Post Match Thoughts – Game 10 – New York Red Bulls 2, NYCFC 1

PATH

New York 2, New York 1

It was a great night in Harrison and the better team won. The first Hudson River Derby (that name still doesn’t feel right) ended 2-1 to Red Bulls, who seized upon opportunities afforded them in a sloppy game from NYCFC. City’s defensive work on Sunday night was easily the worst so far in a season full of lousy performances. Strip away context and this was simply a good Major League Soccer team beating a bad one. But it’s impossible to ignore the real story here, Red Bulls striking first blood in what’s obviously going to become a huge rivalry.  The win likely provided their supporters with equal parts jubilation and relief.

More than anything this game was about the fans. I’ve been to Red Bull Arena many times and I’ve never seen a crowd like that. 25,000+ crammed into the building and most of them were wearing red thanks to a determined campaign by the hosts. In the days leading up to the game I received two emails and one phone call urging me to wear red. The outreach was effective – just by looking at red vs. blue I’d say the breakdown of the crowd was something like 80-20 in favor of the Red Bulls.

The supporters groups were impressive throughout. I was sitting on the north side of the stadium next to the NYCFC cluster.  For the most part I couldn’t hear any of the chants coming from the South Ward, but the energy was obvious. Their tifo game was strong as well – a nice one-two combination of history (“The Big Apple – Red to the Core Since Day One”) and identity (Dopey wearing a City-blue robe with “Man City Lite” across the chest; “20 Years Late and a Stadium Short”).

NYCFC had the largest group of away fans I’ve ever seen at Red Bull Arena, taking up all of sections 219-220, with overflow in the adjacent sections on the north side. The “traveling” support was very loud prior to the game and didn’t waver much after Red Bulls opened the scoring in the fourth minute. Credit to them for carrying on despite another letdown performance on the field. They were likely bolstered more by what this game represented than what was actually taking place on the field. Red Bulls are a superior team right now in every facet, but this is only the beginning. There’s competition in the market now and the NYC fans made sure everyone in the building knew it.

From what I saw the fans were passionate, but friendly. There was some concern going into the game that idiots might try to act tough and cause problems in the crowd. There was security everywhere – we had a one guy partially blocking our view all game as he monitored the designated NYCFC supporters section. Fortunately there were no incidents that I’m aware of. Everyone just seemed like they were having fun with it. I saw fans of both teams joking with one another on the PATH to and from Harrison, and plenty of “mixed” groups of friends who were supporting both sides. It felt like any other New York rivalry in that respect. The closest thing to a fight I saw was a group of NYCFC fans jokingly pushing their Red Bull-supporting buddy around before the game.

Fans were ready; the infrastructure wasn’t. It took me a little more than two hours to get to Harrison from Brooklyn, far longer than it’s ever taken in the past. There were issues every step of the way; PATH train delays, broken ticket scanners, overwhelmed vendors. When I finally made it to the counter to buy a beer they literally couldn’t take my money for a few minutes because the card reader was fried and the cash register was jammed shut.

I should mention that there was a game played as well, and the Red Bulls handled their business beautifully despite playing down a man for the final hour. As I said before this was a simple mismatch between a very good, established team and an erratic expansion side that’s low on talent. NYCFC has some major flaws that probably won’t be fixed this season. The defense in general is terrible and the fullbacks (whatever combination Jason Kreis throws out there) are basically useless. The fact that turnover-machine Josh Williams is a consistent starter really says everything. RJ Allen was signed a couple weeks ago and has turned in two dreadful performances thus far; it’s hard to see why they signed him aside from adding depth. The fact that he’s playing major minutes is a real head-scratcher. It’s likely because Jeb Brovsky is the alternative option.

I feel bad being critical because there really aren’t any alternatives available to Kreis right now. Javier Calle has been the best fullback we’ve seen this season – albeit in limited action – but he’s banged up. Williams can’t keep possession. RJ Allen is slow. Brovsky is slow and lacks positional awareness. Shay Facey looks like a competent defensive fullback but he’s really struggled going forward which is a problem when the team seems dependent on these guys getting forward to swing the ball in.

The only saving grace up until recently was the central defenders, specifically Jason Hernandez, but everyone struggled on Sunday. Bradley Wright-Phillips scored two of the easiest goals he’ll ever have in his life and botched another golden opportunity midway through the second half. This is the guy who tied the MLS single-season scoring record last year, totally unmarked in front of goal on multiple occasions. It’s beyond me.

New York City’s attack wasn’t much better. They’re simply short on players who are comfortable with the ball around the opponent’s goal. And that was compounded Sunday because David Villa – designated player, captain, superstar – had an absolute shocker before getting pulled off in the 68th minute. Patrick Mullins came on and turned in the best offensive performance of the day (and the only goal) but it wasn’t enough.

All in all it was a frustrating game for NYC fans to watch. That’s eight consecutive winless games now for those of you who are keeping track. While I think the whole operation still warrants a little patience on the part of fans (and plan to write about that in the coming days) some disappointment is understandable.

Quick Thoughts:

  • Lloyd Sam is a hell of a player. He was making things happen all day for the Red Bulls. A little low-key but he’s a star.
  • That was my first visit to Red Bull Arena this season, after five trips to NYCFC games in the Bronx. The trip to Harrison is inconvenient and I hate the PATH, but that stadium kicks ass. Great place to watch a game.
  • If things stay like this, Frank Lampard will be the most popular player on NYCFC’s roster about five minutes after he arrives. They need someone who can dictate play and generate chances from the middle of the field in the worst way.
  • It’s only May so it’s way too early to call any game a “must-win” (New York’s still only three points out of a playoff spot), but it’d be nice to have this one on Friday. Chicago is a mid-level opponent that’s lost every game on the road so far. It’s time to get things moving in the right direction.

 

*Photo from Paul Sableman’s flickr

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