By Michael Lewis
For obvious reasons any Hudson River Derby game can be deemed must-win.
Wednesday’s encounter at Yankee Stadium is at a higher level because both teams need points.
In fact, things can’t be tighter between the Red Bulls and New York City FC.
Entering Sunday’s action, the Red Bulls (15-6-3, 48 points) lead the Eastern Conference, while New York City FC (14-6-5, 47) is in third place. Atlanta United FC (14-4-6, 48), which is in second place, can move back into first place in the conference with at least a tie against fourth-place Columbus Crew SC (11-7-6, 33) Sunday.
City probably needs the win more than its New Jersey rivals. One, its a home game at Yankee Stadium and two, NYCFC has played one more game than the Red Bulls, 25 to 24, with the season heading into the home stretch. The Major League Soccer regular season is 34 matches.
“It’s a derby,” NYCFC head coach Domenec Torrent said after his team’s 2-0 defeat at the Philadelphia Union Saturday night. We’ve lost 4-0, 4-0 and after that we were able to win the [third game]. That is football. We need to have a good performance because against Red Bulls; it’s not easy to play against.”
The Red Bulls recorded that 4-0 wins in the regular season and Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup before NYCFC registered a 1-0 win in Chris Armas’ head coaching debut at the stadium July 8.
Red Bulls center back Tim Parker is looking forward to the confrontation.
“It’s intense and you can feel it,” Parker said after the 2-2 draw at Vancouver Whitecaps FC Saturday. “The fans completely buy into it so it’s something we take seriously as a club.”
The Red Bulls, who are in the midst of a three-game road trip, start a period in which they play five times in 15 days. Then the Red Bulls get a 15-day respite between games from Sept. 1-16.
“We’re always thinking about the big picture and trying to size up what’s ahead while having an eye on one game at a time,” Armas said. “To come to Vancouver and start our tough stretch with a hard-fought point, down a man, the way we did it I thought was a great way to kick things off here.”