NYCFC celebrates Alex Callens’ first-minute goal. (Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports)

By Michael Lewis

FrontRowSoccer.com Editor

There is little doubt that New York City FC has rediscovered its mojo.

Alex Callens provided an early knockout punch while saving a shot off the line to kick start the Cityzens to a 2-0 victory over the Red Bulls on a beautiful Saturday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.

Well, beautiful for the host side, not so pretty for the visitors. Actually, pretty ugly for the Red Bulls in the final Hudson River Derby encounter of the season, unless the rivals meet up in the playoffs next month.

Defender Alex Callens, who also saved a goal, and midfielder Santi Rodriguez found the net while goalkeeper Sean Johnson recorded his 14th clean sheet of the campaign.

The victory moved fourth-place City (14-11-7, 49 points) within points of clinching a MLS Cup Playoffs berth and within a point of the third-place Red Bulls (14-10, 8, 50) in the Eastern Conference. NYCFC could reach the postseason, depending on how result play out on Saturday night. The Red Bulls booked a playoff berth earlier in the week.

NYCFC won the regular season series for only the second time in eight years, after recording a 1-0 triumph at Red Bull Arena on July 17. City had captured the 2017 HRD series. The Red Bulls eliminated City in the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals on June 22.

There is little doubt that reigning MLS Cup champions have regained their mojo as they entered the match securing only one win in its previous MLS games (1-7-2). The Cityzens got a big confidence boost in their 2-0 win over Atlas FC in the Campeones Cup at the stadium on Wednesday night.

All in all, a pretty damn good week – or a memorable four days.

And now this, a vital victory over its area rivals in the derby in front of a season-high 30,151 spectators.

While two games certainly don’t make a season, but NYCFC has looked dangerous in those two encounters with only two contests remaining in the regular season.

The hosts dominated the opening half and did not wait very long to celebrate a goal and make their mark.

Rodriguez, with his back to the net, kept a Maxi Moralez corner kick alive with a flick of his right foot to Callens in front of the net. An unmarked Callens headed it home past goalkeeper Carlos Coronel from three yards at the back post for a stunning 1-0 advantage only 50 seconds after the opening kickoff.

City kept on taking advantage of the Red Bulls’ inability to clear corner kicks as Rodriguez doubled the margin with a chip shot into the lower right corner in the 23rd minute.

On the other side of the field, the Red Bulls rarely were dangerous in the opening half as Callens cleared Luquinhas’ eight-yard shot off the line after Johnson fumbled a clearance in the 11th minute.

The Red Bulls found their attacking boots over the final 10 minutes of the first half.

Their best opportunity officially did not happen as Elias Manoel, looking to score his first goal for the club, headed home an Aaron Long header that bounded off the post in the 36th minute. He slotted home the rebound. However, the goal did not count as referee Allen Chapman, after he was alerted by VAR, ruled Elias to be offside.

The visitors botched a golden opportunity to cut the lead in half in 53rd minute. Goalkeeper Sean Johnson stopped Cristian Casseres, Jr. in the box, knocking the ball away. The ball came to Caden Clark, who blasted the ball from the top of the penalty area and into the stands.

Both teams will take some time off due to the final FIFA international break before the Qatar World Cup.

NYCFC will be back in action against Orlando City SC at Red Bull Arena on on Sunday, Oct. 2, while the Red Bulls return to the pitch at the Columbus Crew on Saturday, Oct. 1 in the penultimate match of the season for both teams.

Decision Day in MLS is set for Sunday, Oct. 9.