The Hudson River Rivalry Renewed

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With two games in a single week, this year’s New York Derby was even more action-packed than most. (Mackenzie Cranna/The Fordham Ram)

James Birle, Contributing Writer

For the first time ever, the New York Red Bulls and New York City Football Club, Major League Soccer’s two New York based franchises, met twice in the same week on Wednesday, Sept. 22 and Saturday, Sept. 25. The first match at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey was originally scheduled to take place on Aug. 21 but was postponed to last Wednesday due to unplayable pitch conditions caused by rain.

The two sides played to a 1-1 draw in a roller coaster affair in the first match, and the Red Bulls took all three points with a 1-0 result in the return fixture at Yankee Stadium.

NYCFC entered the week as one of the MLS’s hottest teams, coming in at third in the Eastern Conference and fifth in MLSsoccer.com’s official league power rankings. Despite their position in the table, the tightness of the Eastern Conference kept them at a modest four points above the playoff line, ensuring that both matches were crucial to secure their spot in the 2021 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs.

Meanwhile, the New York Red Bulls sat nine points outside of the playoffs coming into Wednesday night’s match, and worries of potentially missing the playoffs for the first time since 2009 had never been higher. Even though the season had largely been one to forget for the Red Bulls, they came into the week on a positive note, having comfortably defeated David Beckham’s Inter Miami CF by a whopping 4-0 away from home.

Historically, both clubs tend to use home-field advantage quite well as the Red Bulls had only ever won twice at Yankee Stadium prior to Saturday, and NYCFC had only one win as the away team at Red Bull Arena back in 2016. 

Wednesday’s match went as derby matches tend to go: frenetic, chaotic and controversial. However, as the league’s standings might suggest, NYCFC were the better team for the majority of the match, capitalizing on a Red Bull defensive error in the 31st minute off the left foot of in-form striker, Taty Castellanos. The Cityzens controlled the pace and style of the game throughout the night while the Red Bulls found themselves constantly reacting to NYCFC’s dictation of play. 

Nonetheless, the Red Bulls needed just one moment to salvage a point from the contest and that came in the 97th minute. NYCFC center back Maxime Chanot was whistled for a handball in the penalty area and shown his second booking of the match following a lengthy video review. Patryk Klimala converted the penalty to level the score in the 102nd minute, the latest goal recorded in MLS regular season history. The Red Bulls collected a very undeserved point in front of a relatively empty yet still electric Red Bull Arena.

The drama was not just limited to the very end of the match as Castellanos had a goal disallowed early in the second half, Keaton Parks earned a red card for NYCFC in the 73rd minute and yellow cards were issued to multiple NYCFC and Red Bulls players for their clock management and committing fouls out of frustration, respectively.

The Red Bulls supporters section had much to cheer for last Saturday in the Bronx (Tim O’Donovan/The Fordham Ram)

Tempers flared and the tension rose higher than ever before leading into Saturday night’s game in the Bronx with NYCFC feeling they had been cheated out of all three points just a few days earlier. The stage was set for an even wilder affair to take place, with the Red Bulls seeking to rescue their season and NYCFC hoping to solidify a playoff run at their rival’s expense.

However, NYCFC found themselves struggling to penetrate the Red Bull backline despite once again controlling the possession and pace of the game. The Red Bulls were constantly on the frontfoot, counter attacking with purpose and putting pressure on the depleted NYCFC defense. That strategy eventually culminated in a goal in the 43rd minute when Brooklyn’s own Kyle Duncan squared a pass across the penalty area to Bronx native Omir Fernandez who slotted it home.

The away section at Yankee Stadium was singing for the entire second half, creating a difficult atmosphere for the home side to get back in the game. Goalkeeper Carlos Coronel stood on his head across both matches, but it was the defensive effort from the Red Bulls central midfielders and backline that contained NYCFC’s advances on Saturday. It was evident that Red Bulls coach Gerhard Struber made much-needed adjustments to the team’s strategy and structure after the poor performance on Wednesday. With Parks and Chanot serving suspensions for NYCFC, the Red Bulls did just enough to earn all three points away from home, their first win at Yankee Stadium since 2016. As for now, New York is red.

The two sides will meet again on Oct. 17 at Red Bull Arena to conclude the season series and declare for the final time in the 2021 regular season if New York is red or blue.