradi, Moralez, Thiago; Castellanos

Substitutions

NYCFC needs to use these earlier than they have been! I noted the strength in depth all over the pitch above. If something isn’t working, with the five substitution rule this season, there is no need to stick with it. This is going to be a close game, and waiting too long to make a substitution could be incredibly costly. Additionally, making a substitution to change the game and throw a different look at the opposition could be what is needed to turn a draw into a win.

I am hoping for and predicting 2 wins this week, and a huge confidence boost going into the late stretch of the season.

Any comments or thoughts? I’d love to read them below.