David Villa powers in his game-winning penalty kick past goalkeeper Luis Robles. (Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
BRONX, N.Y. — Well, what do you know? This derby is starting to feel like a real and honest for goodness rivalry.
New York City FC, once the doormats of the Hudson River Derby, laid out the welcome mat for the the Red Bulls at their home field and evnetually showed them the door at Yankee Stadium.
For the first time in the young rivalry, there were not one, but two lead changes. And for the first time in the derby, City won back-to-back matches.
First, NYCFC scored an emphatic 2-0 win at Red Bull Arena June 24. Then came Sunday night’s battle of the scoring titans at the stadium. The final score could just have been David Villa 3, Bradley Wright-Phillips 2 in confrontation filled with intensity and emotion on both sides.
“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.”
NYCFC won the season series with the third league game yet to be played. That will be at Red Bull Arena in 19 days.
Before thinking about that encounter or next week’s game at the LA Galaxy, for one night, NYCFC celebrated its achievement. The Red Bulls, who also registered a 1-0 win in the Lamar Hunt/U.S. Open Cup in June, still lead the MLS derby, 5-3. But there is a different feel and vibe to this budding rivalry.
Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan knows it and he welcomed it.
“It’s good. It’s exciting,” he said. “It’s definitely better than going somewhere else in this league and playing in front of 10,000 fans in an empty stadium. So I think this rivalry has been good. It’s been good for MLS. It’s been good for both sides. It’s ignited both of our teams in certain ways and for the most part, we’ve gotten the better of them. But this season, they’ve won two out of three against us, so we know that we have one more game against them to try to even this thing up.”
The Red Bulls now have something to think about after losing two games in a row in this series for the very first time.
“When you come up short now two times, it certainly makes the next game really huge and we’re really disappointed,” said Red Bulls head coach Jesse Marsch, who has guided his club since the derby began in 2015. “We had great support from our fans and you know, when you have to look up there at the end of the game, you feel guilty and disappointed that you didn’t do more for your fans to celebrate. Especially when it was right there for us.
“But this is what this sport is and this is what great rivalries are. So it’s a crappy feeling but we’re going to find a way to continue to have great resilience. We’ve been in a really good way and we’re going to continue to find ways to push forward and be a better team so that when we’re in this situation again, we will be more prepared.”
If the Red Bulls were down, NYCFC was up.
Striker David Villa was the main reason with his first hat-trick of his MLS career as he rallied his side from a 2-1 deficit in the second half.
“I don’t like to come back every time, I hope we’re not always in the same situation, but it’s great,” he said. “If you look at the team it is great, the whole feeling. Today the team went down then back up so it was great.”
Vieira certainly liked what he saw from his team, showing some great fortitude by overcoming the Red Bulls’ lead. But the team is far from being among the league’s elite, he said.
“We have the ability to respond when we have our backs against the wall,” he said. “But we are not the big team yet. Because a big team plays every week like today. We are not available to do it at the moment. So, this game is fantastic. We won the game, we’ll take the three points, but I expect more consistency from the team.”