Led by David Villa, New York City FC moved a step ahead of the Red Bulls in 2017. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)
For years, the Red Bulls had the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area to themselves.
Now, New York City FC not only shares the spotlight, but has nudged the Jersey-based team out of the top spot after only three seasons.
No one from NYCFC might be claiming victory publicly, but the numbers from 2017 did not lie.
The 2015 expansion team finished second in the Eastern Conference with a 16-9-9 record and 57 points, runners-up only to MLS Cup champion Toronto FC. The Red Bulls, who had finished ahead of their Hudson River Derby rivals the previous two seasons, secured the sixth and final playoff spot with a 14-12-8 mark and 50 points. Both teams were eliminated in the conference semifinals.
In the Hudson River Derby, NYC FC prevailed with a 2-1-1 mark, which included a 1-0 Red Bulls victory in the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup in Harrison, N.J. June 14. Daniel Royer tallied the lone goal in the 77th minute for the Red Bulls, who advanced to the cup final (losing to Sporting Kansas City).
Three of the four derby encounters were held at RBA.
In regular season play, City went 2-0-1 against the Red Bulls.
On June 24, NYCFC visited the Red Bulls’ house and did what the rivals have done to them in the past — they dominated its foes at RBA via an emphatic 2-0 triumph. Jack Harrison and Ben Sweat scored goals on either side of halftime. RBA had been nothing but a house of horrors for NYCFC, which had entered the game losing all four previous matches between the two teams by a combined 9-2 score.
In a classic confrontation of top-class strikers at Yankee Stadium Aug. 6, David Villa’s hat-trick lifted City to a 3-2 win over the Red Bulls and Bradley Wright-Phillips, who finished with a brace. City extended its home unbeaten streak to eight games while the Red Bulls had their winning streak snapped at four.
“We have to put it in the top three best games that we played since I’ve been the coach of the team because the scenario of course went on our side and it was very good,” NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira said. “The scenario and the quality of the game, the technical level of the game, to have a game like that, it takes two teams. It was very difficult for us because the Red Bulls have a fantastic team and they play very well.”
And in the third and final regular-season encounter Aug. 24, the teams played to a 1-1 draw at RBA.
“I will take the points. I’m really happy with the points,” Vieira said. “We played against a really good team that made it difficult for us “
Despite the Red Bulls dominating the match, City struck first on Maxi Moralez’s goal before second-half sub Gonzalo Veron tallied for the hosts.
“A draw feels like a big disappointment because of the way we played and dominated the match,” Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch said. “A lot of guys were really disappointed in the locker room. We were the better team for major stretches and we didn’t capitalize.”
NYCFC also edged out the Red Bulls in the attendance battle.
City’s average crowd at Yankee Stadium was 22,643, good for fifth in the league. The Red Bulls finished eighth at 21,175. A sellout at RBA is 25,219.
NYCFC plays at the stadium, which has a baseball capacity of 47,422. The team has capped soccer game attendance at around 27,000, even for the derby. City’s attendance figures included two games that NYCFC was forced to play out of the stadium late in the season — at Pratt & Whitney Stadium in Hartford, Conn. and Citi Field in Queens.
Whether this trend continues in 2018, it remains to be seen, but there is no question that NYCFC has made some major in-roads in a short time, on and off the field.