Major League Soccer did everything it could to promote Rivalry Week in the league this past week, sponsored by Heineken (*wink *wink). One of the key matchups of the weekend was the between the New York teams, NYCFC and the New York Red Bulls.
The game was nationally broadcast in the United States and shown on many international channels. While there was certainly a feeling of the “rivalry” being forced (this is after all NYCFC’s second season in existence), the matchup was highly anticipated. The Empire State Building was lit up in both teams’ colors the night before and fans of both teams were in full banter mode on social media.
Last season, the Red Bulls won all three meetings between the two teams, with an aggregate score of 7-2. The final meeting was especially emphatic, featuring the Red Bulls’ high press system bowling over Frank Lampard and Andrea Pirlo. But this season, NYCFC came into the meeting leading the Eastern Conference on a four-game unbeaten streak.
The Red Bulls had come in very much struggling, starting the season with a 4-7-1 record through the first 12 games of the season. However, when they met on the field for the first NY/NY encounter of 2016, the storyline picked up right where it left off last season. And then some.
The Red Bulls controlled every aspect of the game from the opening whistle to win 7-0, providing the largest offensive output in their 21-year history (a 6-0 win over Real Salt Lake in 2006 being the previous best). Captain Dax McCarty provided the opening goal in the 3rd minute, heading home an excellent corner kick from Sacha Kljestan.
As the first half unfolded, the Red Bulls controlled momentum and both teams were challenging every ball in a demanding manner, resulting in several early cautions for NYCFC on hard fouls. Red Bulls striker Bradley Wright-Phillips poured on the pressure with two more goals before halftime.
The second half did not discontinue this trend.
The Red Bulls picked up right where they left off, with Dax McCarty finding a second goal off a corner kick in the 51st minute. The pressure continued and NYCFC could not make the adjustments needed to stop the Red Bulls attack. NYCFC’s home since last year’s first season, Yankee Stadium, boasts the narrowest field in the league at just 70 yards.
With the Red Bulls high pressure system in such small playing dimensions, NYCFC could not get steady attacks started and could not hold any sort of meaningful possession. Frank Lampard made his season debut in the 75th minute to a chorus of boos from the home fans, as constant injuries and a stint with Manchester City instead of starting the season in New York last year have not exactly endeared him to the team’s supporters.
The Red Bulls finished off the afternoon with three goals from all three of their 2nd half subs (a first in MLS history), as Alex Muyl (56’), Gonzalo Veron (83’) and Gideon Baah (89’) all added to the onslaught.
NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira found himself at a loss for words after the match, as Red Bulls supporters reveled in the victory in the stands long after the final whistle. NYCFC sit in second place in the Eastern Conference, one point ahead of the Red Bulls. But few fans or players will look to the standings to fix the issues at hand.
Rivalries and derbies need time to take shape. While they are a major part of global football, it is not something that can be forced or contrived. The Red Bulls and NYCFC have a rivalry in the same way that a hammer has a rivalry with a nail.
MLS will need to give this series time or find another way to describe the fixture, because “rivalry” certainly does not feel like the appropriate phrase.
By Roy Emanuel, TFN MLS Correspondent on 23/05/2016 at 20:03
Follow Roy on Twitter @roy13a