By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

Bragging rights to metropolitan soccer supremacy will take a backseat to another factor in Sunday’s Hudson River Derby.

As the race to secure a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs dwindles down to a few precious matches, the Red Bulls will host New York City FC in the third and final regular season Hudson River Derby match at 1 p.m.

They are two teams going in different directions.

The Red Bulls (10-11-7, 37 points) are in the midst of a six-game unbeaten streak (4-0-2), while NYCFC (11-10-7, 40) has been struggling of late with a four-match winless skid (0-2-2). The Cityzens also have won once in their last eight contests (1-4-3), a 2-1 victory at hapless FC Cincinnati Sept. 18. They also have suffered three consecutive shutouts.

Both teams have six games remaining in the regular season.

NYCFC is in sixth place, while the Red Bulls are in ninth in the Eastern Conference. If the latter wins, it will tie with City, which is trying to find the magic that made it a contender for the second spot in the conference. The top seven teams will qualify for the postseason.

Red Bulls head coach Gerard Struber felt he had an idea of how his foes will play.

“I think maybe they will try more to play directly,” he said in a Friday Zoom interview with the media. “I think they realize more I think our pressing [is] our power. … It’s very important that we are clear that we are dominate this game in all four phases in the game.”

The press, which can upset the plans of many a team when deployed properly, will be the key for the host side.

In an interview with NYCFC radio broadcaster Glenn Crooks, City head coach Ronny Deila said: “No one in the league can play good football against the Red Bulls. It’s impossible.”

Struber agreed.

“I like to have been other opponents have the feeling against us,” he said. “It’s not easy. It’s not easy to play or with control against us. Our pressing, our synchronized moments [are getting] better and better. … It’s important that we have high aggression.”

Struber later added:  “We have big respect for, for New York City, and, yeah, I hope, New York stays in red.”

Deila, on the other hand, was confident NYCFC can rediscover the magic that made it a contender for second place during the summer.

“If we perform well, we get the best out of ourselves, we have a really good chance to win,” he said. “We were really good way last time. We didn’t get what we deserved, but then we were organized. We were aggressive. We created chances. And we were very, very, very hard to play against. At home we were more open. We were staying together. We were not disciplined enough, and then we get more trouble.”

NYCFC will need to have a disciplined defense if it has any chance of taking home three points, Deila said.

“Whatever system we play, it’s for back four or five,” he added. “We need that organization to be really, really good. That was good again Nashville. If we get into that situation against the Red Bulls, that we have more chances on them, and will perform well and I will be satisfied in the end.”

This will be the third time the teams will meet in less than a month, the closest three matches since the derby was born in 2015.

The Red Bulls lead the series, 1-0-1, playing to a 1-1 draw at RBA Sept. 22 before emerging victorious at Yankee Stadium three days later as Bronx native Omir Fernandes, who grew up a few subway stops from the venue, tallied the lone goal.

“Of course, it’s strange,” Red Bulls midfielder Dru Yearwood said. “I think anyone can imagine. Not every game is going to be the same. You’ve got be prepared for any sort of changes of system. I guess for the managers, it must be insane.  I guess as players we just have to take every day you have to just treat it as a new game.”

For Deila, those two matches are in the past, although he admitted he was “irritated”  when they have been brought up. The Red Bulls equalized in the 12th minute of stoppage time. Center back Maxime Chanot and midfielder Keaton Parks also were red carded in that match.

“But I don’t use a lot of energy. It’s done,” he said. “It’s more about now, looking forward to the six games coming up.

“We want to play important games and now we are in that situation that every game going to be really, really exciting and important. It’s almost like playing playoff games all the time. So, we can learn a lot, come into the playoffs in a good way.”

After playing seven times in 22 days, the Red Bulls got a respite, playing only once during the past two weeks, the last encounter a 1-0 win over Inter Miami CF in a make-up game Oct. 9 that was postpone due to inclement weather during the summer.

“I think this helps us to find the right mindset, to find the right key,” Struber said. “We follow a game plan with a staggering with follow a system. The last game, we had success with our system, and I think this helped us one more time.”

NYCFC took advantage of some extratime off the pitch as well. The Pigeons have played once since Sept. 29, a scoreless home draw with Nashville SC Oct. 3.

“I think we used these 14 days really good,” Deila said. “We have trained a lot, but at the same time we have three or four days off. After the period we’ve been through I think we haven’t had a weekend off since July. So, to have opportunity to do that has been really good. With energy and rest you get more smiles and sharper bodies. That’s something we have seen in training. We’re looking for now to six, really, really exciting games.”

While securing a playoff berth is front and center, it doesn’t mean the derby is out of everyone’s mind.

“For me personally, I just want to beat them so bad,” Yearwood said with a laugh. “I don’t care whether we were last, and they were first, I would still want to beat them. It doesn’t matter who else. We have to beat them. I think this game everyone know New York needs to savor.”

The winner will savor it more.