The first installment of the Hudson River Derby takes place Sunday when the New York Red Bulls host New York City FC, but a bigger prize than bragging rights awaits a potential winner – further separation from the logjam for seventh in the Eastern Conference.
NYCFC (7-8-2) and the Red Bulls (8-4-7) are in fifth and sixth, respectively, in the East and separated by one point. The Bronx Blues are six points clear of seventh, which is shaping up to be a four-team scrum among Toronto FC, New England, Orlando City and Chicago for the final playoff spot.
A victory and three points for Dome Torrent’s team, coupled with the fact they have at least two matches in hand on everyone in the conference, would be a huge boost to NYCFC’s playoff ambitions. It would also be a needed salve for his side, who have gone winless in back-to-back matches on the heels of a club-record 14-game unbeaten run in all competitions. NYCFC was eliminated on penalties by Orlando City in Wednesday’s quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup after playing to a 1-1 draw over 120 minutes.
Maxi Moralez continued his blistering run of scoring with the tying goal in the 96th minute to force extra time, but Alexander Ring and Maxine Chanot were stopped in the shootout, with Chanot’s attempt saved in the sixth round before the Lions converted to win the match.
“When you lose in penalties, in my opinion, the soccer was not fair with us, but it is what it is,” Torrent said, adding he was pleased with his team’s fight to grab that last-gasp equalizer. “We have to rest well because now we play the Red Bulls, everyone knows how tough it is to play against this type of (pressing) team. They’re an aggressive team, but if you take the ball and pass the ball and you have control, it’s more easy to play this type of team.”
Moralez, who also converted his penalty during the shootout, has seven goals and eight assists in his last 11 matches in all competitions.
The Red Bulls salvaged a point from their two-match road swing through the South with a wild 3-3 draw at reigning MLS Cup champion Atlanta United last Sunday. Daniel Royer and Brian White scored on either side of halftime to give New York a 2-1 lead on the hour, but a brace by Josef Martinez appeared to consign Red Bulls to a defeat after he scored in the 91st minute.
But Bradley Wright-Phillips ended a goal-scoring drought of nearly four months at a most opportune moment two minutes later, latching onto a cross from Cristian Casseres Jr. and slotting past Brad Guzan to steal a point for New York.
“It’s good to go home with the point, but at the same time it was frustrating,” said Wright-Phillips, whose other goal this season came March 6 against San Jose. “The reaction from the boys was good and we managed to fight well. Most of the game was on our terms, they didn’t look too dangerous.”
New York has gone 5-1-1 in its last seven league matches at home, outscoring opponents 15-7. The Red Bulls will get back defender Aaron Long after a solid performance for the U.S. at the Gold Cup, where he recorded a brace against Trinidad and Tobago and was named to the Best XI.
The Red Bulls lead the overall series with eight wins to NYCFC’s four, and the teams have drawn on two occasions. New York is also 6-1-1 at home in all competitions versus the Bronx Blues after a pair of 4-0 routs at Red Bull Arena last year, including one in the fourth round of the U.S. Open Cup. NYCFC took four points from the final two MLS matches, including a 1-1 draw in the most recent matchup Aug. 22 at Yankee Stadium.
(Ronald Matarrita photo courtesy New York City FC official Twitter account)