Mike Grella: “Both of us have a lot of prove against each other every time.” (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
In the first six meetings of the Hudson River Derby, no matter what transpired on the field, the Red Bulls and New York City FC realized there would be another day or days to play in Major League Soccer.
When they meet in the fourth round of the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup at Red Bull Arena at 8 p.m. Wednesday, there will be no tomorrow for one team.
That is what makes this game so unique in this nascent rivalry. One team will move onto the fifth round while the other will be eliminated from the competition.
“It’s a big occasion,” Red Bulls midfielder Mike Grella said. “There’s a lot on the line.
“Both of us have a lot of prove against each other every time.”
Both teams certainly can use a boost.
The Red Bulls (6-7-2, 20 points), who sit in sixth place in the Eastern Conference, have won only once in their last six games. Third-place NYCFC (7-5-3, 24) has fared better recently going 2-2-2 during the same span.
And both teams can use some hardware for sparse trophy cabinets. The Red Bulls have had a few to show during their 22-year history — two Supporters Shield championships (2013 and 2015) and the 2008 Western Conference crown, which they captured on their way to MLS Cup.
The Red Bulls have a history of early elimination. They reached the 2003 final as the MetroStars, but lost to the Chicago Fire at Giants Stadium, 1-0.
“I think we said three years ago we wanted to win this cup,” Grella told reporters at the Red Bulls training facility Monday. “We’ve taken it very seriously. The last three years, you’ve seen Jesse [Marsch, head coach], that he fields his best 11. We’ve fallen short obviously and we want to put that right.”
City, which is in its third season as a 2015 expansion team, has nothing to show, at least not yet.
“This is a competition we want to do well in, do well for the football club, do well for the fans,” NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira said.
“It’s going to be a tricky one but I believe we are in a good period at the moment, we’re playing some good football, and we’re going to go there with our philosophy and try to play our game.”
For the third successive year, City faces a New York team. The squad was ushered out of the competition both times by the Cosmos, the two-team defending North American Soccer League champions.
In 2015, NYCFC lost a two-goal lead and fell in a shootout in Hempstead, N.Y.
Last year, City hosted at Fordham University, but was ousted 1-0 on a late goal by Danny Szetela.
“Against the Cosmos, most people were expecting us to win the game, and we didn’t,” Vieira said. “I think this year we are going to take it in a different way.
“It will take a lot of personality, I think it will be important for us to go there and believe in ourselves and stick to our game plan and play the way we know we can. The personality will be really important for us.”
The visitors used many back-up players last year and paid the price. This year might be different because the team is coming off a 10-day international break and most of its players are rested. City hosts defending MLS Cup champion Seattle Sounders at Yankee Stadium Saturday at 1 p.m.
“We didn’t play for quite a while, have players coming back from injuries, and have most of our players available, so it’s going to be good to give some players time as well,” Vieira said. “So the mix, the balance of the team has to be good.”
What also makes this competition unique is that both coaches will be restricted on the number of international players they can dress in their 18 players for the match– five apiece.
“It’s depending on how you build your roster,” Marsch said. “Five guys can be very vital. It may mean you have to sacrifice. We still have a good roster.”
Marsch remembered when he was forced to pull Brazilian midfielder Felipe from the game roster prior to an Open Cup match at the Rochester Rhinos.
“We had to remove him at the last minute because we forgot,” he said. “So, we wound up rostering only 17. So that was really close. This time around will make sure that we have only five guys in the 18.
“In this moment its not so limiting because we have so many of our international guys gone for international duty.”
The Red Bulls lead the series, 4-1. Controversy surrounded the last encounter at RBA in 2016, when Vieira, who was ejected during the match, complained about Marsch trying to convince game officials to give the Red Bulls an advantage, prior to the MLS match.
Vieira was suspended from City’s next league game.
Marsch, who was dismissed near the end of last year’s Open Cup elimination loss to the Philadelphia Union.
While no official word has come down from Open Cup officials, players and coaches that are ejected from one year’s competition must suffered the consequences with a suspension in the next game.
Given what Vieira said about his Red Bulls counterpart, there had been speculation whether he would shake Marsch’s hand prior to kickoff or after the final whistle. Now, that just might be moot.
“Obviously, some tension there from last year, still,” Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams said. “But it’s a rivalry game. We’ll be ready for it.”
If you’re looking for anything for your favorite red or blue team to put up on its respective wall, well, sorry, you’ve come to the wrong place.
The Red Bulls, for one, have had nothing but praise for NYCFC.
Take for example, some comments from the Red Bulls:
Marsch: “I’ve heard them say things that this is the best team that they’ve had and I agreed with that. They’ll miss some guys for the international break like us in some of the same positions. But I think it sets up for a great game, a game that we’re really excited for. We know that they’ll give their best and they know we’re going to be give our best.”
Grella: “There’s no one guy that you can put your finger on. David [Villa, striker] is world class. They’re all good. There are guys in the midfield that are good. They have guys on their backline who are good. They are good all-around. they’ve got a good coach. They’ve been a lot better this year than in past years. They’ll be a tough match-up. We’re at home. We like our chances. and we’re going to be ready to work as hard as we possibly can.”
Adams: “They have some guys who are workhorses now in the middle of the field.”
The Under-20 international, whose superb play helped the U.S. reach the quarterfinals of the recent FIFA U-20 World Cup. probably was alluding to NYCFC midfielder Yangel Herrera, who finished second along with his Venezuelan teammates this past Sunday.
“We’re going to go toe to toe with them,” he said. “It’s going to be a good battle.”