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Below Par: NYCFC dumped out of Leagues Cup by Red Bulls

NYCFC's woeful record vs the Red Bulls continues.

The Red Bulls had the upper hand | © Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

New York City FC still are not up to scratch when it comes to competing in, let alone winning, do-or-die derbies. NYCFC was dumped out of the Leagues Cup Round of 32 in embarrassing fashion, losing 1-0 to the rival New Jersey Red Bulls.

Though there was only one change to Nick Cushing’s starting XI from the one that thumped Toronto FC 5-0, the squad seemed completely different.

Having started the first half slow and sluggish, NYCFC was continuously pressured by the high-pressing Red Bulls attack, forcing many quick and rash defensive actions from the NYCFC backline. As both teams began to settle into the match, the energy of the Hudson River Derby began to come alive, as players from both sides began flying into crunching tackles left, right, and center.

A James Sands hard tackle on Luquinhas inside the penalty area gifted the hosts an opportunity to strike first, which they did. As Omir Fernandez’s penalty careened into the right-side netting, the atmosphere inside Red Bull Arena erupted, drowning out the jeers from the traveling NYCFC supporters in the upper bowl.

Omir Fernandez’s 31st-minute penalty proved to be the deciding factor of Thursday night’s matchup, as NYCFC was unable to garner any momentum in the second half, unable to break through the Red Bulls’ defensive line.

Game Stats
NYCFC: 7 shots, 3 on target, 62.8% possession, 512 passes, 80.7% accuracy, 14 fouls
New York Red Bulls: 7 shots, 3 on target, 37.2% possession, 306 passes, 68.0% accuracy, 24 fouls

On the back-foot from kickoff

During NYCFC’s 5-0 thrashing of Toronto FC to qualify from the Leagues Cup group stage, Nick Cushing’s squad played with unwavering confidence and flair that fans hadn’t seen for some time. That match, just as the case with Thursday’s clash with the Red Bulls, was a win-or-go-home match for NYCFC. Considering what was at stake in both matches, the lack of energy and confidence following the opening kickoff vs the Red Bulls was concerning.

Following the loss, Cushing was asked what he believed were the key differences that may have caused such a stark difference in performances. His response was “it was a totally different game.”

While the gulf in quality between Toronto FC and the New York Red Bulls is quite large, it shouldn’t be an excuse for a complete lack of urgency and confidence. The atmosphere inside Red Bull Arena was rowdy, to say the least, with a clear majority of the announced 11,004 fans in attendance cheering on the hosting Red Bulls. Yet, the traveling section of NYCFC supporters made their presence known, even from the rafters. Thursday night was a prime derby environment, yet the Red Bulls were the only side who seemed keen to play from the jump.

NYCFC displayed a complete inability to weather the Red Bulls’ high press, with the center-backs routinely being forced to clear the ball in any direction away from goal, or being caught in possession and dispossessed. It was a continuous cycle of Red Bull attack, clearance or foul, lose possession, repeat.

NYCFC still aren’t up to the task of winning do-or-die derbies

Lacking composure

In what has been a worrying trend affecting the NYCFC squad all season, a complete lack of composure has once again bitten the players. Similar to the matches against Charlotte FC and Atlas, NYCFC was unable to bounce back following the concession of an early goal, letting desperation overpower proper game management.

The lack of composure is a compounded issue that causes more problems than one. In the case of NYCFC, the lack of composure begins on defense, before metastasizing and spreading to the rest of the squad. As the defense is continuously pressured in the manner that the Red Bulls managed Thursday night, a mistake is bound to occur. That mistake came when James Sands chopped down Luquinhas inside the penalty area. Even before the penalty was fire home, the energy within the NYCFC squad took a turn for the worst. Once those heads begin to drop, and the home crowd begins to grow loud with antagonizing cheers, desperation takes over.

Smart, calm passes are replaced with hard-driven pings forward, well out of reach of the likes of Bakrar and Ledezma. As counter-attacks begin to form, and only one final touch or pass is needed to break through the Red Bull back line, players like Santiago Rodríguez or Andres Jasson took one touch too many, or waited just a second too long, allowing the Red Bull defense to swarm them and force a turnover. These critical errors in key positions all stemmed from a lack of composure, as the players tried desperately to get back into the game before it was too late.

Yet, eventually, that desperation fades away and is replaced with complacency. Cushing believed that his squad performed better during the second half, fashioning more chances and putting more pressure on the Red Bull backline. While, yes, NYCFC did fashion more chances than in the first half, those chances were not clear-cut. Most were tame efforts poked goal-ward in a desperate effort to test the Red Bulls’ keeper Carlos Coronel. Towards the back end of the second half, the energy within the NYCFC was gone. There was a complete lack of urgency from the players, as the Red Bulls were given free rein spark attacks in the opposing third. NYCFC even dominated possession, with 63% throughout the match, yet the squad produced zero big chances.

NYCFC 0 – 1 New Jersey: Rate the Players

No love between clubs

As is the case with all Hudson River Derbies, Thursday night’s Leagues Cup match-up was intense and physical from the start. It’s clear that NYCFC and the Red Bulls don’t like each other, as hard challenges were flying on across the pitch. Both sides combined for 38 total fouls, 14 for NYCFC and 24 for the Red Bulls. In addition, the center referee, Daniel Quintero Huitrón, issued eight yellow cards, three for the NYCFC and five for the Red Bulls.

The fouls were truly some of the only memorable moments from Thursday’s otherwise dull contest, as Huitrón was kept busy trying to keep a lid on things. While tempers never boiled over, tackles continued without much fear of repercussion, and both sides attempted to make their respective opponents as uncomfortable as possible.

Surprisingly, and thankfully, no players were forced to withdraw through injury, though play was stopped numerous times for trainers to tend to ailing players. Whether it was simply the occasion that had players fired up, or sheer desperation to find an advantage or even a mixture of both, Thursday’s Hudson River Derby did not disappoint from a physicality perspective.

It’s worth noting that Mounsef Bakrar got his first true taste of what it’s like to play in a Hudson River Derby, with Algerian getting shoved in the back rather hard early on, though he was able to continue the match with little discomfort.

Leagues Cup run over

With Thursday’s loss, NYCFC’s Leagues Cup campaign is over. Though the club will be remiss of the squad’s performance, NYCFC will receive around $200,000 for their troubles, so you take what you can get. Cushing’s side now has 16 days to prepare ahead of the resumption of their MLS campaign, with the squad’s next match coming against Minnesota United FC on August 20th at Citi Field. It’s safe to say that the squad will need to make some major changes, whether through formation, personnel, or tactically if the club stands any chance of making the MLS Cup Playoffs.

Red Bulls vs NYCFC video highlights

  • Red Bulls, Omir Fernández 31′ (PK)
  • NYCFC, Tayvon Gray, foul, yellow card 28′
  • Red Bulls, Frankie Amaya, foul, yellow card 34′
  • Red Bulls, Andres Reyes, foul, yellow card 48′
  • NYCFC, Keaton Parks, other reason, yellow card 59′
  • Red Bulls, Omir Fernández, other reason, yellow card 59′
  • Red Bulls, John Tolkin, foul, yellow card 63′
  • Red Bulls, Luquinhas, simulation, yellow card 75′
  • NYCFC, Santiago Rodríguez, foul, yellow card 79′
  • Referee: Daniel Quintero Huitrón
  • Assistant Referees: Mayra Alejandra Mora Cerero, Mauricio Nieto Torres
  • Fourth Official: Abraham de Jesús Contreras
  • VAR: Ricardo Montero
  • Assistant VAR: Benjamin Whitty
Attendance: 11,004