Yankee Stadium could be one rocking place this year for NYCFC. (FrontRowSoccer.com Photo)
By Michael Lewis
Since covering soccer since the stone age, I try not to base any season predictions on early results.
So many things can go wrong so fast in a season.
A spate of injuries can turn a good team bad.
Key players can fall out of form.
A run of bad luck could make a season head south — in a hurry.
And some of those high-priced offseason acquisitions just might not live up the hype or expectations.
Saying that, my gut feeling says the 2018 MLS season could be a special one at Red Bull Arena and Yankee Stadium.
Entering this weekend’s action, both teams are undefeated in league play with a combined 3-0 record, outscoring the opposition, 8-1.
Yes, as I alluded to a few paragraphs earlier, three games do not a season make, but you just can’t ignore the way both teams have come out of the gate that has been so impressive.
Tasked with only a month to prepare for the CONCACAF Champions League, the Red Bulls have been red-hot and then some. They’re an incredible 3-0-1 in that competition, outscoring their foes, 8-2. Their only “blemish” was a 1-1 draw against Olimpia in San Jose, Costa Rica and that was considered a victory because New York managed a road draw while bringing home a precious away goal.
The Red Bulls also started the MLS season on the right foot. Despite using essentially a Red Bull II team (head coach Jesse Marsch wanted to rest the Starting XI last Tuesday’s big home CCL clash with Tijuana), the squad smashed the Portland Timbers, 4-0, while spoiling former Cosmos head coach Giovanni Savarese’s return to New York as a visiting coach.
Moreover, the Red Bulls looked like a deep team that could make the regular season a memorable eight months. Their midfield is ridiculously deep, thanks to the likes of Tyler Adams, Sean Davis, Daniel Royer, Marc Rzatkowski, Alejandro Romero Gamarra (Kaku), Derrick Etienne, Florian Valot, Vincent Bezecourt, Cristian Cásseres Jr. and the promising Ben Mines.
On the other side of the Hudson, head coach Patrick Vieira has put together a deep team as well. New York City FC is 2-0 in league play, with one of the strongest starting midfields in the league. NYCFC boasts Maxi Moralez, Yangel Herrera and Alex Ring as their top three men. Their cover, while not tested as much as the Red Bulls this year, seems to be a solid bunch — Thomas McNamara, Ebenezer Ofori, Kwame Awuah and James Sands. Jesus Medina, who has played forward the first two matches, is listed as a midfielder.
Two weeks ago City started out strong with a 2-0 triumph over Sporting Kansas City at Children’s Mercy Park, a venue at which KC lost only once in the regular season in 2017.
NYCFC came home to welcome the LA Galaxy for its home opener at Yankee Stadium last Sunday. The hosts played a strong first half, grabbing a two-goal advantage before managing to hold on via a rather mediocre second half for a 2-1 win. It was the first time City won its opening two matches of the season.
The bottom line is that NYCFC is near the top of the Eastern Conference with six points, trailing only Columbus Crew SC by total goals (five to four).
We will learn a little more about both New York clubs in what will be another reunion weekend.
City will host Orlando City SC and former Red Bulls playmaker Sacha Kljestan to the stadium Saturday. The Lions will be without New York tormentor Cyle Larin, who has gone to Beşiktaş in Turkey to find another team or two to make miserable.
The Red Bulls will visit Real Salt Lake as they take on their ex-head coach, the popular Mike Petke, for the first time at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah that night.
Can the Red Bulls defeat another MLS side coached by a popular New York soccer figure?
Can NYCFC win an unprecedented third successive match coming out of the gate?
If the answer is yes to both questions, then the two sides will continue to be pointed in the right direction in what has become one memorable start to 2018.