The first round of the Hudson River Derby starts tonight at 8pm when New York City FC travel to Red Bull Arena to take on the red team in Harrison, New Jersey. This will mark the beginning of City’s third US Open Cup – a tournament in which they’ve been unsuccessful to this point in their history.
This week was traditionally held for the club’s annual tilt with the New York Cosmos, but the NASL side was eliminated in the second round by PDL side Reading United. That treats NYCFC fans to an early, elimination-style Hudson River Derby.
Red Bulls haven’t been the same without Dax McCarty – dealt by the club to Chicago Fire this offseason. McCarty was the engine that made that team go and gave them their swagger. Without that, their play has been inconsistent and uninspired, sitting on 20 points and winning only one of their last six matches. Say what you like about the diminutive defensive mid, but he was very clearly the leader of the red team. In his absence, Sacha Kljestan was named captain – a man decidedly less vocal than his predecessor. In fact, the only thing Kljestan has said about the Open Cup thus far has been agreeing that the tournament format seems stale.
That leadership role has been assumed by a combination of ‘keeper Luis Robles and head coach Jesse Marsch. The former can only do so much on the field, given his position. The latter finds himself suspended for this particular match for his antics in Red Bulls last cup match against Philadelphia last season. He will be replaced by assistant Chris Armas.
Before we get into squad predictions, a quick note on the rules. The US Open Cup is the American domestic cup tournament, and as such has much more strict roster rules than MLS does. US Soccer allows for only five international players in a given match roster. That said, three NYCFC players were granted their green card this offseason: Eirik Johansen, Ronald Matarrita, and Jack Harrison.
Performance So Far
Red Bulls find themselves are currently 6-7-2 (20 points) in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. They are at the bottom of the league in Goals Scored (15) but have also been stout defensively with only 16 allowed. Their main issue this season has been scoring in general, but specifically on the road.
NYCFC are 7-5-3 (24 points) in third place in the East. The Boys in Blue have been regressing into last year’s defensive woes recently, giving up six goals in their last three matches. Ideally you’d like to see a player like Alex Callens get a breather – he’s the only City outfield player that has logged every single minute of this season. But a back-line of Ben Sweat, Ethan White, Frederic Brillant and Shannon Gomez isn’t exactly confidence-inspiring, especially against a Red Bulls attack that will press heavily and often.
Of course, much of that confidence will depend on the squad that Jesse Marsch sends out against City. In his post-training comments this week, the Red Bulls boss didn’t tip his hand too much, saying that City and Red Bulls are in similar situations losing players to international duty but stopping short of indicating a thought process towards rotation. Marsch did acknowledge, however, that the Boys in Blue are much improved this season, and that he expects both sides to give an all-out effort in this elimination matchup.
NYCFC’s record against their metro-area counterparts is unimpressive no matter how you look at it – City has just one win in six matches against their cross-river rivals. But given each club’s current form, it seems an opportune moment to start a new chapter of that story.
Pundits around the league are saying they expect heavy rotation on both sides. and Patrick Vieira has said in his post-training interview that he’s both expecting to change things up this time around, but also that he wants to see other players “get time” – including some returning from injury. Could this be a hint that we may see Andrea Pirlo? With only five international spots able to be allocated, it seems like a risky move against a still press-heavy Red Bulls attack.
NYC XI: Johansen; Sweat, Brillant, White, Gomez; Ring, Moralez, McNamara; Harrison, Okoli, Lewis
RB XI: Robles; Lawrence, Perrinelle, Long, Zizzo; Davis, Adams; Grella, Kljestan, Veron; Wright-Phillips
An interesting note: As of this writing, Ronald Matarrita and Rodney Wallace are both on the bench for Costa Rica’s match against Trinidad & Tobago. If neither plays, it’s possible that one or both see time tomorrow – a boon that would lift NYCFC into a more firm position going into the match.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Rodney Wallace was subbed into the match for Costa Rica in the 81′. Ronald Matarrita did not play.