HARRISON, NJ – On what will surely be a beautiful Saturday afternoon, New York City FC will travel across the Hudson to do battle with their cross-river rivals, the “New York” Red Bulls. The Red team has had an up-and-down season (literally, there form has gone WLWLWLW this year) in large part thanks to their participation in the Concacaf Champions League. With that tournament ended, the Red Bulls are finally getting all of their starters consistent league minutes. With new faces making themselves known on both sides in 2018, this Hudson River Derby is surely to be one of the best yet.
Jesse Marsch has done a reasonable job keeping his club in the hunt, coaching a mixture of starters and reserves to a 4W-3L-0D record with 12 points from 7 matches. Bradley Wright-Phillips is leading his team in nearly every way imaginable, with 5 goals and 3 assists – both top marks for the Red Bulls – in 7 league appearances. BWP also has 10 goals against NYCFC – his best mark against any single team in MLS.
Beyond Wright-Phillips, Marsch has found two impact players that have been producing since their incorporation into the XI. Alejandro Romero Gamarra (a.k.a “Kaku”) and Florian Valot both have 2 goals and 2 assists in this early season. Kaku – brought in to be the creative engine of the Red Bull attack – has replaced the departed Sacha Kljestan but has a similar style – with the current #10 being a little more technical on the ball but still preferring longer aerial crosses. Valot began his MLS career with Red Bulls II in the USL in 2016 before captaining the squad in 2017. The PSG/AS Monaco product joins Kaku and Daniel Royer – well-known to NYCFC fans at this stage – to round out a formidable attacking midfield.
The trio is backed up defensively by Tyler Adams and Sean Davis who shore-up a central defense with Aaron Long and newcomer Tim Parker. A Long Island native, Parker joined the Red Bulls from Vancouver this offseason in a trade that sent Felipe, $500k in combined TAM/GAM and an international slot to the Great White North. In a year with several impact players joining the club, Parker stands out as their most consistent defender and well-worth the investment.
Stylistically, Jesse Marsch’s side is much the same as it’s been in the past: fast-paced, relentless attack. The back line has proven vulnerable to attacks from the edges of both the 6- and 18-yard box, with the vast majority of their 10 conceded goals coming from within the area.
That’s good news for City, who like to penetrate the box and capitalize on chaos.
New York City FC
On the Blue side, Patrick Vieira has the Pigeons at the top of the league, with a 6W-1L-2D record and 20 points from 9 matches. Captain David Villa appears to have finally shook the rust from his early-season injury and returned to form, scoring his 400th (and 401st) career goals last weekend against FC Dallas.
While Villa has been catching up, Maxi Moralez has quietly been having his best season in blue. City’s Argentinian engine is tied on both goals (4) and assists (2) with Villa, and has shown that if left unchecked, he can wreak absolute havoc in the midfield.
However, this match is very likely to be won on the wings. Because of the need for proactive defense, it’s likely we’ll see Rodney Wallace get the nod from Vieira instead of Jo Inge Berget, despite the latter’s better recent form. On the other side, City’s own newcomer Jesus Medina will line up for his first-ever Hudson River Derby and look to continue his own run of good form (30 minutes against Portland notwithstanding). Wallace’s physicality combined with Medina’s impressive soccer IQ will be crucial to containing the Red Bull attack. If City can cut off service to Wright-Phillips, Red Bull will become much more manageable.
On the player-availability front, it appears that Maxime Chanot has returned to the fold after being away for personal reasons. Ismael Tajouri-Shradi has returned to training but may not yet be match fit.
Keys to Victory
Limit BWP: The City back line has been their most-improved unit since the Hudson River Derby started, and the current iteration definitely has the tools to bottle up a prolific striker like Bradley Wright-Phillips. The real trick to this will be to also limit his service. The Pigeons won’t stop everything, but if they can keep Royer and Valot uncomfortable it will go a long way.
Be Bull-ies: Thankfully, Alex Ring avoided getting his suspension yellow last weekend. The Finnish enforcer has repeatedly expressed that he will not alter his playstyle under any circumstances, and his aggressive defending is exactly what City needs to make the likes of Kaku, Adams and Davis think twice before trying to move through the middle. Combine that with Yangel Herrera‘s aptitude for simply taking the ball away (despite his costly error, Herrera led the team in Touches, Tackles and Aerials Won against Dallas) and that’s even more control of the match you’re removing from the opposition.
Patience and Poise: It’s easy to get swept up in the gravity of the Hudson River Derby, but City has steadily been getting the better of the match up, going 3-1-1 in league play since the-match-that-will-not-be-named. For his part, it appears Patrick Vieira is attempting to lead by example in the way of poise. The former Arsenal captain was poised as a player, and as a coach he doesn’t pull out anything outrageous for these matches; he doesn’t drastically change his strategy or make knee-jerk, outlandish substitutions. He has given his team consistency, clarity of vision and a defined, no-matter-what style of play. He’s brought in players that can help him win with that style. As entertaining as the banter in this match-up is, it is the rock-steady Vieira that is charged with keeping his players focused on executing that vision.
Red Bulls (4-2-3-1): Robles; Murillo, Long, Parker, Lawrence; Adams, Davis, Royer, Kaku, Valot; Wright-Phillips
New York City FC (4-3-3): Johnson; Tinnerholm, Chanot, Callens, Sweat; Moralez, Ring, Herrera; Medina, Villa, Wallace