BRONX, NY – If anyone were to pick out the negatives of Patrick Vieira’s time with New York City FC, many responses would begin with “big matches” – especially against the Red Bulls. On Sunday night, we will get our first glimpse of how Domènec Torrent – a man who has sat as a member of coaching staffs that have won the biggest club matches in the sport – will handle the Hudson River Derby.
“New York” Red Bulls
Since their 4-0 victory over the Boys in Blue at Red Bull Arena in early May, the Red Bulls have gone 5W-1L-2D. They’ve seized second place in the Conference by a single point and with a game-in-hand. Their competition in that stretch has been mixed: they beat Atlanta United 3-1 in Atlanta, but dropped points at New England and even at home versus Philadelphia. The rest of the teams are mostly bottom-feeding clubs like Toronto, Colorado and Seattle. It’s hard to know if the Red Bulls are actually as good as their record says they are, or if they’re taking advantage of a soft spot in their schedule. Still, the Jersey Boys have done their job in winning the matches they’re supposed to and it’s put them in a good position going into the second half of the year.
Jesse Marsch has recently been connected with a move to Bundesliga side RB Leipzig. It could be considered poetic for the Pigeon’s nemesis over the last couple years to take one last parting shot – and it wouldn’t be out of place. Marsch’s side is 4W-3L-1D on the road this season – the third-best mark in MLS – with victories at LA Galaxy, Colorado, Atlanta and Toronto. Their three away losses have come against RSL, Orlando and New England.
Bradley Wright-Phillips has scored in three of his last five. Daniel Royer and Kemar Lawrence have also scored in that stretch – including a 3-0 win over FC Dallas that saw their squad go down a man in the 27′. Florian Valot and Kakú have been suspiciously quiet since these clubs last met, but are poised to break out at any moment, accounting for two goals and three assists in the first meeting this season.
New York City FC
Domènec Torrent will be getting his first taste of the Hudson River Derby this weekend. The man who has been part of the coaching staff that has won seven league titles, five domestic cup competitions and two UEFA Champions League trophies should theoretically be able to get his team in the right head space to compete in a match that not only has pride on the line, but actual ramifications in the standings. Despite the recent scorelines, these are the most evenly-matched these clubs have ever been. There is no excuse for NYCFC to have been blown out by a combined 8-0 and it will be up to Domè to exorcise those demons.
He may have to do it without his best player. David Villa has valiantly been trying to return to the lineup, but his age is beginning to show. The 36-year-old captain is questionable to return in time for the derby, but Torrent – aware of the intensity of these matches – has indicated if he’s not comfortable with Villa’s health, he will not play. “We have to play a little bit different, because they have a high intensity in every single duel. They are normally high-pressing and have an intense team. But we are ready.”
Thankfully Jo Inge Berget has found his form, scoring three goals in his last two matches. Villa’s absence has allowed us all a glimpse into what life may be like next season. There are many bright spots as many of the newer players have stepped up. Along with Berget, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi has been a revelation taking the place of Jack Harrison. Maxi Moralez – usually a focus of the Red Bull defense in these derby matches – has already surpassed his season totals for both goals (6) and assists (8) from 2017. Anton Tinnerholm also never misses a chance to make an impact in the attack.
But there are still some concerns. The absence of Yangel Herrera has been noticeable in the City midfield. Herrera’s ability to challenge for the ball all over the field just isn’t present in Ebenezer Ofori, though Ofori has been steadily improving in possession. The centerback duo of Alexander Callens and Sebastian Ibeagha have had some miscues as they try to learn each other’s habits and positioning – something of which the Red Bulls may very well take advantage. Before his assist against Toronto, Jesus Medina hadn’t had a goal or assist since April 29th.
We’ll see if Domè’s recognition of the intensity of these matches has any effect on who starts Sunday night. Jonathan Lewis is a particular name to keep an eye on. Either way, this match will come to define Torrent’s early career with NYCFC. If his squad comes out flat and uninspired, it will be a long, long summer for the new boss.