By Michael Lewis
Forget about it being a derby.
Wednesday night’s clash between New York City FC and the Red Bulls will have great ramifications on the MLS Eastern Conference standings, especially if one of the teams is able to pick up three points at Yankee Stadium.
If the Red Bulls (15-6-3, 48 points) win, they will go into a first-place tie with Atlanta United FC in points.
If NYCFC (14-6-5, 47) prevails in the 7 p.m. Hudson River Derby match, it will move within a point of the first-place side.
A draw really wouldn’t do either team much good in the Supporters Shield race. And, even if a team can’t finish atop the conference, taking second place would mean escaping the knockout round of the playoffs and home-field advantage, at least in the conference semifinals.
“I think it’s not only great for the rivalry but it’s great for the league,” Red Bulls captain and goalkeeper Luis Robles said. “When you see that each game not only has implications on territory, geography, status in the rivalry, but playoff seeding, supporters shield, and they’ve had a great year, we’ve had a good year and we know that it’s the rubber match. With that being said, beyond the rivalry, these games have huge meaning when it comes to the Supporters Shield.”
The game will pit the team with the best home record in the league — City is 10-0-2 against the club with the second-best road mark — the Red Bulls are 6-4-2. During Torrent’s short tenure, NYCFC is 4-0-1 at the stadium.
“Trying to predict how this game will unfold is almost pointless,” Red Bulls head coach Chris Armas said. “I think each team will have a little bit of a plan coming in of how exactly they want it to go, as we do, so it will be fun to see if we can impose our will on them.”
The hosts are looking to bounce back from a rather subpar performance at the Philadelphia Union, a 2-0 defeat Sunday.
“We are ready to do much better than the weekend,” forward Ismael Tajouri-Shradi said.
NYCFC will be without four players that head coach Domenec Torrent would have liked to start. Defender Alex Callens (knee), midfielder Valentin Castellanos (quad) and forward Jesus Medina (hamstring) are injured and defender Ronald Matarrita will serve a one-game suspension due to a red card he received vs. Philly.
“We’re going to practice two or three systems [for] the Red Bulls and decide the best way to play against them,” Torrent said.
“We have to play quickly. That is the best way to play against them.”
City’s lone win against the Red Bulls this season was a 1-0 result at the stadium July 8. The Red Bulls won the other two encounters by 4-0 scores, one in MLS, the other in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup.
The Red Bulls enter the confrontation enjoying a 6-4-1 advantage in the regular-season series — they are 2-0-0 in the Open Cup — although NYCFC is 3-2-0 at the stadium.
“It’s just one of those games that we have to go in there — we can’t be naïve about it — go out there, get an early goal, try to press them the way that we play and be combative about the whole game,” Red Bulls midfielder Tyler Adams said. “So we’re going there for nothing less than three points.”