Valentin Castellanos (11) celebrates his goal with defender Thiago Martins (5) during the second half. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis Editor

In many ways, winning the 2021 MLS Cup might have been easier for New York City FC than trying to post a victory over its archrivals at Red Bull Arena.

Until Sunday.

City walked out of the Harrison, N.J. venue with three points in it back pockets for only the second time after posting a 1-0 triumph over the Red Bulls in the 23rd edition before an announced sellout crowd of 25,219 at the Hudson River Derby.

Golden boy Taty Castellanos tallied the lone goal of the match as goalkeeper Sean Johnson recorded his second successive road shutout within four days. He and City had blanked FC Dallas on Wednesday night.

Until Sunday, the Cityzens had celebrated a win only once before a 2-0 result on June 24, 2017. They had but a 1-10-2 record as the visiting side against the Red Bulls.

The result kept City (11-4-5, 38 points) in second place in the MLS Eastern Conference and the Red Bulls (9-7-6, 33) in third. NYCFC also ran its winning streak to three games and unbeaten streak to five.

“We were motivated, we were hungry today, to get the win,” NYCFC interim head coach Nick Cushing said. “In previous games, their style has been more effective, and today we wanted to make sure that we had a good squad, we had a good team, and [that] we all had a really clear vision of how we wanted to play the game. We applied that today.”

Castellanos scored a highlight reel goal to snap the scoreless tie in the 69th minute. Santiago Rodrigues sent in a 40-yard cross from the right flank that the Argentine striker ran onto and volleyed home from five yards with the outside of his right foot past goalkeeper Carlos Coronel.

“We left a lot of space around us,” Coronel said. “The pass was incredible and as we all know Castellanos had a great goal. We had a really good first half but I think we were just missing the last ass at the end.”

Added Red Bulls head coach Gerhard Struber: “We have no pressure on the ball.”

The reigning MLS Golden Boot winner added to his league-high total of goals (13) as he scored his 50th MLS goal. Castellanos has scored 22 goals in his last 23 MLS matches.

“Last season, the Golden Boot speaks for itself, and then this year, he’s still scoring goals, he’s still up there, he’s still leading on the goal-scoring chart,” Cushing said. “I think for him, it’s the type of guy that he is. He’s a really good guy. He’s really committed. For myself, being interim head coach, he’s shown me full support and full dedication to the way I want to adjust the team.”

The first half was scoreless, yet an entertaining one as both sides pushed forward trying to solve each other. The intensity certainly was helped by the enthusiastic crowd.

The hosts dominated the opening 45 minutes, but could not sustain that in the second half as NYCFC took over.

“The first half we played very very well,” Coronel said. “Second half it was a little different for us. We definitely lost the pressure that we always have. Losing the pressure we gave NYCFC too much space.”

Of course, NYCFC had something to do with that.

“At halftime, but we asked the players to go and be themselves, to enjoy the game,” Cushing said. “We asked them to get the ball on the grass and enjoy passing it and enjoy playing it.”

The Red Bulls’ best opportunities in the first half included goalkeeper Sean Johnson knocking away Cristian Cassseres Jr.’s 20-yard attempt in the 19th minute and punching away Luquinhas’ shot in the 37th minute and Dylan Nealis putting the rebound over the crossbar in the 37th minute.

Coronel, didn’t have to work that hard, gathering every NYCFC shot in the opening 45 minutes.

It was more of the same in the second half as Johnson was called out to punch a Lewis Morgan try from the left side in the 59th minute.

Then it was the visitors turn.

Defender Tayvon Gray made a couple of nifty moves on the right side of the area but he was denied by Coronel in the 65th minute.

Only a minute later, Castellanos took a shot from the left side that forced Coronel to parry away.