NYCFC is 3-0 when midfielder Yangel Herrera starts. (Brad Penner/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
NEW YORK — Well, here’s a rarity.
Believe it or not, there is New York City FC player who actually owns a winning record against someone from the Red Bulls.
On June 4, Yangel Herrera and his Venezuelan team bested Tyler Adams and the United States in the FIFA Under-20 World Cup quarterfinals in Korea.
It was the only time the two rivals have met on the soccer field. The second encounter is scheduled for Red Bull Arena Saturday at 1:30 p.m. when Adams’ Red Bulls and Herrera’s NYCFC side will meet in the first Hudson River Derby in league play this summer.
The confrontation will pit two of the rising, young midfielders in Major League Soccer today who have been vital to their team’s success this season — the 18-year-old Adams and the 19-years-old Herrera.
Herrera, who played an important role in Venezuela’s journey to the U-20 championship match, where it lost to England on penalty kicks, is a derby girgin. So, he will be introduced to his first derby match. The holding midfielder watched the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup encounter between the teams last Wednesday while Adams started and played the full 90 minutes.
“I have never been in one before,” Herrera said. “The one I will be participating is the first time I will be part of one and I am full of expectations for it.”
Adams? He has an opportunity to avenge the USA’s elimination defeat by adding to the Red Bulls’ derby dominance.
“Obviously, knocking us out of the World Cup was a big one, but playing against him was good,” Adams said during MLS Rivalry Week media day at the league offices. “He’s a great player. So, it would be good to go toe to toe with him again.”
Asked what impressed him about the Venezuelan, Adams replied, “He’s so calm on the ball. He’s good both ways, offensively and defensively. He helps their team in a big way.”
When it was his turn to talk to the media, Herrera returned the favor.
“He’s a great player,” the Venezuelan said of Adams. “I also saw him play in a cup game last against New York City. What surprised me more in that he did in the World Cup.”
Adams, who has decided to miss his high school graduation in Wappingers Falls, N.Y. to play in the rivalry match, said the World Cup spring-boarded him into a much higher orbit as a player.
“I gained a lot of confidence going to the Under-20 World Cup and playing with guys who are my age or who are around my age,” he said. “Making the run that we did make and making it to the quarterfinals for the second cycle in a row was really good. So, I think I came back with a lot of confidence and I’m ready to perform the same I did there here.”
Having teenagers who are key to the success of their respective teams is rare in MLS.
Herrera, who is on loan to City from parent club Manchester City, could be recalled by the English Premier League power at any time if it wants. He hasn’t played very much for NYCFC. The team is 3-0 when Herrera starts and an odrinary 5-5-3 when he doesn’t.
“He’s just left it where he was before he went to the World Cup,” NYCFC head coach Patrick Vieira. “The last few games he played for us he was fantastic. He went to the World Cup. For me he was one of the best players in the tournament. Coming back, he played really well against Seattle. We are glad that he’s back because he’s a massive part of the way we play.”
The key to Herrera’s game has been his ability to combine the physicality with some good, heady play.
“He can do anything,” Vieira said. “I think it’s a combination. He’s really good on the ball. He’s really good playing in a really tight space. He’s making the right decision when he gets the ball at his feet. Physically, he’s really strong. He’s winning the duels and he’s really strong in the air as well. The physical impact he can bring for us is important. That’s why I was glad the World Cup was finished.”
Ditto for the Red Bulls. The energy that Adams brings to the Red is second to none. In the eight games he has started this season, the team is 4-3-1. Without him, the team is 3-4-1.
“Many times you have a hard time not smiling when you watch him play, the energy and the fearlessness he has in his game and the rapid growth as a soccer player,” Red Bulls assistant coach Chris Armas said. “That has been fun to watch. You watch him recently with the national team and how confident and what a leader he was in that tournament. He grew in every game. So, he comes back to us, more of a leader, more of a man. You forget that he has graduation coming.”