Alex Ring: “We have to play better as a team against the Red Bulls than we did in the previous two games.” (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis Editor

After a fabulous start to the Major League Soccer season, New York City FC has struggled to find its form in recent matches.

In four games over two competitions, NYCFC is 1-2-1 as it has fallen into third place in the Eastern Conference.

City can do something about it Sunday, when it hosts the Red Bulls in the Hudson River Derby at Yankee Stadium at 7 p.m.

“It’s time for us to show up on Sunday and show our true face because our last two games against them were not so good,” defensive midfielder Alex Ring told reporters at a World Cup celebration party in Rockefeller Plaza Tuesday. “I think everyone has that in the back of their minds and we want to make it right on Sunday.”

The Red Bulls have won both confrontations this season by emphatic 4-0 results at Red Bull Arena. The first encounter was at an MLS match May 5, the second in a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup game June 6.

“We have to play better as a team against the Red Bulls than we did in the previous two games,” Ring said. “I said it last year and this year even more. With the quality in our team it depends on ourselves to take care of business and we have to show up on Sunday and make it right.” 

No argument from his teammates.

“A very important game is coming up for us,” forward Jesus Medina said. “For us to be playing at home we want to get the win. Since it’s so important we are preparing in the best way possible to take on the game in the most positive way.”

City (9-4-4, 31 points) enters the contest trailing the second-place Red Bulls (10-4-2, 32) by two points. The Red Bulls have a game in hand.

NYCFC’s form has been rather mediocre recently as it is coming off a 3-2 defeat the Chicago Fire. The team, which has been one of the league’s most effective road squads the past two seasons, has a disappointing 2-4-3 road mark.

So, the team has to play at a much higher level if it wants to jump over its rivals.

“That is what we ask ourselves, but we have to answer that question if we want to be champions, that is clear,” center back Alexander Callens said. “But we haven’t been getting the results on the road because of small details not because our opponents are better than us. Now we have a very important game this weekend, for the entire city, we have a rivalry and we must give it our all.”

Added Medina: “The derby is very special but are also coming off a tough loss, we are very eager to play the right way and do things the right way to get another victory. It’s very important for us to get a win at home to keep climbing up the table.”

NYCFC hasn’t lost at the stadium this season, sporting a 7-0-1 record and accruing 22 out of a possible 24 points. Against the Red Bulls at the stadium, City is 2-20 as it has been outscored, 12-6, which includes a 7-0 thrashing in 2006 by their New Jersey neighbors.

“We have to play how we always play at home,” Callens said. “We haven’t lost a game at home and we want to continue that streak. We want to go out and have fun and do what we do best.”

With the Yankees out of town, City starts a unique three-game in seven-day homestand, which make it a must-win situation for the team.

“We understand the importance of the Red Bulls match,” goalkeeper Sean Johnson said. “It’s going to be a tough game, they’re playing really well right now. They’ve just gone to Toronto and got a really important result. We have a lot of preparation to do this week, but if we stick to the things we’ve been successful at we’re not far away from things coming back together. It’s about consistency in this league and three home games now so we’re looking forward to that.”

The final derby match of the season won’t be until Wednesday, Aug. 22 at Yankee Stadium.